Did you know--I hadn't--that the expressions "800-pound gorilla" and "elephant in the room" often get mixed up, and sometimes incorrectly mashed together, for instance, into "800-pound gorilla in the room?"

Mixing metaphors happens often in our business, but let's look at each for just a moment. One term speaks of an individual or entity so powerful, he, she, or it can do whatever it pleases. The other phrase--elephant in the room--refers to a glaringly obvious problem or risk that people tend to ignore, at their peril.

At this year's Housing Leadership Summit, we'll deal with an elephant in the room or two, and give high-volume home building strategic leaders perspectives and tools to both recognize them and do something about them. If you lead a company that delivered 200 or more homes in 2018, check out HLS here.

Home building has examples of both 800-pound gorillas and elephants in the room, but for now, we'll look at the latter. Home building has more than a few.

These come to mind.

  • Lack of leadership balance and diversity.
  • Growing disparity between average household incomes and average costs to own.
  • Skilled labor and immigration policy.
  • The 800-pound gorillas make life for "little guys" more and more difficult.
  • STEM talent.
  • Related to that one, perhaps, exponential technology and data, period.

I'm sure you, too, can name an elephant in the room in our business.

If we focus, momentarily, on the fifth and sixth, and maybe blend them into one big elephant in the room, and call it Technology, it will serve our purpose today.

Imagine, if you'll let yourself, where home building enterprise job descriptions will be in the next five to 10 years.

Now, ask yourself, which is the more pressing challenge, the fact that framers are reaching retirement age at a rate of six to one, for every new young framer who enters the field? Or, that home building organizations together are a rounding error when it comes to hiring science, technology, engineering, and math majors to enter their ranks?

Building automation, industrial manufacturing, robotics, machine learning, robotics, building information modeling, CRM, mass customization, personalization, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence make up the sub-parts of this elephant in the room. Mind you, home building, real estate and construction at large, manufacturing, services, and professions of every type face this same stark reality. Five to 10 years, and everything's different. The way we make value changes.

The question for leaders of firms is whether to acknowledge the elephant in the room, choose to do something about it, and develop a compelling path for transformation others will follow.

To address this elephant in the room issue with leaders of the cream of the cream of residential construction in the United States, people who have run companies successfully through thick and thin, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we have to strike a delicate balance.

The challenge is to provoke insight, and a helpful path forward in action with both a strong degree of relevance and a fresh perspective, free of legacy, self-fulfilling thinking.

So, to get at this elephant in the room conversation at our upcoming Housing Leadership Summit, we've reached out to Jenny Dearborn to help us strike that balance.

As you'll see here, Jenny is well-qualified to stir the pot on this particular elephant.

Jenny Dearborn, Photo Courtesy of Noble Speakers Bureau
Drew Altizer Jenny Dearborn, Photo Courtesy of Noble Speakers Bureau

Recognized as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech for five consecutive years, Jenny is a thought leader in HR, HCM, the Future of Work, and data analytics. She is the CEO of Actionable Analytics Group, an advisory firm that supports Human Capital Management and Education Tech startups from Seed to IPO.

Her first book, Data Driven, was selected as one of the top 10 for “What Corporate America is Reading” out of 11,000 business books published that year. Her next book, The Data Driven Leader, was published in November 2017. She is a regular contributor to USA Today, Forbes, Huffington Post and Fast Company.

Jenny previously served as Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Chief Learning, Talent & Leadership Officer at SAP, the world’s largest B2B software company. She was responsible for the learning, development, talent management, succession management, and organizational development of more than 90,000 employees worldwide.

You may think, fresh, outside-the-box insight, yes, but what about the strong relevance factor we need to bring to an HLS conversation that helps you do something about the fact that analytics, engineering majors, data scientists, materials scientists, and web product developers aren't breaking down your doors to join your organizations?

First question to address might be, do you want them to? Dearborn would urge you to say yes to that question.

"For companies to continue to succeed, in home building as in every other sector, jobs will change, and it's up to leaders to prepare and shape their organizations to transform at every level of the value chain for AI, automation, robotics, machine learning, AR and VR," Dearborn says. "Leadership needs to learn, adapt, and show people in their firms and outside where the pathway forward is."

Problem is, it can't happen all at once. There's good data and intelligence starting to come to light on "How to Break Down Work into Tasks That Can Be Automated." Dearborn suggests that many companies misstep and founder when they try to take on too many changes at once. She would advise, don't boil the ocean, and offset the big costs of investing in select aspects of transformation by finding efficiencies and savings else where in the value stream.

"Too often organizations--residential construction firms included, when they try to unpack the inefficiencies and resource waste in the architecture, engineering, and construction dynamic--look at all the tasks that trap efficiency and they try to take it all on. We look at efficiency versus inefficiency, and work to find opportunity areas of investing in a new process that creates multiplier-effect efficiency, even while you allow parts of the work stream to continue inefficiently until later. After you realize the gains of your initial investment, you can move to the next initiative."

We'll look forward to seeing you at HLS. Bring on the elephants.