Hand-crafted shutters adorning prominent buildings and homes throughout the U.S.
Rick Skidmore is the CEO and founder of Timberlane Shutters. Since 1995, Timberlane has furnished its customers’ homes and business buildings with built-to-order, hand-crafted exterior shutters and hand-forged hardware. The company has created shutters for prestigious clients such as the White House, Disney, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and its products are favorites among set designers for major Hollywood motion pictures. Timberlane has been featured on PBS, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Curb Appeal, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, and Katie Brown Workshop. Aside from leading Timberlane, Rick is also the bestselling author of Smart Business Growth: 12 Case Studies on Ways to Grow Your Business in a Timely, Yet Prudent Way, for Small Businesses.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Company culture seems to be an important aspect of Timberlane. What have you done to create and maintain that culture?
RICK SKIDMORE: One of my passions is creating and maintaining a very unique and very different work culture. I have a lot of strong opinions around work environment and employee engagement. One of the things I saw as I grew my business over time was that the HR function, to me, was always very administrative. You hire somebody, you fill out some paperwork, you onboard them, and then you give them a performance review. It just seemed like there was something missing from that. And over time, we’ve spent considerable money and time and resources on really understanding who we are as an organization—understanding our culture, what our core values are, what our purpose is—and we use that as a filter for when we hire people and how we manage people.
It’s actually pretty simple. If you’ve built a group and an organization of people that are all engaged and aligned around a common vision and goal, and you want to work together, you create an environment where people tend to pull towards. As a result of that, when it came time to position the business for continued growth, I wanted to—by virtue of creating a very different HR function—I wanted to call it something different. Because the reality is we don’t have thousands of employees and we don’t have a lot of turnover, so we don’t really need an HR person in a traditional sense. What we need is somebody to safeguard the culture and to put focus around the things that are most important, which is our people, and really to support our leadership team.
How do you define your culture?
We try to have a lot of fun. I think it’s important to celebrate constantly. There’s a lot of things we do, so it’s kind of hard to just fill it in to a few powerful phrases or statements, but one of the things that I think is most important and it’s so often done well is communicating. We communicate, communicate, communicate. We talk about good stuff and we talk about bad stuff and we don’t sugarcoat it. When we’re having a business challenge, whatever that might be, we’re talking about that with our employees—we’re engaging them—because most of the time the answers to a lot of the challenges that are faced are sitting between the ears of an employee that’s working for us, so why not include them into that process? We have a lot of fun, we have a lot of celebrations, and we have a very kind of casual kind of fun environment.
Transparency is another important Timberlane value.
Yeah, and it’s taken lots of forms over the years. I had the benefit of meeting Jack Stack 15 years ago. Jack wrote a book called The Great Game of Business and he’s one of the early pioneers of the concept of transparency and open-book management. I was captivated very early in my business career with the idea of talking openly about business successes and failures and opening up some of the key financial points that most companies keep very closely guarded. To me it was very simplistic; I looked at it from the standpoint of “knowledge is power”: So how can I expect my team and my employees to help me solve business problems and grow the business if they didn’t understand the relationship between success and failure and how their actions on a daily basis either contribute to the success of the business or took away from it?
That was, I guess you’d say, a launching point. I came back and I was inspired by that. What came out of that, probably three or four months later, was our first iteration of transparency. And to this day, it’s taken lots of different forms, but we have a full town hall company meeting once a month where the senior management team gets up and talks about our results over the last month. We put up our P&L and we talk about the things that worked and the things that didn’t work—what our key initiatives are for that month and what they were for the prior month and how we’re tracking towards that. And the level of engagement that results from that is incredibly powerful.
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