Part I: Push-Back

(excerpted from The Pipeline)

“May I say something?”

The question came from RB Builders’ most experienced, capable, and respected superintendent, someone not known for his excess commentary. The conference room grew respectfully silent. And expectant.

“Sure”, replied the CEO. “Speak your mind.”

“Nice speech.”

The superintendent continued.

“When I first heard about this arrangement”, he said, “it made me want to throw up. What was it? Oh, I remember: Partnering and learning, participating in the financial outcome with a consulting firm on a series of projects with short timeframes and targeted, focused results, in pursuit of an overall company goal.”

“Really?

“This stuff is intriguing, even the idea of some type of team-based performance compensation. However – that is as far as I would ever let it go. In terms of expectations regarding the outcome, I have always been skeptical, bordering on cynical.

“I still am.

“This sounds just like every other program the company has embarked on in recent years. None of them have worked, either, not the way they were supposed to. Over-promised? Badly-executed? Focused on the wrong thing? Not for me to say, but I doubt that this program will be any different. Like the rest, it will just take up a lot of our time, sitting in meetings like this, that ultimately lead nowhere.

“What was it that was said? “Think globally, act locally”? I like the second half of that statement.

“My response to this stuff has been to put my head down and do my job. I have become good at doing that. As far as I have been concerned, this company consists of my job, nothing more. I have relationships, but that is not about my work. That is about friends and associates. I have argued in favor of individual performance compensation, not because I disliked team-based performance compensation, rather, because I knew I could achieve the performance that triggered the individual bonus, without having to depend on anyone or anything else.

“Give me a cycle time to achieve, and I will achieve it. Give me a quality standard to meet, and I will meet it. It does not matter what others do, it does not matter what RB Builders does. I get my job done, and I get myself paid. I am not willing to sacrifice what I know I can do personally, for what I do not believe we can do as a team.

“As for my job, I know what it takes to do it. You can have the rest of it. I do not need it. I could care less about production systems.

“I am the production system.

“My problem is not that I think this new stuff is the wrong approach. To the contrary, it makes compelling sense to me. It is the way we should be doing it. My problem is that this approach is bound to fight a losing battle against what I consider to be a pervasive attitude of complacency, entitlement, laziness, and resignation. All of you so-called leaders – those of you taking down the six-figure salaries and failing to produce results? Well – it leaves me a little cold.

“RB Builders is a pretty good company, actually one of the better homebuilding companies to work for. But – its management has historically lacked the willingness, capacity, and capability to change. Management says it has vision. It does not know what it sees. All we ever wind up doing is tying ourselves into knots, all the while declaring the latest change we need to make.

“In the end, my skepticism wins out. I am simply not going to be stupid enough to risk my own performance compensation on something in which I have no confidence.”

The superintendent looked directly at the CEO. “In the past, it did not matter. But – like you – I do not think average performance defined by so-called industry best practices is going to cut it any longer.

“I commend you, and her”, he said, pointing to the intrepid, results-based consultant, “for putting it out there. There is a lot that this new approach gets right. Regardless of what we choose to call it – an analogy, a concept, a visual reference, whatever – I do think our production system is a pipeline. I do think we need to understand the connection between the decisions we make every day and the business outcomes that protect our livelihood. I do think we should focus on optimizing the performance of the overall system, instead of the performance of its individual parts. I agree that there is a distinction between processes and projects, between process management and project management, and that we need to understand both.

“And – I hate to admit it – there is a part of me that wants to be part of something that is bigger and more important than me. We have talked about the need for a savvy, accountable, and motivated homebuilding team, comprised of savvy, accountable, and motivated teammates. I want to base my work on the “want-to” attitude that it takes to own and run a homebuilding business, not just the “how-to” mechanics of selling, starting, and building houses. I want to share accountability and responsibility for the decisions and the results. And – yes – I want to have a serious financial stake in the outcome. I want to be in the business of homebuilding, not just work in a homebuilding business.

“Wishful thinking about RB Builders does not erase the past. It does not dissuade my concern that this company lacks the willingness and capability to enact these changes.

“I am the one who is saying it, but plenty of us are thinking it. This approach has merit, but it does not mean that it will work here, not the way this company has operated in the past. So, I want you to tell me how this is going to be different. I want you to tell me how this is going to work, now, in this company.”