Coach: “Hey Mr. Peterson, can I get you a beer?” Norm: “Uh, sure Coach, I guess I need to do something between now and my second beer.”

While his objective is probably not productive in a business context (unless you were the owner of the bar), the lesson that Norm Peterson, the classic character from the classic sitcom “Cheers,” teaches us is that there is no point waiting to begin working towards your goal. In much the same way that nobody is ever really ready to become married or to become a parent, if business leaders wait until they and their companies are “ready” to start working on improvement…well you get the picture. Norm never gets a buzz, the wedding industry would cease to exist and the human race would soon die out!

In prior articles in this series, I have discussed the importance of having a plan and a vision, “The Vision Thing,” as well as stressed how critical collaboration and internal communication are to organizational change efforts “A Fresh Take on Change Management.” This month, I am going to attack an issue that is front and center in the home building industry right now: procrastination. This isn’t going to be a lecture from your high school English teacher on getting started on your final term paper immediately so that you don’t write the entire 15 pages on the night before it’s due. Although, from my experience, in retrospect…Ms. Joyner, you were right.

When addressing an issue, it’s usually a good idea to analyze the root cause or causes. There is a better chance of coming up with an actual cure instead of trying to mask the symptoms while the “illness” remains, free to continue doing its mischief. In the case of procrastination, there are two typical underlying causes.

The first is that the individual is lazy, does not want to do the task or tasks that are required and delays the work as a means of avoidance. The second is that the individual or organization delays because they believe that they are unable to do a good enough job to justify doing the task. This type of procrastination is associated with perfectionism in an individual. From an organizational perspective, it is most likely more related to a belief from leadership that the company lacks the resources, capabilities or time to tackle the organizational improvement challenge.

Most home builders fall into the second category. There are good reasons for this perception but the competitive landscape in the near future will not let up as builders compete for scarce staff and trade resources that are needed in order to take advantage of increasing demand.

The situation:

  • Following the Great Recession, which stripped more than 2 million jobs from the construction industry and had a disproportionate impact on the home building industry, the supply of trade labor, trade contractors and builder staff has still not recovered sufficiently to allow most home building companies to grow as quickly as demand has increased.
  • In the early years of the recovery, home builders, who had retained many of their most experienced staff and may have been somewhat overstaffed for their volume at the beginning of the recovery, were able to leverage the experience and productivity of these employees in order to grow their unit deliveries without growing headcount at the same rate.
  • As the recovery has continued to slowly improve, builders have been forced to add staff, but have found it difficult and expensive to find qualified, high quality and productive professionals in large enough numbers to satisfy their needs.
  • Builders are left with the choice to either improve their organizations’ productivity or accept a lower rate of growth than their demand could deliver.
  • Many builders also face the challenge of bringing new staff on board into organizations that lack the training, process efficiency and managerial depth to quickly and effectively bring those staff into the company to contribute. Combined with aggressive recruiting tactics from competitors, this has driven high turnover rates, which only accentuate the challenge.

The feeling:

  • Leadership and management feel overwhelmed, fighting fires on a daily basis just to keep the starts moving forward.
  • There is not enough time to get all of the “normal” work accomplished, let alone time to “work on” the business, improving productivity, efficiency, process, etc.
  • Leaders and managers know that they need to make positive changes but believe that they will have to wait until “there is time.”

The reality:

  • If builders fail to begin to make sense of what is needed and implement a process to methodically work their way through prioritized improvements, the business will continue to operate inefficiently and the production system will demand more resources, more inventory, more time or a combination of all three, in order to deliver results.