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Clear communication Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

When Jon Silberman and his business partner bought NAI Houston in 1999, they quickly determined that they needed to overhaul the company’s culture if they were to succeed.

The key to making the major change work was the ability of Silberman and Randy Wilhelm, the company’s co-owners and co-managing partners, to clearly communicate their new plan to their employees.

“Explaining it and communicating what the game plan was and what the vision was, we did that regularly,” Silberman says. “People saw that there was a plan in place, and they understood that it wasn’t going to happen overnight but that there was a plan and there was a culture.”

The healthier culture has helped the 55-employee commercial real estate firm grow its revenue from $9 million in 2005 to $12.5 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Silberman about the importance of having a plan and sticking to it.

Q: What is the best way to manage growth?

Have a plan. We have a planning retreat once a year where we sit down and spend two days going through our plan. What happened last year? What’s our plan for the next three years? How did we do?

That’s probably the most valuable thing that we do because it sets the direction every year. It sets the goals and objectives of the company as a whole. It gives us that map. It’s really helped us a lot to get everybody focused on that map and what they have to achieve during that year.

It has to be realistic and achievable. It has to be in steps. Little steps lead to big steps. Sometimes people try to accomplish too much in one year when they could accomplish 10 times that amount in five years. Execution is critical. You can plan all you want, but if you don’t execute, you’re not going to get there. It’s having the focus and motivation and discipline to focus on those things that are going to get you to where you want to go.

Q: What is an important lesson all leaders should keep in mind?

What you can accomplish in one year is very little. But what you can accomplish in five or 10 years can really blow your mind. We live in a culture where everybody wants everything yesterday, and they aren’t willing to be patient, and it makes it very difficult. If you’ve been through it before, experience, perspective and commitment (are key). Be willing to say, ‘I’m going to give this two or three years. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to stick to it.’

A lot of people fail because they quit too soon. It gets a little difficult, and they quit. They give themselves the latitude to quit versus saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to do this for three years. Maybe after three years, if I’m still flat broke and not generating any revenue, I might want to quit.’

Don’t give yourself a chance after a year to evaluate and quit because you didn’t get there as fast as you unrealistically thought you should.

Q: How do you approach the hiring process?

We’re very slow to hire. We take our time. We will interview at least three times. We look at references and talk to people. We look at their background and what they have accomplished in other jobs.

We’ll accept a little lower level of technical performance for somebody who just has the right attitude and is pleasant and helps out wherever they can. I’m not sure I would relate it to energy as much as attitude, enthusiasm, work ethic, reliability and dependability. Those all supersede the skill set.

We combine all those to determine if it’s the right fit. If we think we made a mistake, we’ll make a change very quickly. We won’t let the one bad apple ruin the rest of us.

Q: How do you help employees who want to move up?

You have to show a path. It depends a little on the position and the person. Some people are in a position they are very happy with, and they are not really interested in, ‘Where do I go next?’ For those people, they can just choose not to try to follow a path. The majority of the people want to know, ‘How do I get to the next level? How do I go from here to there? What do I have to do? What do I have to accomplish to get there?’

We have a very specific plan that is written and published that says exactly what you have to do. There is no mystery to it. A person knows, ‘If I do these things, I get this level, I get this promotion, I get this partnership.’ It’s very clear.

HOW TO REACH: NAI Houston, (713) 629-0500 or www.naihouston.com