Begrudgingly sitting through a half-day negotiation with a home builder is not the way you’d prefer for your new home consultation to go. Still, it’s a prime example of how consumers are expected to morph their decision-making process to fit “industry standards.”
In residential construction and beyond, disruptors have rapidly gained ground for doing one thing well: Giving consumers an easier way to solve their problems. Surprisingly, much of this innovation has been led by teams with no prior experience in the industry, which is why breaking out of your insider perspective could be your best move.
The Root of the Problem
“Because this is the way it’s always been done” is one of the most dangerous statements in modern business. Sales strategies often pit consumers and businesses against one another, positioning you on opposite ends of the table, each negotiating with different priorities. It’s practically tradition, one that many businesses are still clinging to, but it’s not a favorable strategy in today’s consumer-centric market.
By developing a healthy level of paranoia, you can act with the awareness that somebody out there may be looking at your industry, even at your very own business, thinking about how things could be done better. With the freedom of an outsider’s perspective, Alair Homes was able to question every “traditional” aspect of custom home building and ask ourselves why things were being done a certain way.
Our team is filled with a mix of contractors boasting years of experience and other critical professionals with limited experience in the construction industry, which allowed us to completely reimagine things through an iterative process. As we studied typical strategies, we ultimately contemplated: Why does conflict have to be baked in? What if, instead of sitting on opposite ends of the table, we could reassure clients from the start that we could solve their problem?
We started by expanding the definition of who the client is. In our model, there are multiple stakeholders at play. We see our internal employees, our franchise partners, our contractors, and the home builder as valuable parts of the equation.
By aligning ourselves with all these parties and thinking about the problem they’re trying to solve, we gained a deeper understanding of what motivates our customers to act and what stands in their way. They may think that the problem is not having enough space to work from home, but that’s their need — the problem might come down to how much it costs, how long it will take, or how disruptive the construction process will be to their family. Once we can agree on the real problem, we can work together to solve it, and fulfilling their needs will be a natural outcome of that process.
Getting to the root of your customer’s problems will give you the big picture view you need to step back and ask yourself: Are my processes truly working in their favor? Are we aligning with our customers from the very first moment when they’re inspired to solve their problems? That’s what you should strive to do.
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How to Reject the Status Quo
Most organizations drive innovation at the top and push it down, but this forces all of your freshest, furthest removed talent straight into complacency. Instead, focus on empowering all of your employees, at every level, to come forward when they have a suggestion.
We listen to everybody, down to the project level, all the way up to the very top, continuously asking: What do we see that’s new? What’s a better way to do what we’re already doing? This creates an open environment where it’s safe to analyze, critique, suggest, and even fail. Our culture of curiosity keeps everyone in a constant state of healthy dissatisfaction, and we recognize that every idea and attempt moves us forward toward something even better.
Recognizing individual contributions to our success and supporting our employees in achieving their goals is also a big part of what makes us so unique. We are the only company in our industry that has developed paths where you can come into any role, including as a carpenter, grow to become a project manager, and ultimately own your own construction business. That simply doesn’t happen in traditional business environments because people are made to feel protective over their role.
Rejecting the status quo means removing the risks associated with growth and innovation — the risk of not knowing the answer, the risk of offering up an idea that might fail, and the risk of hitting a ceiling where employees feel like they can’t move up. When you create an environment that’s low risk, you will empower people to communicate and solve problems that have been so deeply ingrained in the status quo that most people can’t see them.
Reshaping your company’s culture is not something that happens overnight, but one of the immediate areas you can re-evaluate is your values. At the end of every project, our finished product is a beautiful home, something physically attractive and enduring that will last for decades or more, but we’re not in the business of just building homes. In order to master the innovation process, your business must be driven by more than short-term outcomes. You have to be determined to leave behind a legacy, to build something that will bring out the very best in everyone who works with you.
Historically, the relationship between builders and architects is contentious, but it is in the client’s best interest if everyone works together openly. That’s why we focused on eliminating this contention and aligning with architects by acknowledging that our client is their client, and we should support each other in any way we can to build the best home for them. This unique approach has allowed us to secure some of the most talented people in the industry and create raving fans out of employees, partners, and customers alike.
Cultivating Stronger Communities
At Alair Homes, building stronger communities is a foundational component of our strategy, and one of the best ways to do that is through building credibility. How is credibility built? By sharing what you’re doing. Instead of making your attempts to innovate something secretive or exclusionary, seek to involve as many people as you can, and you’ll begin to see the power in bringing in young talent, fresh perspectives, and new ideas.