New Orleans remodeler Chris Kornman recalls standing in line at a food truck next to a past client who was telling a companion about his renovation with Entablature LLC, Kornman’s remodeling firm. “These guys are like Mercedes,” the client said. “You don’t just get the car; you get the experience.” Kornman bought the man’s meal.
That sort of unsolicited praise isn’t just luck. Kornman, the winner of the 2022 Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award, purposefully created a business culture and a detailed process roadmap and integrated the concepts. This should come as no surprise from a person who describes himself as “very systems-oriented” and who has a PhD in psychology. In addition, he has a background in the production-building segment of the market.
Entablature specializes in large renovations and additions to historic homes in New Orleans, so Kornman accordingly began creating a process roadmap, the nuts and bolts of the remodeling business. In the course of the development, he realized that something was missing. He asked himself, “How do we make sure when we’re talking to our employees about the master process roadmap, they understand that underlying all this are relationships, the culture of the company?” As a result, he literally wrote the word culture at the very top of the master process roadmap.
Do the Right Thing
“Like the user interface of technology, our employees, clients and sub/supplier partners interact with our culture. Why would we let that culture determine its own course?” Kornman asks. “We have developed a purposeful culture that is rooted in our core values: ‘Do the right thing and do the thing right.’ We discuss it, measure it, and track it weekly.”
“We used to get jobs by having cutting-edge technology,” Kornman explains. “One day, our competitors suddenly had the same tech. Now, saying you employ tech is like bragging about having a cellphone. The new differentiator is people and culture, and competitors can’t mimic our culture. We already had a great culture, but it was by accident. Our goal was to understand what made it great and develop a system to maintain it.”
Kornman and business partner Scott Logan created a list of things they felt needed to be done to maintain their culture. Along with that was the need to make sure they were actually doing those things, so a scorecard was created. “We literally grade ourselves every week and track what we’re doing. We’ll take 30 minutes of every owner’s meeting to make sure we’re working on the cultural scorecard,” he says.
Nurturing Core Values
“Once we understood our culture, we created nurturing activities. We start our meetings with a ‘big win’ from every participant,” Kornman continues. “Each week we identify an example of a core value in action. I do bi-weekly check-ins. We surprise subs who model our core values with gift cards, and we have sub/supplier appreciation events. We developed touchpoints in our construction process that are specifically focused on the client relationship and not just construction. Lastly, we track each activity in our ‘culture scorecard.’”
The company culture is discussed, measured and tracked in a number of ways. For example, a weekly leadership meeting between Kornman, his business partner, and the director of construction features a standing agenda item to review the cultural scorecard and plan the next events related to the scorecard. The scorecard is based on cultural touchpoints the firm has developed.
At the Monday staff meeting, ongoing jobs are discussed. “I look for something in the discussion that exemplifies our core values, and I make a point of giving a shoutout to that employee for it. It’s not accidental that our core values are framed on the wall where we have our staff meetings,” Kornman says.
Annually, a self-evaluation with specific questions pertaining to the company’s core values is sent to each employee. This is followed up with a one-to-one meeting.
Kornman feels the scorecard is not burdensome. “It’s an element of people just being people instead of just being employees,” he says. “We bring them into the loop.”
Every other Wednesday, Kornman conducts 15-minute phone check-ins with each employee. These are scheduled on the company calendar at the exact same time, so that everyone knows to keep their time slot clear. During these phone calls, Kornman covers the same points:
- What are you seeing?
- What blind spots do you see?
- What questions do you have about your job role?
- What do you need from me?
- Here is what I see and what I need from you.
Acknowledging this is a subjective form of measuring the company’s culture, Kornman nevertheless finds employees’ responses are highly indicative of their overall happiness with the company. “Their responses also alert me to situational stress events that we can address right away before they impact the culture as a whole. An example was an issue with deliveries that could have easily become a highly stressful issue for the field staff and would have negatively impacted the culture. It was also a good example of our core values in action,” he says.
But company culture is only part of the story, Kornman explains. “A great culture can’t exist if employees don’t have the basic information to do their job. Related to our first initiative was a need to create a master process roadmap that details every single activity in the company with step-by-step instructions and an integrated library of all of our documents, marketing materials, and checklists for project managers. We turned our master process roadmap into an app for easy access from anywhere.”
Kornman continues, “We have a lot of institutional knowledge that only exists in employees’ heads. This makes training inefficient, which then limits growth. If an employee leaves and the information is only in his head, the information is gone. Further, the documented processes we had were stored in various locations with no rhyme or reason how they were organized in the digital world. This created a lot of inefficiencies even for experienced employees.”
Step by Step
The first step was to break the company into major divisions, such as field operations, sales and financial. Kornman relates, “We then identified every single activity required to run the company, from locating the Port-O-Let to our payroll process. A step-by-step process was written for each activity. Some activities only have a few steps, and some have 15 steps with multiple hyperlinks to required documents. Each quarter, the leadership team meets to update any processes that have been changed.”
This empowered new employees and reduced the need for them to call an experienced colleague and ask how to do something. “All they do is look up the activity they are doing, such as creating the ‘Welcome Home’ packet for our clients, and there is a detailed guide along with hyperlinks to any materials required. The secondary benefit is that it reduced mistakes. Even seasoned employees make mistakes when they are not required to follow a checklist,” Kornman says.
Everything from how to order new jobsite signs to contract creation is included. A comprehensive process in the roadmap deals with preparing for and conducting the project kickoff meeting. But at the top of the roadmap, culture is highlighted, signifying its level of importance.
There also is an implementation roadmap, an overarching roadmap for all the “working on the business” items that are tracked daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.
The Role of Technology
While both Entablature’s culture and roadmap contribute to the client experience exemplified by Kornman’s encounter with a past client at the food truck, another significant part of that experience is clients’ access to BuilderTrend, a web-based project-management platform. The platform is the hub through which clients can monitor the progress of their renovation, manage all the project’s financial transactions, and communicate with the Entablature team. It is a multimedia interface that provides 24-7 access to pictures, calendars, weather updates, budgets, a message center and a repository for all important project documents like contracts and change orders. In this way, Entablature’s clients are continuously updated on all aspects of their project’s progress.
Entablature’s early use of technology in a customer-facing application was a differentiator, but it became less so as competitors adopted the same platform or a similar one. Kornman is not overly concerned. “Even though lots of builders use the technology, it is just a part of our systems orientation. We can tell clients about our process roadmap and our cultural scorecard, but if we talked about all that and didn’t have a project-management system, that would a pretty glaring hole. The technology is 100 percent critical and a massive benefit,” he says.
“The differentiator now is not so much that you can use it as a selling point for clients. The differentiator is that some builders use it efficiently and effectively, and some builders don’t,” he concludes.
Chris Kornman and his team clearly have used not only technology to their advantage but have also wisely paid rigorous attention to process and culture to create a customer experience equal to that of Mercedes. QR
About Entablature LLC
Entablature LLC, headquartered in New Orleans, is a general contractor holding both residential and commercial licenses. Established 11 years ago, its work includes new construction, historic renovations, and tenant buildouts. Whether it’s adding a camelback, converting an existing double into a single, or building a new home designed to fit seamlessly into its historic surroundings, experience has provided Entablature with the expertise to address both the complexities inherent in working with historic structures and the sensitivities required to work in historic neighborhoods.
“What I love about it is every day is totally different. Every project is a big challenge, and you can’t just pull a project manager out of a production building company and turn them loose. They have to be someone who is really smart and is willing to work with a carpenter as a team to solve the sort of unusual problems you find in old houses,” co-owner Chris Kornman says.
Chris Kornman, one of the principals and the head of day-to-day operations of Entablature, is a third-generation builder who has been around construction his whole life. After earning a Ph.D. in psychology, Kornman spent the next 10 years working for a regional builder, where he created a division that specialized in renovating old New Orleans homes. Utilizing the experience and knowledge gained from both his psychology and construction training, Chris decided to form his own company: Entablature LLC.
Scott Logan is a principal and manages all of Entablature’s finance and accounting functions, as well as all of the company’s legal matters. Scott is a licensed attorney and a member of the state bar associations of both Louisiana and Georgia. He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his JD and MBA from Emory University in Atlanta. His career began in New Orleans in the offices of Columbus Properties.
Jason Klein is the director of construction for Entablature, overseeing all projects from conception to completion. Day to day, this includes inspecting all jobsites, creating and monitoring all schedules as well as managing all workflow of project managers, subcontractors and vendors. Jason’s early experience in the construction industry began at the age of 15 working for his aunt and uncle’s construction company. Eventually, he started his own construction company, Circa Builders, in 2006. In 2016, Circa and Entablature joined forces.
Sterling Cato joined the company in October 2019 as office manager. She was born and raised in Mississippi, where she studied marketing and art. As the office manager, Sterling is responsible for managing client services, driving social media and providing administrative support. She organizes and attends weekly meetings with clients and acts as a selections coordinator.
Doug Hebert is a project manager at Entablature. At the age of 15 Doug assisted his father in his first residential construction project. For 12 years Doug worked as a millwork fabricator, installer and field supervisor for Booth Architectural. From 2007 to 2016, Doug served as the project manager for Circa Builders, where he completed more than 60 residential projects as well as multiple restaurants and light commercial buildings throughout New Orleans. Doug joined Entablature in 2016.
Bruce Smith is a project manager with Entablature. As part of his 10-year military service (five years active duty, five reserve ) he was attached to NMBC 7, a mobile construction battalion that specializes in all types of construction in hostile environments. Upon leaving active duty in 2006, Bruce took his building and project management skills to New Orleans, where he flipped and built custom homes throughout the metro area.
About the Fred Case Award
Fred Case founded Case Design/Remodeling in 1961 with a dream of building a business, not a practice. For Fred, the status quo was never enough. He grew Case by bringing innovative solutions to his clients’ needs. Success came from staying on top of the latest business and design trends but also from listening to how his clients wanted to work.
Eventually, Case developed processes and systems to match those client preferences. As a manager, Case listened to team members and implemented their ideas. An even bigger goal was to raise the professionalism of the larger remodeling industry.
Fred, who is retired, believes that innovation can be found throughout the remodeling industry. Beginning in 2007, Case created the Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The award seeks to recognize those who exemplify innovation in their business, innovations that may manifest in different ways: new business processes; unique building processes or use of materials; streamlined systems; relevant training programs; and creative use of technology.
Applicants for this award must be an individual owner or partnership. They must have revenue less than $6 million. They must be in business for at least three years. Applications are judged on four criteria: community service, business acumen, achievement and entrepreneurial spirit.