In 10 Months, Rossmann Architecture’s Managing Director Helped Triple Revenue and Double Headcount. Here’s How.
Shane Balcom is, self-admittedly, an outsider.
As the former chief of staff of a Toronto-based software company, the opportunity to work for an architecture firm came out of left field. But after meeting in mid-2020 with Rossmann Architecture’s co-founder and CEO, Erik Rossmann, Balcom signed the dotted line as the firm’s new managing director.
Ten months into the new role, Balcom and the rest of the Rossmann team have seen some mind-boggling success. According to Balcom, it’s all come down to instituting new best practices that have made the business function smoother than ever before.
In a conversation with George Valdes, host of Monograph’s Best Practice virtual chat series, Balcom went into detail about how new routines have created a culture of stability, transparency, openness, and respect.
Streamlining decision-making can help increase revenue
Balcom credits his collaborative relationship with Rossmann Architecture Inc.’s co-founders, Erik and Sara Rossmann, as one centered around “human respect,” Balcom said, which has been pivotal to the team’s recent growth.
“The coolest indicator in the last nine months around that is we've tripled our revenue, and we haven't even doubled our spend,” Balcom said. “And it's basically because we've just streamlined this relationship. I can't say enough about the brilliance of Erik recognizing this — I remember him drawing this concept on the back of a napkin over our second or third meeting. And he told me very explicitly exactly how he saw this happening.”
Balcom’s response? “I said, ‘I think I'm pretty interested in this. I think I can execute on this.’ And so far we've, we've been cooking with gas, that's for sure.”
The power of delegation
Balcom said that if a small business wanted to make a big impact on business today, he would first start with determining how stretched employees are; if employees, especially leaders in the C-suite, are making all decisions, they aren’t delegating wisely, something he’s paid particular attention to at Rossmann.
“I would talk to them about how many hats people are wearing — how do you have it structured? I would try to figure out core skill sets, especially from the person asking because often the easiest thing to figure out early on is that person is probably trying to do too much, especially in a small outfit,” Balcom said.
“Especially if they're the leader often that's a huge bottleneck. That's why a lot of our competitors never grow much more past 20 people unless you're extremely exceptional.”
When leaders insist on owning every single decision, you may quickly miss out on the opportunity to grow.
Culture is an essential part of company growth
When workplace culture is not emphasized, opportunities for growth can fall by the wayside. Balcom made culture one of his first priorities at Rossmann.
“I think the most important thing to top and bottom-line growth and, just health in general to a business, is culture,” Balcom said. “And Sara knew that culture was incredibly important. And not only to her personally but to the success or failure of the business.”
“One of the first things we had to figure out was the type of culture we wanted to have and how to execute on that. When I got here, it was a little fragment of great people, but the culture wasn't sticky yet, I think partly because it wasn't really defined yet. And the other thing is culture is always going to be predicated off of the efficiencies and the work environment in general,” Balcom explained.
In order for workplace culture to function, Balcom noted that employees have to have what they need to build a great culture to be happy. That, in addition to ensuring members of the team were happy, were cornerstones in determining the future success of the company’s culture.
“We're going to predicate our culture on accountability,” Balcom said. “We're going to stop feeling like a clock-punching environment. And we're going to ask, point-blank, what it is that people want or need from their job to make them better at their job?”
Slowly but surely, Balcom and the team started to put new best practices in place.
Understanding the role work plays in people’s lives
The basis for helping to build the culture at Rossmann, Balcom said, is built on the idea that employees spend a sizable part of their day working — why not make the environment in which that takes place one worth being a part of?
“What we're all here for — we’re trying our best to be happy, right? We just want to enjoy ourselves, we want to go home and enjoy our lives,” Balcom said. And we often spend a lot more time with our work colleagues than we do with our partners for crying out loud.”
Balcom said he describes how he builds culture to an old bad advertisement that predicated itself on the fact that people spent a third of your life in bed. That is, spend money on a bed because you spend so much time there.
“Same sort of concept — you spend a lot of your life at work, so you better damn well enjoy it, right?” Balcom said. “Let's make it a positive experience.”
Vertical leadership structure is still important
To implement these cultural goals, they would have to come from the top. And though the concept of a meritocracy has increased in popularity with the second tech boom, Balcom said that the old ways of leadership — a vertical structure — still holds a place in the workplace.
“I'm a little old-fashioned, I still believe in a vertical structure. I know that it's not very vogue these days. But I do believe in a vertical structure that has mutual respect and is incredibly collaborative, top to bottom,” Balcom said.
“I do think there's been a bit of an over-pivot where leadership has been undervalued — I think leadership is very, very important. And I believe that is easily drawn up through a vertical structure.”
Weekly routines create stickiness
To establish regular checkpoints and keep tabs on the culture, Balcom knew he would need to establish a routine. Though it might sound simple, weekly one-on-one meetings helped Balcom establish a connection with members of his team, which has paid dividends.
“I was just trying to build some rapport, trying to build a connection with the staff and get into a good rhythm where they knew every Wednesday at nine o'clock, we're gonna go for a walk, or we're gonna have a talk,” Balcom said.
“That was my very first cadence, which obviously is still sticky today. It eventually pivots into more of a work cadence, where we're talking about very specific things to their responsibilities and their need for collaboration.”
Other new routines included a weekly forecast review with his head architects, and a weekly project review using Monograph that allowed the team to regain business foresight.
“If you're managing 40 projects, for example, 25 of them may not be active. And if they're not active, they're kind of out of sight, out of mind,” Balcom said. Ultimately, this was preventing him from running a proactive business and making the right strategic decisions.
“This was where Monograph showed up,” said Balcom.
Pay incentives can help bolster company culture
As part of Rossmann’s growth journey, Balcom and his team installed new goals and benchmarks to ensure the team keeps exceeding its goals.
“Sara and I spent a lot of time at the end of last year and in Q4 coming up with targets that she felt comfortable with,” Balcom said. “And we got pretty darn aggressive. Like, these weren't 20% growth targets — these were 2x and 3x growth targets.”
Seeing if these targets would be hit would be another matter, though, but Balcom said the aggressive measures paid off.
“It's been a massive success. I love what it's done with the culture,” Balcom said. “We set the bar high, and I'm happy to say for Q1, we're going to do about 110, 111% of our Q1 target, which is super cool because it means everybody in our company just got full attainment of their Q1 bonus.”
The value of staying consistent
Balcom credits the bulk of recent success Rossmann is seeing not to fancy tech or new employees, but rather to something quite simple: consistency.
“Erik Rossmann asked me one day a few months ago, ‘How do you do this?’ And I said, ‘I wish I could tell you I'm really, really smart. But I'm not. I'm just, I'm just really, really good at doing the same shit over and over and over again.’ And that's really my secret sauce.”
Balcom said that by staying consistent and “running the cycles,” he’s been able to keep Rossmann employees in the loop, which has proved beneficial.
“I think they love knowing what's going on,” Balcom said. “I think they recognize how much more efficient it makes them. All of the leadership team is running regular weekly one-on-one cadences now. They're running regular team standup meetings. This stuff didn't exist before I got here. And these are all the reasons why we're just crushing it right now as a team.”
Transparency and respect go hand in hand
Silos and closed doors prevent both leaders and employees from coming together. Eventually, that breakdown in communication can erode respect.
“I think the company loves the ability to be that open book, and it fosters itself around the concept of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,’ which is another book that I mentioned is kind of my bible. I really believe that as long as respect is there, as long as everybody's treating each other in the correct manner, there is almost nothing that shouldn't be openly discussed,” Balcom said.
“I just don't feel like people closing doors are really missing an opportunity. I think the team likes to be involved in these conversations. I think people like being treated with that kind of respect. I value their opinion. It may not be their responsibility to figure out our forecasting. But I do like to hear, regardless if it's the most junior technician or the most senior architect, how the stimulus makes them feel and what they think. I think it makes us a stronger, bigger, better, faster team.”
For feeling like an outsider at the company when he was first considered to help lead Rossmann Architecture, Balcom sure seems to have quelled his own doubts. He’s helped steer the company toward a culture it can be proud of — and a business that’s followed suit.
Join us on Thursday, April 8th 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 Shane Balcom. Shane is Managing Director at Rossmann Architecture Inc. He spent four years in this space in Ottawa working as a "hired gun" in the Biz Dev realm for a trade company. During that time, he grew the topline commercial rev. by 2.5-4M, bringing on builders such as Doran/Taggart grp, Brocollini, Minto, Potvin, Richcraft, and Claridge to name a few. He builds the process ground up by first plugging in and getting respect and recognition from the local community – actively participating in the OCA, GOHBA, OXA etc. This combined with heading up existing projects from a relationship POV – proved for some very lucrative new and long-term relationships with major builders in the city.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Shane about how he runs the business side of Rossmann Architecture Inc.
- How Shane uses Monograph and how it helped him 2x revenue
- Why hiring someone like Shane to run a practice is unusual
- What lessons from tech and business development Shane now applies to practice operations
- and more!