As anyone who works in the affordable housing industry knows, this is not an industry for the faint of heart or the person looking to make a quick buck and exit. In addition to having to navigate a complex regulatory and political landscape, it takes many years to build relationships with community partners and to earn the trust of the public, both of which are essential to being successful.
One of Housing Trust Group’s biggest challenges during the past few years has been managing our organization’s rapid growth. Over the past four years, we’ve tripled our staff and expanded into three additional states. We are a family-owned business, so we want to preserve our close-knit, family-oriented culture; at the same time, we must scale up if we’re going to meet the tremendous demand for affordable housing. Reconciling these two seemingly competing objectives has taught me several valuable lessons about running a successful business.
1. Surround yourself with smart people. I’m not talking about people with multiple Ivy League degrees (although that’s great, too). I’m talking about people who demonstrate integrity and good judgment, and who can gracefully maneuver challenges independently. Growth requires giving up some control, so you need to trust your team to make increasingly important decisions.
2. Hire and cultivate culture leaders. These are individuals who model your organization’s values and leadership style through actions rather than words. Good leaders are willing to do everything they ask of subordinates. When you create a culture with leadership up and down the chain of command then everyone, regardless of their title, understands the mission and can make changes in the field to accomplish it.
3. Think imaginatively with hiring.
4. Hire slowly, terminate quickly. Easier said than done while in growth mode, but important nonetheless. Also, trust your gut. If your first impression of someone is negative, it’s unlikely that it will change over a year or two.
5. Prioritize and execute. You simply cannot do everything at once. Even if everything appears to be a priority, you still need to prioritize. Relax, look around, and make a call.
In short, this is a business that favors the long-term player, and growth is only possible when you have the right team and a winning mindset.