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The Power of a Focused Company

Todd Raphael introduces Phoenix-area homebuilder Jim Younger III, whose company couldn't put up houses fast enough. It wasn't a problem of brick and drywall--it was a lack of company focus.

May 2, 2003
Related Topics: Growth
Since the 1990s, people have been moving to Phoenix faster than you can say"it’s a dry heat." When you gaze at the city from atop Camelback Mountainin nearby Scottsdale, it looks like Los Angeles on steroids. This seeminglyendless, sprawling metropolis is halted only by the Salt River Indianreservation to the east.

    Phoenix blossomed in the last half of the 19th century when the railroadscame to town, and again in the last half of the 20th century, whenair-conditioners made it bearable to live in this appropriately named Valley ofthe Sun. In the 1990s, Arizona grew more than three times as fast as the rest ofthe nation, and the population of Phoenix increased by about 34 percent, to 1.3million.

    You would think that all this growth would be a good thing for a Phoenix-areahomebuilder like Jim Younger III, the owner of Younger Brothers Construction inGlendale, Arizona, a city to the west of Phoenix. In the past decade, however,Younger couldn’t always find enough skilled people. On top of that, hediscovered that a large amount of his employees’ time was wasted--waiting forequipment to arrive, for example, or waiting for instructions from someone, orhaving to redo something because of unclear communication in the first place.The result: he couldn’t build houses fast enough to keep up with Phoenix’sgrowth.

    The problem started at the top, where company leaders were involved in toomany projects. Employees, in turn, were focusing on too many things. "We’dget started on something," Younger says, "and some other problem would comeup. The leadership would get distracted and the whole company would go alongwith it."

    Younger changed everything last fall. His leadership team--working withFranklinCovey consultants--determined what Younger Brothers Construction neededto accomplish, and what each person’s role would be. Everyone in the companywould know Younger’s priorities, and would be expected to spend all their timeon them.

    Company leaders then worked with managers, who worked with employees, talkingabout what the company was trying to accomplish and what each person could do tohelp. Now, each day, Younger Brothers employees know how many walls have to bebuilt, and how long it should take. They know when the crane should pull up toput the roof on, and when the plumbing people begin their work.

    Before this initiative, 12 percent of the employees said they met with theirmanagers at Younger Brothers each month. Now, all of the more than 1,000employees meet with their managers every week. Employees know what they’resupposed to be working on and are able to review their own progress.

    Jim Younger can hardly contain his enthusiasm about the results. His marketshare is growing. Productivity in January 2003 was up 1.75 percent over January2002. In February 2003, it was up 4.4 percent, and in March, an estimated 6.9percent.

Only anembarrassingly low 19 percent of employees feel a strong level of commitment totheir organizations' top priorities.

    Other companies are experiencing some of the same problems. In aFranklinCovey study of 11,045 employees, only 44 percent of U.S. workers saidthey clearly understand their organizations’ most important goals. Even worse:

  • Employees don’t understand how what they do helps anyone else. Only 19percent of U.S. workers have clearly defined goals, and only 9 percent believethat their work has a strong link to their organizations’ top priorities.

  • Employees aren’t really sold on what their companies are doing. Only anembarrassingly low 19 percent of employees feel a strong level of commitment totheir organizations’ top priorities.

  • Employees’ work isn’t related to company goals. Only 49 percent oftheir time is spent doing work that relates to their organizations’ toppriorities.

    Given the current important national-security matters, you might think thisis the wrong time to talk about employees’ goals, and how they relate to whattheir companies are doing. Actually, this is exactly the time to have thatconversation. John Crager, a senior adviser at the American Productivity andQuality Center in Houston, recently sat down with about 20 mid-level supervisorsfrom the National Security Agency. Crager found that these supervisors didn’thave a very good idea of what their goals are, what the agency’s goals are,and how the two mesh.

    Crager says it pays off when you communicate to your employees what theirorganization’s goals are--and what their own top three to five goals should bethat feed into those company objectives. It certainly paid off for Jim Younger.As Americans continue to flock to the scorching sands of Phoenix, Younger’semployees are accommodating them by building houses nearly twice as fast astheir competitors.

Workforce, May 2003, p. 80 -- Subscribe Now!

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