With profits down, standing inventory up, employee turnover high, cycle time dragging, and bonuses dissolving, the middle managers at Thrive Home Builders did the only logical thing they could to help right the ship: apply for an NHQ Award.
If that seems odd, you don’t know Thrive. Continuous improvement may as well be this builder’s middle name. And with the benefit of an open-book, project-based management structure, the team with the clearest and most comprehensive view of both the field and the corner offices—those in the middle—sought insight from the NHQ judges to get better.
In fact, the goal was simply to earn a site visit from the examiners and get the resulting feedback report. “I’ve never worked for another builder, so it’s hard for me to benchmark against others,” says CEO and founder Gene Myers. “This program was an opportunity to really improve and measure ourselves.”
And still the Thrive team won an NHQ Bronze; a testament to its performance management processes and acumen. “There is no doubt that open-book management, daily huddles, and tracking key performance indicators have influenced the organization to stay in sync with sales, starts, in-process work, and closings,” the judges said. “The company uses feedback from employees and others to determine when, where, and how to adjust its strategic plan.”
In fact, despite wanting the judges’ feedback, Myers and his team of 70-plus employees weren’t waiting for the judges’ visit or their report to act. Several initiatives connected to the company’s tenets of becoming data-driven and reducing both scheduling and budget variances were already in the works, including a centralized scheduling system with trade partners, a comprehensive construction quality program (on top of what the judges’ deemed a strong quality-assurance infrastructure), and a new and improved customer relationship management app, among others.
From those, the examiners left their on-site visit wanting more specifics regarding construction performance and the seeds of low customer satisfaction and referral sales, as well as measurable outcomes from several of the new systems and actions implemented following a LeanBuilding Blitz session by home building consultant True North Development.
So far this year, Thrive is enjoying a strong rebound from a lackluster 2017. “We look like geniuses,” says Myers, tongue firmly in cheek in deference to the NHQ process. “We’re now reaping the rewards of those investments and a lot of hard work over the past 18 months.” And yet there’s no doubt Myers and his team will take the judges’ feedback to heart, especially regarding a better and more open relationship with trade partners, leveraging data more effectively, and providing assurances for employees, some of whom, still smarting from 2008, remain on the lookout for red flags.
NHQ validated much of what the Thrive team already knew, while exposing areas for improvement. “We’re on a long-term journey that will never end,” Myers says. “Continuous improvement is not about an end goal; it’s the job."