Most of the people I know that own companies don’t seem to realize that companies have personalities just like human beings. However, most companies with which I am familiar have ended up with a “personality” by default. These companies become known for certain things without having planned for the company to have been known for those things. By this I mean some companies are known for being fun to do business with, some are known for being difficult to work with, some are envied for how happy their employees seem to be, some are known for being difficult to deal with, etc. However, I only know a few companies that consciously set out to create the persona for which they are known.
If you were going to build a company and consciously strive to be known for certain things what would they be? In our case we have consciously tried to build a strong, efficient, profitable, and fun company. How do you build a strong, efficient, profitable, and fun company? Below are some of the things that we have consciously attempted to do:
- Be very selective in our hiring. Experience has taught me that we can’t change the people we hire so we better be very careful to hire the right type of people. As mentioned in previous posts, we do extensive interviewing, background checks, and psychological assessments to make sure that we are hiring the right type of person that will fit in with our culture. If you do this properly you are a long way down the road towards building a successful company where high achievers want to work.
- Put aside money for a “rainy day”. If we had not done this in our company we would not still be in business over four years after the construction industry began a near free-fall. If you have reserves you don’t have to do things such as pay your suppliers late; miss payrolls; lie to suppliers, customers, and your employees; and most of all you don’t have to touch the third rail of business which is to not remit to the government taxes you have collected on their behalf. Not remitting taxes to Uncle Sam is sheer insanity and should never, ever be done.
- Automate. One of the biggest parts of creating an efficient company is to automate as many tasks as possible. Any time you can automate a manual process you decrease the chance of a mistake being made, you need a smaller staff, and you eliminate jobs that are drudgery for people to do and that only make them unhappy.
- Treat people with respect. You would think I wouldn’t need to say this but I am still amazed when I visit with fellow business owners and I see and hear how some of them treat their employees. I go out of my way to say “please” and “thank you” but I see other business owners that bark orders and treat their employees like indentured servants. I pointed this out to one owner only to have him tell me, “I pay them well so why should I have to say please to get them to do something”?
- Treat everyone the same. We do not have two benefit plans; one for management and one for the rank-and-file. Believe it or not, a lot of companies that I interact with have a gold-plated benefit plan for management and a bare-bones plan for everyone else. Not only do I think this is wrong, but once the word gets out about this morale is destroyed forever. I also hate reserved parking spots, especially those with canopies over them. I know of one company that cut everyone’s pay during the recession and then the owner and his son each got a new Mercedes. Gee, I wonder why their employees hate them?
- Avoid layers of management. The more layers of management in a company, the further away management is from customers and employees. Plus, information gets filtered as it bubbles up from the bottom to the top and in many cases by the time it gets to senior management it bears little resemblance to what really happened. You also save a lot of money by not having layers of middle management. It was harder to have a lean organization before e-mail and cell phones but advances in technology have allowed us to have a very flat organization that is very responsive to customers and employees.
- Deal with problems quickly. Problems, unlike fine wine, don’t get better with age. Whether it is a customer problem or an employee problem, deal with it as fast as possible, provided that you are comfortable that you have the facts straight. If you have a culture of dealing with problems quickly your company will stick out versus your competitors because most companies take too long to resolve problems and by the time they do the customer or employee relationship is irreparably harmed.
- Create a culture of accountability. If you build an organization where people are accountable and do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it, your job will be so much easier. Conversely, if you tolerate excuses and missed deadlines both you and your employees are going to be miserable.
- Take extra good care of your top performers. Early in my career one of my mentors told me that he would rather have one $100,000 a year person than two $50,000 a year people. It seemed odd to me that he wanted to pay an employee that much money back in 1979 until he explained to me that one person worth $100,000 a year generally does the work of three or more people, you only have fringe benefits to pay on one person, and someone that well-paid rarely leaves you because jobs that pay that much ($200,000-$300,000 in today’s dollars) aren’t readily available.
- Give recognition where recognition is due. A handwritten note sent to a top performer at home, a dozen roses sent to a top salesperson’s wife to thank her for tolerating the long hours her husband worked to have a big month, handwritten birthday and Christmas cards, $100 bills (or more), taking an entire department out for lunch, and other tokens of recognition go a long way. You don’t always have to give someone a five or six figure bonus check for them to feel appreciated.
- Have fun. This is last but not the least of the things I recommend you do to build a solid company. Keep it light around the company, don’t always be serious, and look for ways to have fun with your co-workers. If you create a fun environment it won’t feel so much like “work”.
What other suggestions do you have for building a company that’s “built to last”?
Copyright 2012 by Jim Sobeck. All rights reserved. This information may be reproduced as long as full credit is given to the author.