Great Practices: Finely Tuned

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A remodeling firm reaches excellence when it has business management systems that allow employees to know what to do, how to do it, and when they’ve attained success doing it

April 01, 2001

A remodeling firm reaches excellence when it has business management systems that allow employees to know what to do, how to do it, and when theyÆve attained success doing it. Each job function has specific descriptions, including how that function interacts with others in the company. Ultimately, employees recognize what they must do in order to reach their goals and help the company achieve its goals. Deck America, winner of a 2000 National Remodeling Quality Gold Award, exemplifies this level of excellence. The companyÆs management system excels in its use of feedback to continuously fine-tune its systems, a process that NAHB Research Center acknowledges as a best practice.

"Continual improvement gives [employees] input into the system," says company president Dan Betts. Although company procedures are in place - contained in a 117-page document called "The Guide to Ownership" - Betts recognizes that employees will change things that donÆt work. His system of accepting feedback prevents employees from "changing it on the fly," he says.

"If they can say your method isnÆt right, we can discuss it. I strongly believe in people. They can make modifications through [the] process. That way we make sure weÆre reaching our objective."

Deck America is an employee-owned company, so company objectives translate to team objectives - administration, for example - and team objectives become individual objectives. Company goals break down into team and individual goals. In addition to the guide, Deck America has put together a 300-page document called the Team Ownership Program (TOP) that explains each job function and the target objectives for each of 11 teams.

Betts has developed a system of "business practices feedback" that allows him to show employees that, as owners, they have a stake in the companyÆs success. Feedback is passed on through three specific forms: Request for Explanation, Request for Change, and TOP Modification. Each form goes directly - and confidentially - to Betts for review. He reads each form, replies to the employee, and arranges a meeting to discuss the concept or issue.

"I want them to try to put it in writing," he says of the forms. "If you canÆt write it out, thereÆs a good chance it doesnÆt make sense. I want to open the lines of communication, but there has to be some formality when you have 250 people." Forms are designed to be user-friendly, including a series of boxes that the employee can check. For example, "I have a problem with the terminology" or "I wrote it out the best I could" provide Betts with a base level of understanding.

Betts then meets with the employee individually. Although he acknowledges that sometimes the meetings end with his disagreeing with the employee, more often than not some constructive action comes out of the exchange. "It may become a training session, and theyÆll walk away with the knowledge to understand," he says. "If itÆs a breakthrough [idea], weÆll bring other managers [in]. [If itÆs a] great idea, letÆs implement it."

Betts says the feedback system works only because the procedures and systems are detailed and in writing. In fact, creating the two documents took the company 14 months. The level of detail, however, is a blessing and a curse. Although it provides employees with everything they need to meet individual and company goals, the details may be confusing to some. "When people read through it, they might not understand it," Betts says. "I wanted them to be able to ask. [Feedback forms] give them a chance to question."

Betts says that as the company worked on the guide, it became obvious that there was a glaring void. There was no way for employees to provide feedback. "TheyÆre doing the work, they know how to do it best," he says. "[We had to] give the people the tools to necessitate change. Managers are here to support the people who are doing the work. WeÆre still charged with the responsibility to lead and manage, [but] weÆre working with an independent-thinking workforce and you have to support them."

Betts can be reached at (703) 497-4440; deckamerica@msn.com

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