Clear message Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

For David Adelman, the hardest part of growing his company has been realizing that he can’t do everything on his own.

As president and CEO of Campus Apartments, a national developer, owner and manager of student housing, Adelman has had to learn how to delegate duties to a growing number of employees as the company has grown from about 30 employees six years ago to 470 today.

Whether it’s growing his own employees to move up through the ranks or making sure new hires are a good fit, Adelman has worked to create a message of consistency across the company’s offices in 18 states.

Smart Business spoke with Adelman about how to deliver a clear message to your employees, even as their numbers grow.

Find ways to convey a consistent message to employees. You have to remember where you come from and really look in the mirror and say, ‘What kind of message do I want to put out there with my customers and my employees?’ Really make sure of your brand.

Our brand is important. We want that brand to be consistent everywhere we go.

Once you’ve found great people, how do you make sure your vision and your message are delivered?

As we grew bigger and bigger, we realized it was important to really make the people out in the field understand how we do things and create a consistent manner to which all of our operations are conducted.

The main way we do it is through training. We have annual meetings. We have really spent a lot of time developing our middle management, who go out into the field to deliver the message.

I do a monthly podcast to all of the members of the company to let them know what’s going on, what we’re working on, just to make them feel included. It’s really important that everybody feels connected to the homefront.

Surround yourself with good people.

There are two ways to find them. One is to grow them at home. Take somebody and help them develop through the ranks.

Growing employees really starts with training and giving them the ability to spend time with you to understand how they can be better. This may include sending them to conferences or back to school.

Another is just really understanding when you’re recruiting what you’re looking for.

Interviewing is about asking questions that place them in a situation and understanding how they would respond.

Beyond being able to identify somebody’s technical skills, I try to really understand what kind of person they are and where their heart is and what their attitude is.

Somebody who has a good attitude and is a good worker, you can teach the rest. But you can’t teach somebody in attitude.

Trust your decision-making instincts and learn from mistakes. When it comes to making decisions — whether it’s, ‘Should I do this deal; should I not do this deal?’ — learn that when you grow your business, you want to grow it smart.

Don’t grow for the sake of growth. Do it because it’s the smart thing to do.

It is much easier to take a challenge, make the decision, move forward. Hopefully, you’re right more than you’re wrong. If you’re wrong, don’t make the same decision again, and admit that you’re wrong.

For good or for bad, I’m one of those people who makes a decision and I don’t look back.

For me, I don’t mind being wrong. (Although,) I don’t want to be wrong twice about the same thing.

Employees are advised to do the same. We want to motivate everyone to make decisions. ...

There are some companies out there, where people are afraid to make a decision because they’re worried about the risk associated with that.

That is not the atmosphere we have. Most important, I’ve created a culture where if things don’t work, people feel confident to come to me and say, ‘We were wrong. We made a mistake.’

Try to create an atmosphere where when somebody is wrong, they own up to it and work toward fixing it.

Set goals for growth. For the goals, I would break them into three parts. What is the short-term goal — maybe it’s hitting your budget or doing a certain amount of acquisitions — also medium- and long-term goals.

While we can keep people focused on what they need to do on a daily basis, we also can think ahead a year from now and five years from now to how the business should look. It continues to keep us challenged on growing the business.

Create structure. As you get bigger, your business becomes more complex.

The more employees you have from an operation standpoint, ask, ‘How do you make sure they’re working effectively and they’re trained well? How do you create a structure where the financial information flows seamlessly?

I try to create an environment where people are not bogged down by bureaucracy.

We rely on the people in the field to tell us when things aren’t working properly, and we have ways for employees to make suggestions that we take to heart.

HOW TO REACH: Campus Apartments, (215) 243-7000 or