Bill Saint can empathize with builders that may be wary of tackling the application for the National Housing Quality (NHQ) Award. He’s been on both sides of the process, having earned a Gold award for Simonini Builders in 2010 and 2001 and again for his own company, Classica Homes, in 2017, and also serving as an NHQ Awards examiner for several years, visiting and assessing applicants’ operations. Recently inducted into the NHQ Hall of Fame, Saint knows that while the process can be intimidating, it forces a self-examination that’s more valuable than actually earning the industry’s premier award for operational excellence.
The two-part application process begins in December and closes in April/May at probuilder.com/nhq. Here’s Saint’s advice for applying.
This is an extended version of the Q+A that appeared in the January 2020 issue of Pro Builder.
PRO BUILDER: What prompted you to apply for the NHQ Awards?
Bill Saint: One simple thing: We wanted to improve. Our mission has always been to be the best. While we won’t and don’t want to be big, we do want to be the best. It’s a never-ending journey. The NHQ Awards process is the most complete benchmark and guidebook to all of the areas a builder should focus on if they’re on a journey to improve.
PB: Applying for an award typically is seen as an administrative task. How is the NHQ Awards application different?
BS: Unlike many awards, the NHQ Awards isn’t a beauty contest. You don’t simply write about how great you are.
In preparing the application, builders are really holding up a mirror to themselves and sharing the results. The application is the road map for defining the areas critical to creating a superior building company. It allows each builder to highlight areas of strength but to also identify areas that need more work. I’m not aware of any other award process that is a growth experience for the applicant, which NHQA clearly is.
PB: What evidence or documentation do judges really want to see during a site visit?
BS: The judges need to see what’s actually done in the field, in the office, and how the company is run. The processes and procedures discussed in the application need to be demonstrated to ensure they’re actually taking place, and the judges may want a more complete explanation during the visit. This isn’t difficult; simply show how you do what you say you do.
PB: As an NHQ Awards judge, what presentation practices did you see that impressed you, and which ones were missteps?
BS: The best presentation I’ve seen was a builder that took each section of the application and prepared a PowerPoint slide show with documents, examples, photos, graphs, etc., to explain in detail. This allowed for all of the information to be seen quickly and for each section leader to walk the judges through all of the details in a very efficient process.
The missteps were performed by builders that simply didn’t prepare and pull information together to share, which resulted in wasted time and inability to discuss all of the sections in the application.
PB: How did your company prepare to complete the application and site visit?
BS: We held multiple meetings with each team to discuss their areas. We ensured we understood the processes and procedures in place and had them documented to show examples. Then we took all of that input and had one person draft the application. Next, we took the application draft back to the teams for review and further discussion and changes.
For the site visit, we learned from the best and prepared PowerPoint slides for each area. This presentation served two purposes: one was for the site visit; the second was that it became an ongoing training tool for new hires and team members. It continued to live and change, and it served as a central document everyone could refer to. Three years later, we still use this tool.
PB: Classica’s 10-year strategic plan included doubling growth to 100-plus homes and continuing to foster a culture of loyal customers and passionate team members. Where is the company since 2016 and how is the culture of continuous improvement, as documented by NHQ, helping you get there?
BS: We are on pace to do 75-plus homes in 2020 and will hit 100 the following year. Our culture remains strong and growing, having made the “Best Places to Work” in Charlotte list—top 10 or better—for the past seven years in a row. We maintain a 95% or higher willingness to refer and have grown our gross margins and financial results during this time. The NHQ process helps to keep us focused and disciplined as we grow, add people and trade partners, and look at new opportunities.
PB: Is there anything that you learned about your company that you may have missed had it not been for going through the NHQ process?
BS: We might have missed how critical processes and the continued focus to measure and improve are. It's far too easy to simply think things are smooth when you don’t measure and get real, factual feedback. It also is easy to forget the best practices when you don’t really document them, train, and share the information with everyone and continually grow. Most of all, our strong culture revolves around our mission to design remarkable homes and neighborhoods, provide exceptional customer experience, and deliver value. The NHQ process for Classica ensured each of these three pillars was addressed, and we stay diligently focused on them.