If you work for Bob Shallenberger, you’d better be able to think for yourself. Shallenberger, who runs Highland Homes Inc. with his partner, John Cavanagh, gives his employees full autonomy, and once the goal is set, he doesn’t want to have to OK your plan to accomplish it.
“I might do that for my 9-year-old children, not for a project manager,” he says.
The founding partners’ goal was not to become billionaires but to build the best company they could. And in doing so, they’ve grown Highland Homes from a $4 million company in 2004 to 2006 revenue of $16.5 million.
Smart Business spoke with Shallenberger about why you should think twice during the hiring process and why you always have to keep your agreements.
Q. What are the keys to your success?
The main key to our success is we outwork everybody. I learned a long time ago that you only get so many hours in the day. We can’t all work 20 hours a day. But what we can do is stretch the hours and stretch the day. We can multi-task to get a couple things done simultaneously.
One thing we’ve done is set the tone for working hard and finishing and completing tasks. We lead by showing everyone how to work hard, rather than telling everyone.
The guy who tells you how hard he’s working is trying to convince you he’s working hard. The guy who’s working hard doesn’t have to tell you because you know. Lesson No. 1: Look out for that.
Q. How do you build trust with your employees?
We have agreements with the people who work for us. Like, ‘I’ll go get lunch,’ or, ‘I’ll get this done for you next Wednesday.’ A lot of time, people will want me to look at plans or figure out if what they’re doing is right.
I may or may not have the time to do it, but if I tell them I’m going to get it done by a certain time, I have to keep that agreement because I want them to do the same for me.
If I let them down, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on later on, when I say, ‘Hey, you said you’d have this done Friday at 2 p.m., and here we are at 3 p.m.’ They can say, ‘Well, two weeks ago, you said the same thing, and you let me down.’
We encourage people to renegotiate before the deadline. If you’re supposed to have something done Friday at 2 p.m. and it’s Thursday at 1 p.m., and at that particular second, it dawns on you that there is no way you can keep that agreement, don’t wait until 2 p.m. Friday. Let us know right then and there.
Q. How do you create a strong company culture?
We walk the walk; we’re not hypocritical. I don’t make everyone wear Highland shirts all the time and then not wear one myself. On the flip side of the coin, nobody wears suits and ties here unless they want to. Then they’d probably get harassed.
The culture is a lot about where we’re going and how it is. We have a formal informality. People will say please and thank you, but they might be wearing Birkenstocks. You’ll never see anybody in here in a suit or tie or dresses or skirts, unless they went to court that day.
Q. What is the biggest challenge in running a business?
Hiring people because people are the hardest thing to investigate upfront. We’re a smart enough beast that we can hide emotions, we can lie and other people wouldn’t know sometimes.
We’ve learned not to try to hire rookies and make them into stars overnight.
On the flip side of the coin, if you can afford and have the patience to nurture or train someone who has no experience at all but has the desire, then you should. But if you need a great salesperson, if you need to turn out 50 sales right now, you’ve got to go hire one. You can’t take a chance. Whatever that costs, it costs.
Q. How do you make sure you’re hiring the right person?
We’re not so arrogant to think, ‘Wow, we’re really cool.’ They’re not just coming here because we’re really cool because they’re coming from somewhere else.
We always have the ‘chick’ analogy here; we laugh about it. If there’s a really hot chick and she’s going to go out with me, I’ve got to wonder. If I think she’s only coming on to me because I’m really cool, there’s something else to it.
Is it because she just got dumped by her boyfriend? What’s the deal? Because I want to know what the whole deal is, but if you just say, ‘Wow, it’s just because we’re cool,’ you’re lying to yourself.
There’s always another side. We’ve made some bad hires of people we thought were going to be phenomenal because we didn’t question some things we should have questioned.
HOW TO REACH: Highland Homes Inc., (314) 863-2845 or www.highlandhomesinc.com