Strategies for Building a Strong Team in New Markets

In Culture by Gordon Highlander

Navigating the intricate landscape of the construction industry presents numerous challenges, especially when developing a construction company growth strategy for expansion. Such strategies require a deep understanding of local dynamics and the adaptation of tried-and-true models to new territories.

In this article, we delve into our journey expanding to Central Texas, offering insights into our experiences, lessons learned, and strategies for the future.

Listening, Expansion, and Culture

When organizations expand, it isn’t just about tapping into a new market or setting up new offices. For us, it started with recognizing the needs of our clients and answering the call to the markets they are in.

Our expansion to Austin and the rest of Central Texas was driven by ambition and a construction company growth strategy informed by consistent feedback from clients seeking our unique approach in their market. The foundation of any successful construction business expansion hinges on timing and having the right leaders at the forefront. This strategic alignment and our dedicated clients ignited our decision, streamlining the hiring process and project procurement and establishing a solid presence in the region.

However, it’s worth noting that the real challenge was not centered on delivering projects. Instead, it was seamlessly transferring an established company culture to a new terrain. Over half a decade, certain stalwarts had become the bedrock of Gordon Highlander’s culture. When the move to Austin transpired, these key players didn’t need a refresher on our values—they were the embodiment of them.

This inherent understanding and transplant of our core values and culture bolstered our Austin office’s success. It’s not just a story of growth; it’s a testimony to the importance of listening to clients, timing our moves right, and ensuring that wherever we go, our heart (or, in this case, our culture) goes with us.

Understanding the Austin Market: From Challenges to Triumphs

Central Texas has a distinctive business landscape. With operations stretching from Temple to southern San Antonio, the manner in which business is conducted is unlike the practices observed in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) metroplex. 

Navigating this unfamiliar terrain brought its own set of challenges. Introducing new methodologies, forging connections with key suppliers, and working alongside our partners demanded an intimate understanding of the local dynamics. The initial journey wasn’t without its setbacks. There were instances where financial expectations weren’t met, and unanticipated mistakes surfaced. 

However, rather than passing the buck, we took it upon ourselves to rectify these issues without burdening our clients. Every misstep became a lesson learned, emphasizing our commitment to constant growth and improvement.

Revolutionizing Design-Build in Austin

One of the primary nuances lay in understanding the term “design-build.” In the DFW industrial sector, design-build involves a close partnership between architects and contractors, optimizing designs to best suit construction needs. 

However, the term design-build in Austin had a different connotation, often causing confusion among local stakeholders. Explaining and emphasizing our unique approach is sometimes met with skepticism. But client endorsements, those who had experienced our methods in DFW, bridged this gap.

After showcasing our design-build approach in Austin through practical application, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. This facilitated the path for repeated collaborations, and word quickly spread. Over the last two and a half years, our innovative design-build methods in Austin began reshaping the market. Consequently, Gordon Highlander has solidified its presence in Central Texas, emerging as a leading entity in industrial ventures. Our expansion narrative in Austin reflects the triumphant merger of established market strategies with in-depth local insights.

Team Expansion and Company Culture in Austin

As Gordon Highlander ventured into the Austin landscape, it wasn’t just about establishing a construction presence. It was a journey of blending our storied legacy and core values with Austin’s vibrant and unique ethos. This amalgamation required a careful and deliberate approach, which pivoted on two central themes: team expansion and nurturing a harmonized company culture. In an industry where each city presents its own distinct rhythm and blueprint, this expedition into Austin has been a masterclass in strategic growth while maintaining the heart and soul of what makes Gordon Highlander stand out.

Construction Company Growth Strategy

Rapid Team Growth

In 2022, our presence in Austin was relatively small, with a modest team of just four dedicated members. Their initial efforts laid the foundation, navigating the unique challenges and opportunities of the Austin construction landscape. Their dedication to their roles and understanding and integrating into the local market dynamics was instrumental in setting the stage for what was to come.

A year’s time has brought about significant transformation. Today, our Austin branch has a team of 12 professionals, each bringing their own expertise to the table. This threefold growth has not only been quantitative but also qualitative. The synergy among the team members, combined with the experience and insights they’ve accumulated, has supercharged our operations in the region.

One might wonder about the catalysts behind the growth in a relatively short span. Key factors include our strategic hiring processes, a keen focus on local market demands, and the unwavering support from our headquarters. By aligning our resources, values, and market strategies, we managed to accomplish a growth trajectory that many companies only dream of achieving.

Staffing Strategy

At the heart of Gordon Highlander’s success in Austin lies a meticulously crafted staffing strategy. Recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities in Austin, we sought to strike a balance between the familiarity of our proven methods and the fresh perspectives offered by local talent. Our roots in DFW provided us with a pool of seasoned professionals familiar with our company ethos and working style. Transferring many of these long-term employees to Austin expedited the setup process and ensured the seamless continuation of our brand presence in the new region.

However, the importance of understanding the local nuances and building genuine relationships in Austin was paramount. This gave rise to our approach of supplementing our team with hires directly from the Austin market. These local hires brought with them a wealth of knowledge about Austin’s construction landscape and a deep understanding of regional client needs.

Understanding Local Nuances

One of the most profound insights we gained during our expansion into Austin was the irreplaceable advantage of having team members who inherently understand the local market. Austin, with its unique blend of history, culture, and economic dynamics, presents a tapestry of construction challenges and opportunities that are distinct from other cities. By hiring individuals familiar with these Austin-specific nuances, we ensured that Gordon Highlander was not just constructing buildings but was truly embedding itself within the fabric of the city. These team members effortlessly navigated the local regulations, forged connections with regional suppliers, and anticipated market trends, granting us a competitive edge.

Yet, as we integrated these Austin-based professionals into our fold, another challenge loomed: preserving and transmitting the Gordon Highlander company culture. Our ethos, often referred to as the “Highlander Way,” has been a cornerstone of our success over the years. Merging this with the Austin team’s local expertise was crucial. To address this, we instituted rigorous onboarding programs and regular training sessions. These initiatives were aimed at immersing our new recruits in our core values, work ethics, and company traditions. The goal was not just to teach, but to foster a shared sense of purpose and belonging, ensuring that every project undertaken in Austin resonated with the signature Gordon Highlander standard of excellence.

Understanding The Highlander Way

In the multifaceted world of construction and company expansion, a recurrent theme emerges—the intertwining of culture and skill. It is a symbiotic relationship, where one without the other may not foster the desired results. As we delve into Highlander’s approach toward talent acquisition and retention, it’s evident that this balance plays a paramount role. 

The chapters ahead shine a light on this balance, offering an insight into our distinctive methodology of preserving the core Highlander ethos while still embracing the invaluable nuances that every individual, whether from Austin or Dallas, brings to the collective table. The resulting blend is what has carved our unique path in the industry and set the foundation for our unparalleled success.

Construction Company Growth Strategy

Culture Vs. Skills

In our journey of expansion, we faced a critical juncture that demanded introspection: the delicate balance between preserving company culture and harnessing local skills. After extensive internal discussions and evaluations, a vital revelation emerged. While technical skills and local market know-how are undoubtedly crucial, the essence of Gordon Highlander’s success has always been rooted in its unique company culture. We found that it was more straightforward to teach someone already aligned with our company’s values and ethos the Austin work methodology’s intricacies than to immerse someone native to Austin into the very fabric of our identity.

This realization, however, did not translate to a strict hiring formula. While it provided guidance on the nuances of talent acquisition, we remained open to diversifying our team. In fact, out of our current team of 12 members in Austin, only three are direct hires from the city. This speaks volumes about our flexible approach. While the essence of Gordon Highlander remains consistent, we’ve also embraced the invaluable insights and skills that local talent brings to the table, thereby fostering a diverse and dynamic team that truly embodies the best of both worlds.

Searching for “Athletes”

At Gordon Highlander, our hiring philosophy took an unconventional yet profoundly effective turn when Cody Bailey introduced the concept of seeking out “athletes” in our recruitment endeavors. This term doesn’t refer to individuals with physical prowess or athletic backgrounds but to professionals who exhibit a versatile skill set reminiscent of college football players. Just as a college athlete might shine in a specific position yet possess the agility, mindset, and drive to excel across multiple roles, our ideal “athletes” in the business realm possess similar adaptability.

These “athletes” may not come armed with an extensive background in construction or an immediate familiarity with our distinct processes. However, they bring to the table a host of intangible qualities—a resilience to navigate challenges, a hunger to learn, and an innate ability to resonate with the core principles that define the Highlander ethos. It’s these intrinsic attributes that we’ve recognized as invaluable, often even more so than direct industry experience. While we can teach methodologies and processes, instilling these inherent qualities, we’ve found, is a far more challenging endeavor. Therefore, in our recruitment strategy, we prioritize these character traits, trusting that the technical skills can be nurtured over time with the right attitude and aptitude.

The Ultimate Objective

For Gordon Highlander, the pursuit of excellence isn’t just a corporate tagline—it’s the lifeblood that permeates through every tier of our organization. While technical competencies and skill-specific knowledge are undoubtedly valuable, the ultimate objective transcends these measurable metrics. The essence of our success lies in an individual’s inherent passion for excellence—a fervor that cannot be easily taught or replicated. This intangible desire to consistently push boundaries, achieve greatness, and lift those around them is the cornerstone of our growth and achievements.

When we reflect on our Central Texas team, their commitment and zeal stand out remarkably. Their professional approach is not rigidly defined by the boundaries of their job titles. Instead, they embody a proactive spirit, always seeking avenues to contribute, learn, and inspire more. Such a mindset makes them much more than employees; they become catalysts for change and pillars of our organizational strength. This unwavering drive to exceed expectations, combined with their innate urge to foster collective success, is what elevates Gordon Highlander from a conventional construction company to a powerhouse of innovation and excellence in the industry.

Challenges, Learning, and Replicability

In the realm of expanding a construction business, there are various challenges faced when venturing into new markets. A primary challenge is achieving a deep understanding of local market dynamics, which includes familiarizing oneself with developers, architects, engineers, municipalities, and subcontractors. This intricate web of relationships and nuances cannot be built overnight, underscoring the importance of having local experts on the team.

The challenges extend beyond merely understanding the local players. Due to the dynamic nature of the construction industry, replicating a successful model from one location doesn’t necessarily mean it will thrive in another. While some construction approaches, like those for specific commercial brands, may seem replicable on the surface, We emphasize the subtle intricacies of their work. It demands unwavering dedication from both the client and the organization. 

A significant lesson from our Central Texas journey emphasizes the construction company growth strategy rooted in patience and persistence. The readiness to invest multiple years without expecting instant returns is crucial. To replicate this success in other regions, employing skilled builders is essential, especially those who align with the company’s ethos, epitomized by the “Highlander Way.”

Future Outlook and Conclusion

Looking to the future, we recognize the distinctiveness of different markets, such as Dallas versus Austin. This acknowledgment drives home the point that generic strategies might not be universally effective. The importance of leveraging technology and tailoring content to match local preferences and cultural nuances is evident. For instance, a balance between a relaxed and professional demeanor is appreciated in the Austin market. To tap into this, we envision content that might be less formal, perhaps offering a glimpse into a typical day at their office.

However, the essence of being fully committed or “all in.” Lessons from our Houston venture underscore that lukewarm efforts won’t yield the desired results. The team’s collective determination to achieve our goals is a standout aspect of their Central Texas venture. This dedication, when combined with the ability to adapt to local intricacies, lays the groundwork for our future strategies.

To sum it up, crafting a construction company growth strategy in the construction industry comes with its share of challenges, especially when considering expansion. However, we foresee a fruitful pathway to achieving success in new territories by seamlessly integrating local knowledge, unwavering commitment, and adaptability.

Embrace the Highlander Way: Paving Paths to New Markets Together

Embracing challenges and adapting to local nuances is the cornerstone of success in the construction industry’s expansion. As you journey through our experiences and insights, we encourage you to consider how these lessons can be applied to your own ventures. Whether you’re in construction or another industry, the principles of patience, understanding, and adaptability are universally significant. 

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Construction Company Growth Strategy

About Gordon Highlander

Gordon Highlander, headquartered in Texas, is a premier general contractor focusing on design-build and partially- and fully-engineered construction solutions. With decades of legacy, we have delivered millions of square feet across diverse commercial and industrial sectors. Our expertise extends to major Texan markets, including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.