Welty Building Co. has constructed or managed the construction for some of the region’s most recognizable projects: the Akron Children’s Hospital Kay Jewelers Pavilion, Akron Art Museum, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. world headquarters and Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, to name a few.
For Welty President and CEO Don Taylor, building his team is just as important as constructing a building — and he’s co-opted a novel approach to do so.
“We’re dealing with a whole lot more of the psychology,” he says.
Taylor finds there are essentially two components to team building: smart and healthy. Smart represents the technical skills — the standard operating procedures, reading the manuals, etc. Healthy represents the psychology behind teamwork.
For the latter, Welty employs the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, which Herrmann Global LLC says is a psychometric assessment that defines and describes the way people think and process information. It was created by Ned Herrmann, who developed the approach while in charge of management education at General Electric Corp.’s corporate university, Crotonville, and published in 1981.
Welty uses HBDI as a tool to understand the thinking style of its people and approach a project with what’s called whole-brain thinking.
Thinking on display
Displayed throughout the company’s Fairlawn office in each employee’s work area are color-coded charts representing the individual’s thinking style, which Herrmann simplifies into quadrants: analytical, experimental, practical and relational. The idea is to find the mental strengths and tendencies of individuals and build teams with diverse strengths.
“We use that tool to hopefully get a whole-brain decision from a team,” Taylor says.
If any one quadrant is over-represented on a team, chances are they will not have as good of a solution to a problem as a team balanced by their problem-solving tendencies.
Welty doesn’t prefer one type to another. Rather, Taylor tries to instill an appreciation of those differences.
“When you need creativity, you go find somebody on that chart that’s yellow, put them in the room and help them brainstorm. When you need to analyze something, go find people that are dominant in the blue and help them think through how are we going to analyze this so we get the right information,” he says.
There was some skepticism when it was first introduced, but Taylor reinforced to his staff that there’s nothing about this test that’s good or bad — no right or wrong answer.
“It is who you are. You can’t hide it,” he says. “I mean it’s your DNA. This is who you are. And so we talk about appreciating differences. We’ve given them a language.”
Seven years on, Taylor says the Welty team embraces the approach. It’s helped Welty take advantage of people’s strengths instead of spending time trying to get them to do what they’re not good at. That means the company isn’t exhausting people because they’re working a job that isn’t a natural fit for them.
“The closer we can line up a job with what your natural, God-given abilities are, the more rewarded you’re going to be and the better you’re going to be at it. That’s part of leadership for us — putting people in the right place to succeed,” Taylor says.
HBDI is the X factor that enables Welty to be successful, according to Taylor. He says the approach has improved engagement, which in turn raised productivity and improved retention. Since he took full ownership of the business in 1999, it has doubled in size five times.
“We’re experiencing about 40 to 50 percent growth every year,” he says.
But growth comes with its own challenges.
As someone who started in the field, wheelbarrow and shovel in hand, he says his perception of leadership had been that the boss always had to have the right answer. Today he admits that’s seldom the case, so it’s his obligation to put the right people in the room to get to the right answer, get a commitment and then implement it.
“I’ve learned as much from this process as anybody here — that you have blind spots,” he says. “You can’t do it all yourself. You’ve got to rely on the team that’s around you to be successful.”
That insight has informed how Taylor has built his executive team. Rather than consult solely with experienced construction professionals, Taylor has brought in executives from ExxonMobil, Sherwin-Williams, ICI Paints and GE, and has members who represent competitors in the construction industry. This helps the company think differently than other contractors, and helps with the development of Welty’s organizational structure.
“We have a lot of people sitting at the table that have had high-level exposure to billion-dollar companies so that we understand how we’re going to get there,” he says. “Most of the time, the challenge for companies that are growing is that they don’t anticipate the structure that they’re going to need or the challenges that they’re going to have until they’re hit in the face with them.”
Having this mix of high-level executives on the Welty team helps the company anticipate where the problems are going to be and what processes need to be put in place to proactively address them.
“I don’t want that to sound like we’re perfect. Sure, we have our share of fires and challenges that we’re dealing with, but I think we’re way ahead of the curve the way we deal with it,” Taylor says.
Welty has also differentiated itself through its approach to projects, which Taylor separates into “control over” and “control with.”
Control over is when Welty wins a bid to complete a project with already defined parameters. Those tend to be about first pricing.
Control with is when Welty is brought in from the start and has input on materials, size, location and other critical project decisions. That represents a chance for Welty to have a more substantial impact on the client’s success.
“We’re working with the architect, we’re working with the client and we’re a part of the team,” Taylor says. “We’ve been involved with trade partners — the mechanical engineer, the electrical engineer, the structural engineer and the contractors. We want to have the dialog about what are the best practices, what’s the best way to make this work, how can we accomplish this at the least cost and the fastest way.”
It’s a different conversation, he says, and it requires being curious about how the client’s business works rather than building to the design specs. For these jobs, Welty’s focus is on what it can do to help its customer be successful with their customer.
“When we build a building, the building does nothing for our client,” he says. “It’s the activation of the space that we put people into. We call it high-performance workspace.”
Taylor says the company’s approach to projects ties directly back to his emphasis on the soft skills of his employees and the health of the organization.
“Because when you’re put into that situation where you’re helping to create, you’ve got to be much more sensitive,” he says.
“Architects are right-brained and creative, and contractors are left-brained and more analytical and more process oriented. Together, we make a great team; but separated, there’s always friction because we don’t think the way they do and they don’t think the way we do. This process of bridging that gap and meeting them in the middle is what allows us to actually activate our God-given talents in a way that benefits the client differently. That’s why we spend so much time on these soft skills and getting healthier, so that we can deliver better results to our client.”
How to reach: Welty Building Co., (330) 867-2400 or www.thinkwelty.com
- Eschew convention for results.
- Build complementary teams that embrace differences.
- Anticipate the structure your company needs to sustain growth.
At Welty Building Co., everyone is subject to the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument assessment, even President and CEO Don Taylor.
“In my case, I’m purple dominant. I’m creative, I’m analytical, and I’m green, which is the planning,” he says. “It just doesn’t occur to me to think about people’s feelings. Not that I’m not a caring person, I just think that when I’ve got a great idea, everybody will just see the great idea and off we go. Sometimes I don’t use the right words in selling it or presenting it or getting people to feel included in it.”
When he’s under pressure, Taylor says he becomes more creative and less analytical.
“I know when I’m under pressure I’ve got to find somebody to help me analyze things, because my analytical skills become reduced,” he says. “Under pressure, I’m the guy you want to talk to because I’m going to be very creative in coming up with alternatives and ways to solve the problem.”
Taylor has learned from his HBDI results and now uses an individual’s assessment to inform and customize his management approach with each employee. He goes so far as to adjust his vocabulary to get them to connect to his message.