Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
A Maverick Training Program
A group of all-stars known as Top Guns is largely responsible for Pulte Homes’ success in driving its core values to every member of its organization — and beyond to each of its customers.
A group of all-stars known as Top Guns is largely responsible for Pulte HomesÆ success in driving its core values to every member of its organization - and beyond to each of its customers.
Numbering less than 10% of the Pulte work force, these specially selected, high-performing individuals sit squarely at the intersection of PulteÆs stated values and its customer-focused "Homeowner for Life" initiative. Chosen for their leadership, communication skills and excellence on the job, these individuals are trained to be formal mentors within their various disciplines at the local level. Their primary function - aside from day-to-day responsibilities - is to provide a safety net for new hires.
"New hires donÆt want to come across as stupid by asking for help or support," says Leo Taylor, Top Gun architect and vice president/human resources and sales development. "So when people got into a bind, they would simply leave because they were recruited by other companies all the time."
Shepherding new hires for 12 weeks to a year, Top Guns demonstrate and train in the "Pulte way" of selling, building a home and servicing home buyers after closing. Rookies arenÆt turned loose on their own until they are ready. To this end, the results have been spectacular. Voluntary turnover among sales associates plummeted from 38% to 15% in the programÆs first year, 1996, and has leveled off at about 12% over five years.
"ItÆs been a godsend," chairman and CEO Bob Burgess says, "because Top Guns get back from a weeklong training session fired up, wanting to train others."
The impact of continually nurturing mentors goes well beyond employee retention to the softer issues of corporate culture. Top Guns are trained to reinforce the companyÆs carefully crafted customer experience. They also often serve as vehicles to implement new corporate initiatives, a critical role given PulteÆs decentralized and entrepreneurial structure.
For example, Mark OÆBrien, PulteÆs president and chief operating officer, recently asked Taylor to "rally" the network of Top Guns to help introduce a new way of working with the mortgage division that puts buyers in direct contact with PulteÆs central mortgage office in Denver. That initiative has been rolled out faster and for less money than previously possible.
These far-reaching impacts of the program have blossomed from the narrower aims of the original Top Gun session, which Taylor likens to a confab. Best practices were culled from the best salespeople in the company and codified into the "Pulte way" of selling. Since then, the company has added the "Pulte way" of building homes for construction Top Guns. Programs for mortgage professionals, land buyers and finance experts remain in the works, but Top Guns still come from all home building disciplines. Everyone simply attends sales and construction sessions, says Taylor, which is OK because the focus is on the process.
"We are not teaching technical training as much as we are teaching our core values - how you treat the customer, how you interface with the customer and your commitment to each customer," Taylor says. "So now when you go to Charlotte from Phoenix and ask an employee what Pulte values in terms of quality and customer experience, I think you will get a very similar or almost identical story."
Before Top Gun was introduced, the company spent $6.5 million on training, mostly at the local and regional levels. Today, training decisions are out of the hands of the divisions, saving millions of dollars. Annual spending now stands at $635,000 nationally, says Taylor.
"Everyone strives to be a Top Gun because Pulte has made it very prestigious," says Scott Withington, a Pulte sales manager in Oakland Township, Mich., who went through Top Gun in July. "And because everyone strives to be a Top Gun, everyone works that much harder. It is just a very, very positive experience."
A typical Top Gun session includes 25 to 35 people who were nominated by managers and division presidents to participate. Corporate staff makes the final selections. "ItÆs a huge deal," Taylor says. "Parties are held for people when they are selected."
The week itself takes place at a five-star-caliber resort. Members of PulteÆs senior leadership attend, making the week a unique opportunity for front-line Pulte associates to interact with the CEO and regional presidents.
"The week at Top Gun is the most incredible experience that I have ever had in my career," says Melanie Mentoyer, a Top Gun based in Chicago. "And you donÆt know who is who because there are no titles; everyone is the same. It creates a very positive sense of teamwork."
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