By Pat Curry. There's nothing quite like having your employees say your company is a great place to work. Unless, maybe, it's Fortune Magazine saying your company is a great place to work. For the past three years, Houston-based David Weekley Homes has been on the magazine's list of the top 100 companies to work for. They are the only builder on the list.

The company's culture puts an emphasis on employee satisfaction and retention, says David Weekley, the company's CEO and chairman of the board. In fact, the 988 people who work for the company aren't called employees; they're team members.

"The employee terminology by its very nature indicates superior/subordinate," Weekley says. "Team members are a group of equals working toward a common goal. While different people might have a different position, it has nothing to do with the quality of individual."

And there's no human resources division. It's the People Services Department.

The process of building employee satisfaction and retention starts with the hiring process. Mike Gentry, vice president of the People Services Department, says that hiring managers are trained to continually scout new talent, so the interviewing process can essentially last for months.

"You can't do an interview and get to know that person," Gentry says. "It does take time. My dad called it having time in the saddle. Our hiring managers invest a lot of time in doing that. I know managers who have been talking to a person for a couple of years."

Those who are asked to join the company can expect a visit from the hiring manager -- to talk to their spouse.

"The industry is not necessarily an 8 to 5 job," Weekley says. "If a spouse is not supportive of that team member working in our industry, it won't be a good match. So the manager shows up to answer questions and share that we're excited to have them consider us. It has a very positive impact on the spouse. They've never had an executive give them the time of day, much less consider them important."

Profit Kickers

As for benefits, they're fairly standard -- things like medical insurance, paid vacation, tuition reimbursement -- along with a generous 401(k) matching program. But then there's profit sharing. The company sets a 5 percent profit margin as a minimum for the quarter. If profits go to 6 percent, team members get a 6 percent bonus for the quarter. If it's 10 percent, they get a 10 percent bonus; plus, another 50 percent of the bonus amount is added to their 401(k) accounts.

"We call it the profit-sharing kicker," Weekley says.

But Gentry doesn't see the benefits package as "what brings 'em and certainly not what keeps 'em." That accolade, he says, goes to the managers who know their staff well enough to understand what's important to them, what will motivate them, and what they need to balance their jobs with their responsibilities at home.

"We try to avoid situations where people think they have to leave," Gentry says.

"Our managers work so hard to make this a great place to work so people don't have to make those kinds of choices. No corporate program in the world will make that happen."

The Fortune profile noted that "they party with a passion at this homebuilder. Good performance might be rewarded with a trip to the 'money machine,' a spinning, grab-what-you-can game. Incentive trips whisk entire divisions to places like Cancun." Or Hawaii, or San Juan, or on a cruise. Sometimes the trips are company-wide; others are within divisions, Weekley says, and are designed to get sales and construction interested in each other's performance.

While incentive trips aren't anything new, Weekley makes his staff take the time off to go and gives them cash to cover expenses "so it really is free to them."

Caring Counts

Weekley says the most unusual -- and perhaps the most controversial -- employee benefit is David Weekley Cares, a corporate chaplaincy program he instituted two years ago. Marketplace Ministries, a third-party vendor, provides the chaplains. Cost is about $100,000 a year.

"It works for the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy," Weekley says. "I thought it would work for us, too. And it does. Regardless of someone's religious beliefs, we all need caring."

Chaplains have visited with team members' spouses in the hospital, helped them deal with rebellious teens, and performed weddings. Just after the program started, Weekley got an e-mail from a team member who said the chaplain had saved his life when he had contemplated suicide after being served with divorce papers.

Part of the reason Weekley instituted the program is because of his own personality. "I'm a classic entrepreneur," he says. "I'm personally not as nurturing as I would like to be. These folks help us through some of the issues of life. It just helps deepen the relationship."

It's all part of an ongoing effort to create a work place that is affirming and even fun. That translates into costume contests for Halloween, candy on team members' birthdays, and divisions working together on charitable events. New hires attend a two-day orientation at company headquarters; when they arrive, all the team members stand up and applaud them.

The result is a team that has built a successful company. Privately owned, David Weekley Homes has an average annual revenue growth of 14 percent. In 2001, revenues approached $1 billion.

"It's not necessarily the big-ticket items that are the reason people think it's a great place to work," Gentry says. "I sat on a panel of other HR people and they said, 'What benefits do you have?' I said, 'Guys, you don't get it. You can't buy happiness. People feel like family here.'"

Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, February 2003