Experience and competence foster comfort and, in some cases, a tendency toward inertia among longtime staff. At Myers Constructs, a Philadelphia design/build company, 2010 is shaping up as the year of setting specific short-term target goals, decisively empowering people, and opening the books to an unprecedented degree. The changes are starting at the top.

Power share. In December, CEO Tamara Myers took off her usual design/sales hat to schedule individual talks with MCI’s small production crew — usually co-owner Diane Menke’s task. The response to Myers was positive. Carpenters were used to Menke’s prodding and tended to tune her out.

MCI staff are also empowered to “open cans of whoop-ass” when trade contractors show apathy, Menke says, and to keep clients’ decision-making on schedule.

Visual map. Instead of distributing written goals and calendar activities, Menke and Myers now enlist the team to map out a three-week calendar together, using a grid calendar posted next to a white board.

Staff also complete their own schedules that they adjust as needed and bring to meetings. “They’re picturing what needs to be done and plotting their days out better,” Menke says.

Short-term financials. When she gave staff annual or quarterly financial targets, “they would glaze over,” Menke says. Staff now know specifics, such as weekly payroll needs, helping them connect the dots to weekly target goals. “When we talk about cash flow now, I hear buy-in. Heads nod. They want to hit these targets,” she says.

Complete the task. This simple goal is aimed at breaking old habits such as leaving small amounts of trim or drywall incomplete, thus delaying job completion or requiring multiple task set-ups. Menke adopted this goal for herself two years ago and says that she now doesn’t even answer the phone if she is midtask.

New blood. Impressed by some of MCI’s new trade contractors’ communications and management skills, Menke and Myers are encouraging staff to learn from them.

In the program’s first couple of months, “it has taken off,” Menke says. It has also been remarkably eye-opening about a long-term — and now-corrected — failure to communicate clearly, in terms that everyone can easily grasp.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.