Total quality management is serious business. I’ve read more than a few books on the subject, and none would qualify as light reading. I look at the stack of titles that accompanies Doug Shipman’s article on how to begin the quality process in your company and know these represent just a single shelf worth of his collection. Oprah’s Book Club has nothing on the National Housing Quality Award judges. During NHQ judging these folks -- quality gurus for some of the industry’s best home builders -- burn through their reviews of the latest business books, each with the same passion sports fans demonstrate when recounting the details of the latest game.
No doubt about it -- TQM is a serious subject, and unless you’re prepared to approach this process in your company with the right amount of reverence, forget it, right? Wrong. If there is one lesson to be learned from this year’s recipients of the National Housing Quality Awards, it’s this: The quality journey can be one of the liveliest, most fun and most productive things you and your employees will ever do together.
Gold Award winner Simonini Custom Builders Inc. is a perfect case. Like a lot of its compatriots, SBI started its business life as a small, family-run operation that built first-class homes. Its commitment to and reputation for quality homes propelled the company to the top of the Charlotte, N.C., marketplace. However, this leadership position was a double-edged sword: SBI’s work attracted more customers, yet the added volume was straining its underdeveloped business processes.
SBI owners Alan Simonini and Ray Killian turned to the company’s best asset -- its people -- and let them loose to create the processes and procedures to deliver to its customers the quality buying experience that matched its product. Doing so invested everyone in the organization, in each other and in the living task of creating continuous improvement in their work.
At Gold Award winner Palm Harbor Homes, ask management what its responsibility is, and you'll be told: Get out of the way and let those charged with doing the work find the best way to get it done. At this Florida-based manufactured housing producer, employee teams are a way of life. There is no thought that the quality journey begun in 1988 will ever be complete. Talk to a person on the manufacturing line, and he or she will tell you that quality is a living thing, improvement is a way of life -- and may it always be so. Working at Palm Harbor is simply more fun because of the culture.
Silver Award winner Don Simon Homes faced that critical point in the business life cycle: tremendous opportunity in the marketplace and too few corporate resources to respond to it adequately. For this Madison, Wis.-based production builder, creating a company to attract talent in an area where unemployment has long been below 2% was a first step. The simple response: Management could have introduced an incentive program and tried to secure buy-in from its employees. This time-tested strategy is certainly prevalent among home builders.
President and CEO David Simon didn’t see much value in that approach. Instead, he assembled a team of Don Simon Homes employees -- both new hires and veterans -- and assigned it the task of creating the company’s bonus program. The result of the team's efforts is Gainsharing, an innovative profit-sharing plan based on the company’s key performance indicators, including customer satisfaction scores. Team members staff the Gainsharing committee and as such act as the priority protectors among their co-workers.
The diversity represented by the most recent NHQ winners -- a custom builder, a manufactured housing producer and a production builder -- is a testament to the universal goal of quality management and better business processes that result in more satisfied customers, no matter what the business.
What is serious about total quality management? The opportunity it presents as a tool to build better home building companies.