Building Better Companies

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Neumann Homes Inc. in Warrenville, Ill., is No. 34 on Training magazine’s 2002 ranking of companies — in all industries — that “excel at human capital development.

June 01, 2002
Vice president of internal operations Dave Shellhamer (left) appreciates the development program at Neumann Homes, including Neumann University, founded by Gerry Post (right).

Neumann Homes Inc. in Warrenville, Ill., is No. 34 on Training magazine’s 2002 ranking of companies — in all industries — that “excel at human capital development.” Neumann University, founded by Gerry Post, who holds a doctorate in education, was formed in January 2000 at the behest of CEO Ken Neumann. The university has a five-day training program for new employees, but its major undertaking is designing and implementing a curriculum for each Neumann department, and these curricula become the certification vehicles for job placement and advancement within the company.

Neumann University offers approximately 35 classes quarterly. Curricula are delivered via e-learning modules, on-the-job training, and leadership certification that varies with management level. All employees must receive 60 hours of training per year. All senior managers must teach at least 30 hours per year, and Ken Neumann teaches about six hours a week. Classes are taught at the company’s headquarters during work hours.

Employees also are encouraged to take personal development classes, such as stress management, toward their required 60 hours.

“Our CEO and the organization at large believes that individual and team development is the key to the success of the organization,” Post says. “We align our teachings to the strategic initiatives of the company, and we’ve always had an immense amount of support. We all also do things outside of the organization.”

One option for outside educational fulfillment is a full-tuition reimbursement program, which requires an agreement to stay with the company for one year after receipt of degree.

Dave Shellhamer, vice president of internal operations, was a Neumann Homes employee before Neumann University was created, and he attests to the company’s commitment to professional development. He came to the company years ago disillusioned by negative experiences with other builders and wanted to know what Neumann could give him in return for his commitment.

“I wasn’t talking about pay raises. I was talking about promotions, growth and learning,” Shellhamer says. Neumann’s development program has helped him earn five promotions in five years. “I keep growing and moving, and I appreciate that about the company.”

At Astoria Homes in Las Vegas, employees must take 40 hours of continuing education and professional development per year, with most of the training formulated by each department for its workers based on individual needs determined during annual employee/ manager reviews.

For employees in her department, marketing director Sia Howe selects classes related to both the department and individual positions. She has used the local home builders association; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; community colleges; and seminars sponsored by consulting companies as training grounds for employees, typically sending people off site during business hours.

“We don’t want to burden people with additional hours,” Howe says. “Training and development should be looked at as a benefit of working at Astoria.”

At Chandler Design-Build in Chapel Hill, N.C., managing partner Michael Chandler pays for employees to attend any seminar, trade show or class they desire, even if it’s not directly related to skills used on the job. He gives all new hires a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People so they can learn to work in teams and get along with others. But continuing education is not required.

“The idea of something being mandatory here doesn’t fit with the spirit of our company; things are encouraged,” Chandler says. “People take advantage of it differently depending on where they are in their lives.”

Given Chandler’s decision to keep his nine-person company small, he also can teach employees how the company works from the top down. He reviews the company’s financials with employees, and opens the books to them to illustrate how decisions are made and profit is distributed. His dedication to teaching and to encouraging employees to mentor one another pays off.

“If people feel like they’re learning something from their job, as well as paying the rent, they’ll be less fixated on what their paycheck is and more fixated on being part of the team,” Chandler says. “Every time I increase the benefits to my employees, I end up increasing the benefits to my customers and my bottom line. It’s contributed to our company’s success.”

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