Building a team Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Praful Kulkarni struggles with the same challenge many leaders do: finding the right people and aligning them under one vision.

“That’s kind of an ongoing challenge for every leader, to make sure everybody is on board,” the president and CEO says.

Since founding gkkworks, originally his MBA thesis, Kulkarni has kept to a few steps in order to surround himself with the right team and ultimately grow the company.

When it comes to hiring the right people, first you have to determine, as the leader, your strengths and weaknesses. Then determine the talent you need and reach out to those in your industry for suggestions.

If you’re looking for people to subscribe to your vision, you need to communicate it to those whom you’re interviewing and employees who maybe aren’t getting it.

The process has helped Kulkarni grow gkkworks, an architect and construction firm, to 250 employees and $81 million in revenue in fiscal 2009.

Smart Business spoke with Kulkarni about how to surround yourself with the right employees.

Understand your abilities. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

One could kind of take a look at whatever stage they are, or the CEO is, and see what kind of experience base they’ve built. Where they’ve had successes and where they’ve had failures — stepping aside and not getting too much bravado and emotional tie up into what you’re doing. An objective evaluation of what has worked and what has not worked will typically tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are.

When I started the company, I had a good sense of how to create successes in business development, so I needed somebody who could do great project management in the work that we do in design, planning and construction management because that was not my strong suit.

I was reasonable at it, but you want to find people who excel in that.

If accounting and finance and management is something that you need, then you need to find people with that skill set. It also depends on the complexity of the company and what are the different pieces that you’re going to need and what piece you’re going to run as the primary charge.

Find the right people. You have to figure out what your specialty business is, and then you have to look at the talent that you need.

Obviously in a successful business, you’ve got to have the business development portion, then you actually have to produce the work, and then you have to manage it in terms of the finance and accounting side. That means you need people in all of these three areas that are competent to have a successful business model.

Depending on what the leader or the entrepreneur’s strength is, you need to complement for the other pieces to have it as a total business.

Then, it’s just a matter of finding the people in your sphere of influence or in the industry so that, first of all, the people that you bring on board then need to subscribe to your vision, … (and) at the same time, they need to be competent in their area of expertise.

Our experience is if people come through other employees, through our staff and or our clients or some consultants, typically that is a better way to go because then you have familiarity, and these people tend to understand our culture and these people can indicate if it’s a good fit for our company.

Outline your vision. You obviously have to share that vision with (interviewees) and elicit responses from them.

Have discussions in terms of what their philosophies are, and you can get a sense of people whether they’re just doing a lip service or they actually have some strong convictions in terms of where the business may go.

I think it’s very important to share the vision and the culture of the company and see how these people respond. Or ask about their vision and where they see themselves, and see if there is a match.

One of the questions I like to ask is, ‘Where do you see yourself five years from now?’ It’s that old technique of getting people to really start (talking.)

I need to listen to them, [and] then they need to listen to me. If I’m going to hire that individual I need to understand where that individual is coming from.

You obviously want to hire people who have leadership qualities, and you need to figure out by asking questions about their leadership capabilities and what that DNA is of that individual.

The (leadership) qualities you typically can tell with simple questions like, ‘What did you do in college?’ or, ‘What did you do in school?’ There’s certain things that you start to find out about them that will give you clues about what their skill sets may be because that starts pretty early in your student life.

Move employees if needed. You talk to them and you figure out what their desires are to be a part of this company and work with them.

To me, open communication is absolutely the way to go. People need to know exactly where you’re coming from, and you need to be able to understand people that you’re working with and what their goals and desires are in their personal and professional lives.

See if we can find the right position for them within the company or if there is a mismatch, then they need to part with the company.

One of the common mistakes leaders make is when somebody doesn’t want to work with you or move on to another opportunity or you are not satisfied with what they’re doing, the people are terminated.

Invariably the people who are working for you that need to be reassigned or let go, you’re going to run into these people again because they’re going to be around in your industry. That means you have to have the best of relationships even after these people are gone from your company. You need to handle each one of these particular situations on its own merit so that these people are not your enemies. Otherwise, they will come back to hurt you.

How to reach: gkkworks, (949) 250-1500 or