Eric Breon | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Eric Breon

Background:  

Vacasa offers professional rental management for more than 5,100 vacation homes in some of the most desirable vacation destinations in the U.S., as well as Central and South America

The Mistake:

We bootstrapped the company in the early years. In the beginning, we were relatively cheap with our hires. We mostly hired very green employees who had high potential. We started them out answering the phones and promised to promote them when we discovered their calling.

It created tremendous opportunity for people who were hired. We had people who started answering phones and worked their way up to management. One of our early employees started as a housekeeper on Mt. Hood and now she manages the entire Mt. Hood region. We were growing so fast. Moving up the ladder could take less than a month or two.

About three or four years in, we realized we had a morale problem and a flawed hiring process. We hired people for their raw potential and then we failed to provide them with a path to advancement. We left it up to them. Many of our employees, as I mentioned, seized the opportunity to advance. And many, maybe 25 percent or more, did not.

Those who didn't often lacked skills or desire, but still, they were upset to see their colleagues promoted. We also recognized our hiring process – which assumed everyone has the potential to grow into a much bigger role – was flawed. We were too optimistic and naively figured everyone would have some entrepreneurial spirit and would thrive in a self-determined environment.

Most of those employees who were unhappy left of their own accord. A few we let go.

We now under-promise and  over-deliver.

The Lesson:

We are definitely beyond this now. We continue to grow rapidly. There is still the potential for promotion. But that’s no longer the initial promise we make to prospective employees.

We focus on the job we’re hiring for today, not the candidate’s potential for tomorrow. We hire more interns. They work at Vacasa for a while and discover if the job is a good fit for them, and we assess whether they mesh with our company culture. Often, we hire them when the internship is over after a few months.

At a more senior level, we examine a candidate’s skill set. We also ask for on-the-spot work samples applicable to the job. For instance, if we are hiring a programmer, we ask them to write some code during the interview process.

Because of our continued expansion, there absolutely is potential for advancement. But it’s much more proportional to how employees have actually grown in their jobs, rather than being thrown into it.

We now under-promise and over-deliver. It has given us some amazing employees. It’s also fixed our morale, and that benefits everything. It makes the company more efficient and sets us up to celebrate promotion when people are ready to take on their next role, as opposed to being frustrated about not being promoted.

Follow Vacasa on Twitter at:  @vacasrentals

Pictured: Eric Breon. | Photo courtesy of Eric Breon.

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