The National Remodeling Quality Award recognizes companies that measure, monitor and improve business practices. For the truly quality-driven companies, though, that doesn’t end when they win the award. For J.J. Swartz Co., winning the award in 1996 started the company down a path it continues to walk.
"Going through the process for the Quality Award allowed us to see the strengths and weaknesses of the processes we have in the company," says president Tom Swartz, CGR. "You need to go through that time and time again." For Swartz, the practice of evaluating the company’s processes is the greatest benefit of the NRQ Award. "It has helped identify the stronger processes and allowed us to make them better." He says the company can identify the weaker processes so it can work on them.
A "direct result" of the NRQ, says Swartz, is an expanded company meeting schedule. Swartz used to hold company meetings annually. Now he does it twice a year. "The process drove home the importance of keeping communication open," he says. "We let everybody in the company know what’s going on -- good or bad. The better informed employees are, the better the company is."
This year, Swartz says his company meetings will focus on communication, both within the company and with clients. "We’re going to talk about how communication has evolved over the past 20 years," he says. "It used to be [carpenters were told,] ‘You get paid to pound nails; you don’t get paid to talk to the customer.’ Today, we think the most important person is closest to the customer."
As the company’s view on communication has improved, and as the communication has itself changed, Swartz says the company’s culture has been forced to change. "As you develop the communication and teamwork, you have to develop an environment where it’s accepted," he says. Recently, as the company considered a new business idea, Swartz pulled in key players from the field to help put it together. "There was a great deal of constructive criticism," he says. "It used to be, if it was a pet project [of mine], nobody would say anything."
All the strategy, though, hangs on measurable results and accountability, another key NRQ lesson. "We learned through NRQ that you can’t let anybody go without measurable accountability. You set the expectations of what is to be achieved, you check to see what they need from you, then get out of their way and let them do it."
Swartz’s production process, for example, has evolved in the four years since the award. Project managers now have more control of each project. "Project managers are encouraged to take ownership of the project," he says. "We now follow the volume of work they do, the gross margins. We now have computerized schedules that are reviewed at weekly meetings with the customer, production and sales. Are we on schedule, what did we do last week, what are we going to do this next week, any additional work authorizations, any payments due, anybody you know who needs remodeling? That’s something new that came out of the NRQ process.
"[Some people say] we change too much. When you stop evaluating and say everything’s just fine, I think that’s close to the beginning of the end."
-- Swartz can be reached at 217/877-2611.
For an application for the 2002 National Remodeling Quality Award competition, call 800/628-8556, ext. 714, or fax your request to 301/249-0305.