If you have written ethics policies in place for every department and think through all the gray areas and discuss them with employees regularly, you create a climate focused on ethical behavior.
"People are opportunistic about stealing on the job," Noelle Tarabulski says. "They won't do it if they think there's a good chance they'll get caught. If you have written ethics policies in place for every department and think through all the gray areas and discuss them with employees regularly, you create a climate focused on ethical behavior. That makes it much harder for anyone to violate a policy."
Tarabulski has one more suggestion - hire more women as supers. "First of all, they're good at it," she says. "Secondly, the kickbacks that plague the housing industry are usually among men. It's less likely for unethical behavior to develop in on-site relationships in which the super is a woman."
Newport, Calif.-based John Laing Homes, last year's PB Builder of the Year, has an added step of separation in awarding trade contracts that makes collusion all the more unlikely. "We have a cross-departmental committee that evaluates three bids on every contract," says chief financial officer Wayne Stelmar. "They decide on the basis of many factors, not just price. Past performance, reliability or reputation may steer them away from the low bidder."
Gary Lewis of Houston-based Tilson Homes, a former director of quality programs for the NAHB Research Center, adds one note of warning that builders could go too far in trying to tighten systems against internal crime. He believes the controls you put in place should build teamwork across departmental lines and make jobs easier, rather than more difficult. It needs to be a balanced approach to security rather than the second coming of the Third Reich, Lewis says.
"You can't set up your systems on the basis that all the people who work for you are crooks," he cautions. "If you do that, you'll drive everybody wacky."