Richard Borge

Bob Kleiman and Mark Sapiro have run Structure Homes, a luxury custom builder based in Woodland Hills, Calif., since 1996. They aren’t looking to retire any time soon, but wanted to reorganize their company so that it could thrive and expand even after they’ve departed.

As it happens, Kleiman’s son, Evan, was taking an organizational design course at the University of Oregon being taught by Professor Jean Meeks. That course is strongly influenced by the writings of Marcus Buckingham, who advocates that companies tailor jobs to their employees’ strengths; and Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels, whose book Peak talks about moving businesses away from the “purely transactional” and creating conditions where employees, customers, and investors can enjoy peak experiences.

“What I teach about is second-order change for organizations that have outgrown their architecture,” says Meeks, who is also part of Positive Eye Consulting, a virtual consulting consortium. She notes, though, that 70 percent of companies attempting this kind of change fail because they can’t or won’t make the tough personnel and operational decisions to transform themselves.

For 18 months Structure Homes worked with Meeks to apply her business philosophies throughout its organization. “We dissected our business to create a new language for it,” says Sapiro. One of the owners’ goals “was to change the scope of Structure’s work from just building custom homes to building relationships.” Sapiro and Kleiman also wanted to build “a sustainable business” that didn’t need the two principals to be present to make every decision.

Each month during this period, Meeks met with Structure’s employees to “break down every part of our business” in order to “tease out” its superfluities, explains Sapiro. Drawing on Buckingham’s work, Meeks helped Structure’s associates identify their strengths. (The company even had water bottles made up with each employee’s strengths printed on them.)

What emerged from these sessions with Meeks was a Performance Pyramid, which organizes the company and its employees into several categories, each with its own objectives and “position contracts.” The company set up Action Teams that monitor and measure progress. For example, Structure is in the process of implementing a fully integrated project management software program into its system.

The builder is also developing a “journey schedule,” a timeline for all of its projects that will be accessible online to Structure’s home buyers and trade partners.

Sapiro says the recession gave Structure “more time for our staff to contribute to building their business model.” But it also helped that Structure had enough buyer demand during the downturn so it didn’t have to lay off anyone. Kleiman thinks this continuity gave his company “a unique opportunity” to make changes.

Kleiman says he’s seen “massive improvement” at every level of his organization, which now operates under a five-year strategic plan with the goal of building 20 to 25 homes per year in the Los Angeles area, and establishing a blueprint for expansion into other markets. “The objective is to know where we want to be in five years, and how we’ll get there,” he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.