Finer Focus

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Focusing on the processes and people that are our business with an eye toward improvement reveals flaws we’d rather not see. But it is as Michael Dwight says: a problem can’t be solved until it has been acknowledged.

February 28, 2001

 

Heather McCune

 

If you wear eyeglasses or contact lens I’m sure you have a story a lot like mine. I remember the day as a child when my parents, reacting to the note from the school nurse that I’d failed the vision test, took me to the ophthalmologist. He used those horrible drops to dilate my eyes, and I remember telling my dad as the drops took effect that I could see fine before, but now, not so well.

As you can guess, the doctor did his exam; I needed glasses and I’ve worn them ever since. The first time I put my new glasses on and walked outside, the experience was amazing for me, though probably slightly annoying for everyone else around. For the first time in my life trees weren’t green blobs in the sky that had no top; they were branches and leaves. Grass wasn’t a solid mass of color, but single blades. It was a pretty wild experience at age nine. My whole view of the world was different in an instant.

Thinking back on that experience what was the most wild of all was I had no idea what I couldn’t see. That the world around me was fuzzy and had lots of soft edges was normal for it’s all I had ever known. It wasn’t until two pieces of glass were placed before my eyes that everything in my world had -- for the first time -- a finer focus.

Aside from getting another new pair of glasses with a still stronger prescription recently, seeing, focus and vision have stayed front of mind for me for the very simple reason that everywhere I look in this issue it’s what editors and contributors are talking about.

Mountaintop management maven Steve Dudley warns that nine years of economic expansion may have made home builders less focused than they need to be to for sustained profitability in any economy. "In this e-commerce age builders have got a lot more tools to work with," says Dudley, "but they still don’t communicate the mission, strategy and methods to the people on the firing line." The result of this communication failure: folks throughout the organization focus their time and talent on activities that may be of only marginal value to the company’s mission.

Michael Dwight of Forecast Homes tells another story about focus. Like every builder in every market, in its 30 years building homes in Southern California and Arizona, Forecast has faced the problem of what to do when homes don’t sell. The hardest part of solving a sales problem says Dwight: focusing on the situation and conceding mistakes were made in reading the market. "A problem cannot be solved until it is acknowledged," he adds, "and it’s not easy for professionals to admit they may have misread the market."

Then there is Bill Ryan, president of William Ryan Homes. Ryan’s suburban Chicago-based company has been in expansion mode from day one. The pace of the business for this fast-growing home builder threatened the one thing that mattered most to everyone in the organization -- top-notch customer service. Ryan and Pete Balistereri, senior vp/marketing and business development, both believed that the only way William Ryan Homes could sustain growth was to establish itself as the service leader in all its market.

The question both men struggled to answer is what will be the standard for superior customer service in the era of 24-hour communication? They found their answer by asking the people most qualified to define it -- Ryan Homes’ own sales staff and customers. By focusing on the right question and asking the right people they had their answer. To provide superior customer service, William Ryan Homes had to find a way to replicate the one-to-one experience new home buyers seek from a custom builder in a production environment.

Focus isn’t easy. New glasses always cause headaches for the first few days, but after that period of adjustment, the payoff is worth the pain. The same is true in our businesses. Focusing on the processes and people that are our business with an eye toward improvement reveals flaws we’d rather not see. But it is as Michael Dwight says: a problem can’t be solved until it has been acknowledged.

Take a closer look. The payoff will be worth it.

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