Big Red Car here. Company culture is an interesting topic and The Boss has started a series — The Company Culture Series — on the subject.
Recently he was meeting and laughing with an old pal of his with whom he had worked about 20 years ago and he was reminding The Boss of how he used to drill the company Mission Statement into the heads of his folks. It’s a funny story that demonstrates several things.
The Vision and Mission
The Boss had a clear vision and mission and strategy and values when he was building a real estate company in the 1980s. He had it all in writing. He had figured it out before he began to grow the company. It was a cold steel startup and the times were tough to raise money. It was all bootstrapped.
The company and The Boss were wrestling with hyper growth issues in that they had begun to assemble a huge portfolio of apartments numbering in the thousands and spread throughout Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
Their investment thesis was very simple — buy former institutional quality apartments, renovate them and hold them for the turnaround. They were buying these apartments for much, much less than their physical replacement cost. The had to recover value to at least physical replacement cost which would be a “good lick” given the cost of the portfolio.
Market intelligence — the driver of growth
The company and The Boss had a good handle on the market intelligence and knew the market wide occupancy and rental rates by product type (A, B, C quality apartments). This factual information turned out to be the Holy Grail for raising money and building confidence.
The were buying complexes that had declined in quality because of absentee and bankrupt ownership. They then had a renovation process that worked like a charm to return the complexes to their former quality level. It was a complete and detailed process that once mastered was a thing of beauty to behold.
One of the big challenges of growth and, in particular, hyper growth is being able to manage the growing work force and to be able to administer them and to ultimately manage the core business of the enterprise itself.
The Boss had the bit in his teeth and got to work on it right away. He was supremely conscious of the challenges of building a big work force and mapped out a plan and strategy to grow the company to 4-500 employees in a very short time period.
He also instituted a standard operating procedure for the management of the properties — a manual of sorts.
When The Boss’s plan was done, he began to hire to support the plan with a watchful eye on the Vision, Mission, Values, Strategy, Tactics and Objectives. It was all interwoven.
The Boss had to hire folks who could manage the managers — a level of managers who would manage the individual property managers.
The Boss made good and lucky hires. He did not hire a single dud and every single person who he hired was still with him when he sold the properties and the property management company. They were all winners.
A quick note on the times — it was an employer’s market because the real estate market was on its ass. It was a huge advantage to be able to find such talent but really everyone needed a job and The Boss had never failed to make payroll. Ever.
So, The Boss got everyone trained up in the manner in which he wanted the properties to marketed and managed. He had very strong views and he wanted it done a certain way. [Big surprise there, eh, Big Red Car? Haha. Big Red Car, you crack yourself up. Don’t you?]
Remember, these properties were now freshly renovated and they were being transformed from dogs to treasures. It required a transformational thinking to go hand in hand with the property and management transformations.
Once a month, The Boss would have a company wide meeting in the ballroom of the University Club on the top of the former United Bank Building in Austin. The company also owned and renovated high rise office buildings and this was one they had recently acquired.
Everyone had to attend but for one person left at the properties to run the show for that afternoon. Folks drove in from Houston and San Antonio.
The Boss would greet every single one of those employees and make small talk. Then he would feed them a very nice box lunch.
The fun begins
As soon as the folks had been fed, then the monthly reports for every property were reviewed and the property with the highest occupancy would get an award — cash — and the property with the lowest mean time between work order initiation and completion would also get an award.
The Boss would go through a set of about 30 different operating parameters and the “best” got a reward. The money was not huge but it was meaningful to the recipients who shared it with the entire apartment complex team. Everybody got some juice. It harnessed competition to improve performance.
The Boss would then make each of the newest members of the company — folks hired since the last meeting — get up on a table and recite the Mission Statement of the company. It was really kind of embarrassing and barbaric and EFFECTIVE.
The Boss would give the first new employee to recite the Mission Statement perfectly $100. Only the first one and no “uhhh’s” or hemming or hawing. Had to be perfect.
It was always interesting to see who would get it right first. It was also a great team building exercise because the apartment complex manager would have worked with all of the new employees to coach them up for the ordeal. In this manner, everyone was constantly reciting the Mission Statement between meetings.
They were being “tricked” into learning the Mission Statement perfectly. And, it was fun.
To this day when The Boss meets one of his former employees, they will recite the Mission Statement of that company and laugh. The Boss laughs but inside — he is smiling a wicked clever smile. It worked.
The power of ritual
In this manner, The Boss was harnessing the power of ritual — even arguably silly ritual — to reinforce the Mission Statement and to thereby inoculate the company with the virus that would become its company culture.
It was not happening by accident.
In the weeks ahead, we will explore some of these simple and effective techniques. Some of them are a bit silly but they are all effective. They worked and the folks embraced them. The Boss ran companies for over 33 years and learned a few tricks.
To create a company culture which will inject energy into an enterprise and enhance the accomplishment of its mission, you will have to inject some of the same energy into creating that company culture. Hey, CEO, that means you.
It is not hard but it takes a bit of time and energy to do correctly. It is more complex than just having a catered lunch on Fridays and a keg of beer.