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Business Observer Friday, May 12, 2017 1 year ago

Get on the bus

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A homebuilder, to help shine a light on employees, reversed-engineered its brand. It has had a big impact.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

When London Bay Homes President and CEO Mark Wilson hired Sabra Smith in 2014, he knew he was getting an experienced human resources executive.

Smith, among other career stops, headed up HR at Bonita Bay Group from 1992 to 2008 — when the company grew into one of the largest homebuilders and developers in Southwest Florida. But while Smith has helped hire some 70 people in less than three years at Naples-based London Bay, her main mission at the company veered off the traditional human resources track.

That mission? To create and implement an internal program, dubbed an employee-branding campaign, that would be a road map for anyone on the London Bay payroll to articulate the company's “why.” The major assignment took on an even greater sense of urgency for Smith considering London Bay, surging in home sales, has grown from 60 to 120 employees since 2015. Officials with the company, founded in 1990, decline to disclose revenue figures.

“The worst thing in the world would be if our employees could not deliver our elevator pitch on what our mission and vision is,” Smith says.

The end result of the mission is BUS: Building Unique Stories.

The acronym is essentially a blend of the company's core values, mission, vision, the why it's in business and its external motto — private-label living.

But BUS is more than a metaphor. When Smith and her HR team introduced BUS in February at a companywide event, they also debuted an internal reward system, where employees can nominate colleagues who go above and beyond. The prize: a gift card, $20 to $100, for somewhere specific to that winner's favorite places, from Starbucks to an online retailer. The winner also receives a toy replica double-decker bus.

The toy bus, says Smith, has quickly become a badge of honor and in many cases is more valuable to employees than the gift card. She takes a picture of a bus winner, and he or she is written up in the weekly company news bulletin. “We make a big deal about it,” says Smith.

Wilson says the BUS campaign is a hit — he's given out a few buses himself, citing extraordinary work. “It's building camaraderie at all levels of the company,” Wilson says in an email response to questions. “I've also been encouraged to see employees come together to actively seek out and recognize other employees for embodying our core values.”

Smith and a group of London Bay executives and managers from a variety of departments worked behind the scenes for a year to create the employee-branding campaign. The core question the group kept coming back to, says Smith, was “what does it mean to be a London Bay employee?”

London Bay has a top-notch wellness program, where employees, among other perks, get a $100 Fitbit activity tracker and free gym memberships. So that came up a lot in the conversations. Another topic that came up often is the pride and passion employees feel when they are able to customize a client's request with minimum red tape.

Taken all together, Smith and her team heard three words — building and unique and stories. “We considered so many ideas,” says Smith. “This one just hit on all cylinders with us. This is the best employee-branding campaign I've ever been a part of, bar none.”

CAMPAIGN TIPS

Sabra Smith, who oversees human resources at Naples-based London Bay Homes, says there are several key elements to creating and implementing a successful employee-branding campaign. The top three:
• It has to be memorable;
• It has to be simple and easy to understand;
• It has to have an element of fun.

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