Executive Corner: Larry Wisdom of HHHunt Homes

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Some HHHunt Wisdom on aligning employees and purpose to improve how people live.

HHHunt Homes
September 01, 2016

This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the September 2016 issue of Professional Builder magazine.

HHHunt Homes, like many home builders during the recovery, took a deep introspective dive in 2014 to figure out how its three divisions—Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond and Hampton Roads, Va.—could overcome a lagging economy. After much collaboration, changes were implemented and ultimately the company delivered nearly 500 homes in 2015—a 40 percent increase from 2014 and considerably better than the 14 percent average increase for its regional and national peers. This year, HHHunt Homes is on track to deliver 600 houses and to grow annual revenue to $200 million from $100 million.

Q: Did senior managers set a plan to deliver 500 homes last year?
A:
All of our business plans at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 for each division were a per-community, per-week, per-month goal to sell, start, and settle so many homes. 

In that sense, we’re no different from any other home builder. The distinction was that I didn’t give or set an expectation for any division as to what their plan would be. Instead, I encouraged them to make their own plans. They brought their plans to me and demonstrated that they’d thought them through and had involved and engaged a large group of team members, and each of the three divisions sets its own numbers. Now that’s a very unusual circumstance. Most companies say: Here’s your plan; this is what we need to do this year; go figure out a way to do it, and let’s get marching. 

I didn’t give the divisions even a broad goal or a broad number. All we did in 2014 was to all agree that we need to establish business goals and plans and then set about achieving them. And because I believe the talent lies within each individual, I then wanted each division to present a plan and produce a number they thought they’d be able to achieve by aligning goals, people, processes, and systems to be profitable and grow. They brought me a plan in 2014 showing what they thought they could do. We discussed why they came up with these goals and numbers, and then I endorsed the plan. 

My only requirement was that once a plan is established and set, it ceases to be a plan; it’s a business commitment. So whatever you say you are going to do, we want you to achieve it. We want you to win—and preferably to exceed your commitments by one or more. If it’s a revenue commitment, then exceed it by one dollar or more. If it’s a commitment of a certain number of homes delivered, then exceed it by one unit or more because I want our team members to enjoy the thrill and motivation of winning.

Q: How did HHHunt equip and empower employees to do all this?
A:
 The two key opportunities we focus on daily are people and alignment. With respect to our people, we develop great people and skill sets, competencies, hopes, and inspirations. We also establish our higher purpose. What often impedes or challenges that focus on purpose is that companies can have all sorts of great programs, but the focus often ends up being the work on the programs rather than on actually equipping people. You put programs and plans before people, or you put programs, plans, and people before purpose. 

We started collectively understanding the individual purpose of people, and then what our common purpose is. Next, we moved on to defining in really clear terms what our purpose is and moving toward alignment. 

We have our purpose outlined on a one-page focus sheet so that all our team members—no matter what their role—should be able to understand and align around that. Our purpose is to advance HHHunt Homes, and our overarching purpose is to improve the world and how people live—by creating meaningful experiences and places of great distinction. Our divisions and their team members are making a difference by doing something that is having an impact that’s far greater than themselves. 

The other element of that common purpose has simply been to align all three divisions—their people talent and their operational processes and systems—with that one purpose. So we develop people in accordance with the purpose, we align everybody with the same purpose, and we only hire people who are all-in with our purpose. 

Q: What did the company do after establishing a purpose?
A:
Build up people. But rather than it being a top-down building up of people, we all support building one another up. Being employee-centered for us—in very practical terms—means having inspired people building excellence each day. How do we do that? We focus daily on communication, improving communication, driving communication in having a free-flowing, open-mind culture. We focus on collaboration. That's sort of the buzzword, but in reality, everyone is talking and communicating, and we all feel motivated to work with one another through open involvement to have constructive, upbeat communication. There are not protocols or bureaucracy; anyone and everyone is empowered to talk to anyone. 

Next is continuous education. To be an organization of inspired people building excellence, we've made a significant investment of resources, money, and our personal time in teaching, developing, and going to lunch with our team members. At every level we have continuous education and strive to build people up. 

Finally, there's celebration. We really emphasize having fun. There's a focus—as team members and collectively as a group—for us to celebrate not just big wins but small wins as well; not just the wins that are impressive business metrics but the wins that we have as a team in terms of communication, collaboration, innovation, and in people’s personal lives. We celebrate anniversaries, new babies, and relationships. When you have that, you are employee-centered and are focused on people first and foremost.

So when you look at the great sense of purpose for HHHunt employees, the most important thing—after you have clarity of purpose—is to align with what that purpose is and then focus on people. One singular focus of ours is to be employee-centered. So we make a point of communicating with employees in ways that are helpful to them and equip them to do a better job, understand expectations, and to ultimately empower them with a sense of confidence to do what they are able to do—so people aren't standing around here wondering what somebody else thinks they should be doing. They do it themselves.

Q: How do you work with the trades? (Builder Partnerships honored HHHunt with the 2016 Builder of Choice Award.)
A:
We take exactly the same approach and extend that to our trade partners. After all, we're still talking about people. What do people want? They want to be able to grow; they want to be able to learn and thrive in compensation, benefits, and opportunities; and they want to be with other like-minded people. They want exactly the same things as our employees, so we focus on helping them.

What our trade partners want matters to us. We’re concerned with how to do a better job ourselves, so our trades can do a better job. Are we transparent? Do we set clear expectations of what we are looking for and are they realistic expectations? We consistently strive to treat our trade partners just like our people. And you know what happens? Tradespeople come to meetings; they come to barbecues. There isn't this adversarial, "let's see how much we can get out of you to meet our needs" attitude. There is a common alignment of purpose, and that attracts the top-performing trades because trade partners want to do business with builders that are genuine, honest, clear in their expectations, and for which trade partners matter, just like their own employees matter. 

Q: What is your role?
A:
My firm conviction is that what really drives personal and individual success is the alignment of purpose and people. Everything else is a distant second. If you've got the purpose, how do you make it real? By focusing everything on your people and unleashing the talent within. I serve them as a leader by helping them to grow and removing obstacles from their way. When you align people and develop the talent within, then they are able to create because they are empowered and inspired to create those great relationships and products.

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