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
When initiating an employee into a corporation, it’s ideal for the new hire to begin contributing as soon as possible. But, is the corporation giving its new hire the resources needed to effectively bring his or her skills to the table? Amidst simple introductions and training, there’s an opportunity for a company to provide a formal orientation on its procedures, policies and culture that can more seamlessly let a new employee hit the ground running.
“Orientation helps new employees become more comfortable in their new environment, which, in the long run, is going to lead to them contributing more quickly,” says Jennifer Wilson, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International.
Robert Half developed a survey in which 87 percent of respondents who received a formal orientation said that it helped them to prepare for success within that corporation.
Smart Business asked Wilson about the steps businesses can take to develop an orientation program and what benefits this kind of training may provide.
What can employees gain from an orientation program?
The more comfortable employees are — knowing more about their position, the organization’s policies, administrative information — the better it allows them to focus on their role versus having to worry about extraneous details. Most importantly, I think it helps employees feel a sense of camaraderie. They feel as if they belong more quickly when they’ve been orientated to their new work environment.
What benefits might an employer see from an orientation program?
Employees who go through orientation can become productive more quickly because they understand what is expected of them and have been given a foundation for success. A formal orientation program also helps boost recruiting efforts. When people are given tools to succeed, they’re going to have a positive impression of the company, which distinguishes the company among job candidates and, in the long run, leads to better employee retention. When members of a company feel as if they’re supported with professional development and goals, they’re more compelled to want to stay with that organization. This, again, leads to a more positive reputation that helps when recruiting.
Who within the company should be responsible for orientation?
An effective orientation program includes contributions from multiple contacts within the company. Representation from senior management is always powerful and shows that professional development is valued at all levels. The direct supervisor of the employee should explain performance expectations and the job description. A human resources representative should be involved with presenting benefits, compensation and company policies. You may also want to have top performers within the company there to share some of their successes.
Why doesn’t every company have a formal orientation program in place?
Some employers might feel as though they’re not able to dedicate the time or resources to develop this type of program. I’ve seen many companies that have a very informal program in place and feel that it’s effective. The more structured an orientation program, the more beneficial it will be.
What expenses can be expected?
It’s a case-by-case scenario. Some companies may have a large global operation where flights and hotel expenses are involved. For a smaller corporation, it may be a once-a-week training session on-site. It’s really dependent on the company’s size and resources.
What are some components of an effective program?
Start off by sharing the company’s mission statement and core values. Talk about the organization’s structure, the industry and its competitors. Discuss job description and performance expectations. The employee handbook and general policies should be covered, as well as anything regarding benefits, vacation time and compensation. Some companies have security clearance issues to explain or even reporting procedures. There should also be an introduction to the company’s key contacts so that if employees need access to information they know whom to approach.
Should orientation cover company culture? the
Absolutely. Some of that may be covered in the mission statement or in a discussion of company’s values. But if your company has large numbers of satellite offices, the culture could be a little different everywhere, and that needs to be covered.
Should orientation be a one-time occurrence or an ongoing process?
The most successful orientation programs are ongoing. The first couple of days may be more of an informational approach, but that should be followed up by a more extensive, formal program that includes ongoing training, perhaps with a mentor or manager. Supervisors need to find a way for employees to receive ongoing guidance — the process
doesn’t end the first week on the job. Spacing things out also prevents staff from becoming overwhelmed with information and helps from a retention and learning standpoint.
JENNIFER WILSON is St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International. Reach her at (314) 621-5260 or firstname.lastname@example.org