Market conditions be damned, home building is still operating under the pressure to improve both product and the bottom line. The days that rewarded speed, optimism, and risk with rising sales prices and the days that hid the errors and created record profits are gone. Now, it's all about systematic teams achieving reasonable results.
It might seem obvious, but leading your team in this new era demands focus on solid communication and improved processes and procedures.
As you share information, decentralize authority, and crystallize standards of performance, you can benchmark results. A systematic approach pushes decision making down through the ranks, building better managers and more profitable projects. Meanwhile, senior management stays up on what is happening.
Managing projects or running field operations never go as planned. If you, your boss, and your staff clarify the parameters and objectives of each development, you'll be able to anticipate nearly any outcome.
Bosses hate surprises, good or bad. Part of your job is to keep information flowing. If things go as planned, they don't need to know much. When things change, they need to know. You also should communicate with those who report to you when the change effects what they need to accomplish.
Creating new communities is an ever-evolving learning curve. Great builders always innovate, whether it's in design, land planning, or internal processes. Progressive companies change. Still, try to create standards; document and follow them. Then, restart the process. Innovation can be as simple as a new filing system that mirrors your electronic filing system. Once initiated, let everyone use it and let it mature. Revisit it at a later date.
No Dumb Questions
Many times, there is more than one right answer. For years, we follow a hard and fast rule when designing a kitchen or framing a wall. At some point, this will change. Never be afraid to question existing practices and old customs. Of course, mistakes happen when you break with tradition, but don't hesitate to question assumptions and reassess.
No one knows the answer to all the technical aspects of the business, nor to all the marketing and financial issues that can change a project. Experienced people are not afraid to ask a question. You do not need to know everything; you need to be confident and experienced enough to ask the right question.
A time-tested axiom says business success relies on 80 percent planning and 20 percent execution. What's important is asking, "What did you learn?" Create a Word document with headings that outline each of your responsibilities. As the project proceeds, note under each heading what you would do next time and what questions and innovations need to be included.
When the development is complete, assemble your consultants, contractors, subcontractors, and your in-house team and spend two hours with a predistributed agenda covering what could be done better next time. Document this information in a "Lessons Learned" summary that you can review before you start the next project.
Before long, the 80 percent planning factor gets better every time.
Listen and Learn
Listening when possible–and not telling–can be frustrating. However, you will only grow if you learn from others, and your team will grow if they tell you their problems and suggest solutions. You may not agree and may need to suggest better alternatives, but by allowing them the opportunity to solve their own issues, you are forcing them to learn and think. Soon, they will be asking less and doing more because you listened, you learned, and they learned.
–Taylor Grant started in real estate at age 10 and worked for the nation's seventh largest home builder. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org