Reinforcing company values starts from within
The head of Australia’s Dennis Family Group, Grant Dennis, tells Poppulo how the company’s employees are at the heart of its success, how they define the values and culture that form its identity, and how internal communication is the oil that keeps everything running smoothly.
With different entities operating in the housing construction, land development and retail/commercial sectors of the Australian property industry, the inner mechanisms of the Dennis Family Group of companies can be difficult for outside observers to understand as intimately as we do ourselves.
In short, our home building activity operates under the Dennis Family Homes brand throughout the state of Victoria and southern New South Wales, whilst the residential communities we create through our land development projects in Victoria and South-East Queensland are managed by the Dennis Family Corporation.
A separate brand – Ranfurlie Asset Management – was established more recently to steer our retail/commercial activity which includes a portfolio of four shopping centers around the Victorian capital city of Melbourne.
That is just the basic snapshot of what we do and where we operate, without mention of several other layers that have been woven into the fabric and structure of our company. You could say we are diverse in our complexity or complex in our diversity. Either way would be an equally appropriate description for our organizational profile.
Within this framework are our people and our culture. Both are intrinsically linked.
It was our people who helped identify and agree upon the Dennis Family core values of Honesty & Integrity, Passion, Caring, Vision and Quality during a workshop session at our staff conference back in 2003.
These values have underpinned our success in everything we’ve done as a business from that moment on. By giving our staff a direct involvement in the creation of our values, they felt invested in the process and remain so to this day.
Over the course of the past 16 years, those values have shaped our company’s culture and we now look upon them as part of our DNA.
Each of the values carries deep significance to us. In demonstrating our commitment to honesty and integrity we aim to deliver on our promises, take responsibility for our actions and always be truthful.
Passion is what drives our success, whilst caring is about developing relationships through listening, understanding and respecting others.
Vision involves working towards company goals and embracing an innovative approach across the entire business. Our focus on vision provides us with a clear picture of the future, which can give us a competitive edge over other businesses in our industry. It can also help us determine the implication of our actions.
Of all our values, none has more relevance than our deep-set commitment to providing the highest quality products and services. Our reputation has been built on a foundation of quality and excellence in our work and it is something we can never compromise on or take for granted in any way.
From our family’s perspective, we consider it important to use a variety of communications tools to reinforce our values, both externally and internally.
By consistently promoting our values to external audiences as we go about our everyday business we have been extremely successful in building trust with our customers.
Just as importantly, however, we have also made a concerted effort to also focus on internal communication to champion our values.
From day one, all new staff members who join any of the businesses in the Dennis Family Group receive a booklet documenting the company values as part of their induction pack, but the communication at an internal level far from ends there.
Within a short time of their commencement, new staff members are invited to attend a group morning tea hosted by my father Bert Dennis, who founded our company and continues to be the inspirational force behind our business at 84 years of age.
Bert always greets the new arrivals with four simple words – Welcome to our family.
We are a family-owned and operated business and Bert truly does consider the staff members to be an extension of our own family.
He then regales the new employees with the incredible story behind his rise from an impoverished childhood to a business career in the property industry that is now on the verge of six decades of success. Within that story, he devotes considerable time towards emphasizing the importance of the company values to the new staff members.
Many other initiatives within our company also add to the reinforcement of our values, some directly, others more subtly.
One of the more direct examples is our staff rewards and recognition program known as DFC Stars, where staff members can nominate a colleague for an award and prize based purely on them demonstrating any of our values in their work duties. That could be anything from their passion for a particular project, to their work ethic, or the quality of their performance.
The only proviso is that the action for which they are being nominated must link to one of our company values.
Whenever staff members reach the 10-year service milestone at our company they are invited to a celebratory lunch hosted by my family and their names are added to a large honor board at our Head Office in Melbourne. Displayed on the wall alongside those names are descriptions of each of our core values. We also use several other signs around our offices to promote the values to visitors as well as our own staff.
Taking an active involvement in charitable endeavors is another important part of the culture at Dennis Family. This is reflective of the value of caring. One example that has become a company tradition over many years is our practice of holding a monthly morning tea at our office in Melbourne where staff raise funds and provide information about a different charity each month.
The responsibility for hosting the morning tea and selecting the nominated charity is shared amongst different departments within our business each time.
At other times of the year, we also activate two major charity-driven fundraising efforts that involve our entire company. The first is held mid-year in support of the Property Industry Foundation which assists homeless and at-risk young people.
Our staff members donate money from their June pay to assist this cause and we also call on the outside support of our suppliers and sub-contractors, many of whom donate generously to add to our tally.
The second of our special fundraising efforts is at Christmas, where the money collected through various internal initiatives is donated to the Australian Red Cross.
Another avenue for reinforcing our values to our staff is via our dedicated in-house video channel known as Dennis TV, which broadcasts news and information throughout the company. Dennis TV produces content covering many subjects, but invariably most stories can be linked in some way to one of our core values.
It is through the wide mix of internal communications tools that I have briefly outlined that we ensure that our values are embraced by staff members from their arrival and remain with them throughout their tenure at our company.
We also know that the merit of our values is not confined to the workplace. The values of Honesty & Integrity, Passion, Caring, Vision and Quality apply equally to everyday life and can continue to have a positive influence on people beyond their time with us.