10 steps to building a people-first, fast-growing business
Architecture and engineering are careers that offer a lot of autonomy. They’re entrepreneurial by nature.
But these industries also breed burnout. There are often unchecked amounts of work and expanding project scopes.
All of that falls on the shoulders of the employees involved.
Rens Hayes, founder of H+O Structural Engineering, has set out to do things differently. He’s built a people-first business that’s all about growth through core values.
He gave us 10 steps for creating your own value-led, growth-minded organization.
1. Define your mission, vision, and values
The first thing you need to do to create a people-first culture is to identify your mission, vision, and values.
A mission should be a short, inspirational statement. It defines your why or your purpose. Why does your company exist?
The vision is the picture of the company you want to be running in five years. It’s aspirational. You’re telling people where you are going.
“A very key thing in developing a vision is write it in the present tense,” Rens said. “What you're doing collectively as a group is agreeing to start behaving and becoming that company.”
Your core values are the things that drive your behavior and culture. Rens recommends sticking to three to five brief statements.
They’re the behaviors that will let you fulfill your value proposition to your client.
2. Fight back against burnout culture
H+O’s mission is a better experience for their team and their clients. That mission is the foundation for building a better culture.
“We're poking at the industry norm of burnout and people that are leaving because they see a career ceiling at 10 or 15 years,” Rens said. “We want to create a better experience for them with a positive work environment.”
When an organization defines a clear mission and then aligns its operations with that mission, it prevents the chaos that leads to burnout.
It prevents things like overwhelmed and underappreciated workers, missed deadlines, duplicate work, and late nights.
3. Use your core values to create results
Once you define your core values, tie those to actionable things you can do to get results for your clients.
“We want to embrace growth, we want to be a partner, and we want to be responsive,” Rens said.
From those core values, H+O figured out what actions will let them fulfill their value proposition for their clients.
For H+O, who mainly works with private developers, they came up with three things:
- Meet deadlines
- Create cost effective design
- Support informed decisions
Informed decisions lead to development success. It’s what supports effective design.
4. Integrate your values into every decision and messageOnce you outline your mission, vision, and values, you can’t set them aside. You have to integrate them into everything you do as a business.
“We talk about mission, vision, and values all the time,” Rens said. “Every time somebody comes to us with a decision, we're referencing one of those terms in making that decision because we're trying to reinforce it.”
That’s why Rens recommends keeping them short. That way they are memorable and stay front of mind.
Brevity also helps to repeat them in all of your branding materials. That way, your values will become part of your team’s subconscious as well as your client’s.
“Our clients know those terms now,” Rens said. “There's no better reward to me than when a client explains their work experience with our team with our own language like that.”
5. Help good people find youRepeating your mission, vision, and values is also key to recruiting great talent.
H+O has a very active presence on LinkedIn where they share their company story, goals, and values.
“We're trying to get the voice out there of what we're building because we're excited about the future,” Rens said. “And if people want to be a part of that, we want them to know about us.”
Rens said that he likes to flip the script on the idea that good people are hard to find.
“What are we doing to attract good people to our company?” he said. “If good people don't know about you, is that really good people are hard to find? Or are you hard to find?”
Attracting people who align with your vision makes the entire hiring process go more smoothly. People come to you having already vetted your company.
“They already know why they’re talking to us,” he said. “It's very clear and they're ready to talk to those terms.”
Rens said using recruiters had not worked for them because it’s much harder to find the right people who will fit your culture.
6. Create a triangle-shaped framework for successOnce you’ve hired people who fit your vision, you have to figure out how to make sure your team nails the execution and brings great results.
Rens uses a three-part framework that he envisions as a triangle.
- Alignment: Link all work back to the mission, vision, values, and client value proposition
- Training and Development: Train for short-term daily competency, then develop attributes and qualities for long-term career success
- Financial literacy: Arm employees with an understanding of profitability and cash flow, and how work impacts those areas
H+O has an open book policy with their financials. They teach their employees how their skills and work impact profit and cash flow.
7. Incentivize great performanceFinancial literacy helps employees see the impact of their work. H+O also shares that information because they give bonuses when performance is high.
They have 10 levels to their bonus structure that’s based on company performance.
“If we're paying everybody at our company market rate for their position and their competencies, we want to incentivize and we want to bonus them for performance above market,” Rens said.
If they’re operating at market average for profit, there are no bonuses.
“Anything we can do greater than that, and we do operate greater than that pretty significantly, we want to share that upside,” he said.
This approach gives their team ownership over the financial performance of the company and motivates them to push it to new heights.
8. Develop leaders who want to stayA people-first company empowers employees and encourages their career progression, even if that means they progress to another company.
But Rens said H+O does everything possible to entice employees to stay.
“We want to help develop leaders so that they are capable of leaving and doing whatever they want to do and being successful,” Rens said. “But we want to create the work environment and the opportunity within our company that they don't want to leave.”
They broadcast this message both internally and externally.
“If you see us on LinkedIn, that is a message that's going to be going out there loud and clear,” Rens said. “We think that's going to be our biggest lever.”
Their open book policy is publicly known and they’re also developing bigger bonus incentives.
They want their team to be excited about the future and to stay to help them build it.
9. Reward continual improvementBig five-year plans won’t come to fruition if employee skills remain stagnant.
H+O has development programs to take employees to the next level within the firm. They identify skills gaps and help them close them, especially when they’re at lower levels.
When employees reach higher management levels, they encourage people to take the initiative to learn on their own.
“Once you're at a certain part of your career, say you're self-sustaining, you can really run your own projects. If you have to ask somebody how you can provide more value, you probably need to go back and start building and working on yourself,” Rens said.
At that point, it’s expected that people will start bringing ideas and opportunities to the table and showing their value.
The culture supports and rewards lifelong learners.
“We want to create an environment where people are always looking for opportunities, give them the confidence that they can present that, and then reward them for it,” he said.
10. Balance the eight core areas of businessAs you start filling out your leadership team, or any time you fill a role, make sure you’re balancing your strengths and weaknesses.
“When we talk about building a balanced organization, we talk about eight core areas,” Rens said. “There's planning, leadership, sales, marketing, people, operations, finance, and legal.”
Most companies are strong in two or three of them and are blind to the deficiencies in the other areas.
“The key to creating a sustainable long-term company, we call that intrinsic value, which is predictable, sustainable, and transferrable,” he said.
Good leadership and good organizational structures bring in people that help shore up weak spots.
A lack of balance creates a chaotic and misaligned organization.
That’s where inefficiencies creep in and burnout can start to take hold.
Build a solid foundation with your mission, vision, and values and then keep things balanced to see success.
Join us on Thursday, December 17th for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
We’re chatting with Rens F. Hayes IV. Rens is Co-Founder and Principal of H+O Structural Engineering, a firm specializing in mid- and high-rise building design. Rens is a Professional Structural Engineer and Certified Value Growth Advisor. He is a lifelong learner, constantly seeking new perspective through audiobooks and relationships. Rens received his BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). After WPI, Rens worked for a large structural engineering firm before returning as Vice President to the family steel company, Rens Welding & Fabricating, Inc. During this time, Rens and his cofounder, Jeremiah O’Neill, launched H+O. From the very beginning, they developed a people-first organization with systems for scale.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Rens about creating opportunities within a design organization.
- How to infuse your practice with financial literacy?
- What are key systems for scaling an organization?
- How to prevent burnout in the AEC industry?
- and More!
As partners in the development process, H+O supports development teams in navigating the unique challenges of each development to achieve success. H+O serves both architects and real estate developers by helping them protect their investment through cost-effective design, informed decision making and deadline management. As a people-first organization, H+O is committed to creating a better experience for their team through transparency, trust and opportunity.