When Ty Melton first envisioned the smoothly operating, successful business he runs today, he imagined an aquarium. Fish, plants, crustaceans, all harmoniously living together. “I wanted to build a little ecosystem,” Melton says. He had, when he started his Boulder, Colo., company, recently left a job at a cabinetmaker, where he worked 70-hour weeks for low pay. “It was a great company, and I learned a lot,” Melton says, but he didn't want to keep working there. “The idea was that [my company] would be a more fun place to work if the people working for me thought I was a good guy and liked working for me.”

That's where the aquarium entered the picture. Melton figured that if he could convince everyone — crews, office staff, subs, customers — that they would all benefit by working harmoniously, the company as a whole would perform better and produce better results for happier clients. Melton coined the acronym “ECO-T” — Employees, Customers, Owners, Trade Contractors — to encapsulate the ecosystem idea and communicate it to his employees.

“I'm looking for team members who have a positive attitude and help us make money,” Melton says. That goes for employees, trade contractors, and customers. Melton even lets employees vet new hires. New arrivals have a week or two to prove their compatibility before Melton surveys his staff and asks for an up-or-down vote; too many nays, and the new hire is out.

For years, ECO-T was the foundation of Melton Construction's company culture. But only recently, while working with a consultant to develop a strategic vision, did Melton realize how deeply ingrained that culture had become. With the consultant's help, Melton integrated his ECO-T philosophy into a system for defining the company's goals on a regular basis.

The process calls for establishing, each year, monthly targets for each of the company's four departments — production, sales, design, and service. At a monthly goals meeting, each department's performance is assessed in relation to those targets, which determines the course of action in the coming weeks and months. By assessing each department's goals at the same time, Melton allows his managers to better understand what their colleagues in other departments need to ensure the success of the company as a whole. That in turn helps everyone focus on the same goal, maximizing the efficiency of each department's effort and resulting in steady growth in Melton's net profit. The goals meeting has transformed Melton's ECO-T culture from a feel-good notion to a concrete business strategy.

Melton, whose Boulder office looks out onto two mountain peaks in the foothills of the Rockies, explains it this way: “With the goals meeting, I can make it clear which peak we want to climb and how we're going to get there. Instead of 27 employees climbing 27 peaks, we have everyone climbing the same peak.”