Open, Honest Communication Sustains McWhinney

By Adrienne Fox Jul 1, 2007
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HR Magazine, July 2007 #13 Small Company on the 2007 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America List

"We create great places for people is the guiding principle at McWhinney, a real estate development company in Loveland, Colo. The tagline refers to the properties the firm designs and builds, but it also extends to the company itself, which debuts on this years list of the Best Small Companies to Work for in America at No. 13.

Located in an idyllic setting 50 miles north of Denver, the company is nestled next to an environmental nature reserve where employees enjoy views of a lake, a reservoir and, off in the distance, the Rocky Mountains.

Its hard to get your work done when youre looking at that view, jokes Suzie Hozier, business support associate in the people services team at McWhinney.

But plenty of work gets accomplished at this fast-growing development firm with residential and commercial projects in northern Colorado. Founded in 1991 by CEO Chad McWhinney and his brother, Troy McWhinney, principal of acquisitions, the firm now has 75 employees and plans to expand beyond Colorado.

The McWhinney brothers credit the success of transitioning the company from an upstart to a mature, wellmanaged one to Johnna Bavoso, whom Chad met in 2001 at the behest of one of the companys advisors. Bavoso, who was a training and organization development consultant at the time, began coaching the brothers on management style and people issues. Two years later, she gave up her 25-year consulting business and joined McWhinney as the senior vice president of people services, but shes more commonly referred to as the company coach.

Bavoso helped Chad understand who he needed -- and didnt need -- in the organization to take it to the next level. People always ask me if I could do it [starting the company] all over again, what would I do differently, says Chad McWhinney. I always say that I would have put the right people in the right positions a lot earlier.

Now he is a true convert who rattles off aphorisms like getting the right people in the right seats on the bus and first who, then what from management guru Jim Collins.

At McWhinney, employees have the opportunity to move to different seats on the bus to find their true passion even if it means creating a new position. A conversation with many people at McWhinney often reveals that they are in their second or third seat.

I like to put people in a pretend state and ask if they could do anything what would it be, explains Chad McWhinney. That question put to a maintenance technician revealed that he wanted to be involved in the design phase of construction to help prevent some of the problems he has to fix later. Thats his newly created position.

Two recent hires have developing job descriptions. They came on board for their character and competence, Bavoso explains, and are being worked with to discover how they can best contribute to the company. That takes a lot of trust in the organization, notes Rocky Scott, president of McWhinney-Centerra, one of the firms planned communities.

Trust is essential in a company that lives by another doctrine: Tell me first, referring to the ban on gossip. If someone has a conflict, misunderstanding or failed connection with an associate, the rule is to tell that person first and to work it out. Many go to Bavoso for coaching to resolve issues. Its hard to work in this kind of culture, but its better in the long run, says Dave Morante, vice president of people services.

Fix the problem, not the blame is another oft-repeated phrase at McWhinney. The leadership makes clear that there are no mistakes, only mis-takes and opportunities to learn from them. When the company faced a challenging customer situation, COO Doug Hill asked employees for suggestions on how it might be approached.

After helping to establish the open communication culture at McWhinney, Bavoso is prepping Morante to take over when she retires. One of my biggest challenges before I leave is to make sure the culture is sustained as we grow, she says.

She shouldnt worry too much. As Wendy Ellis, vice president of marketing, says, Whenever we talk about a new project, we first talk about how it will affect the culture.

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Video Profile: McWhinney Real Estate Services

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List of Best Small Companies to Work for in America, 2007

List of Best Medium Companies to Work for in America, 2007

50 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America home page

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