In many companies, everyone looks to the leader to get them out of the jam, and often, the leader accepts this responsibility as his or hers alone. This can lead to unbelievable pressure to perform, which creates stress and ignores some fantastic resources — especially from employees — that can make the difference between success and failure.

Melinda Monroe, president of Architectural Building Arts, in Madison, Wis., knew that developing a sense of responsibility among employees would have multiple benefits. “By encouraging my team to help determine the direction of the company and participate in making some of the tough decisions, I knew they would buy into the plan and do all they could to achieve it,” she says. “Plus, it takes a great deal of the burden off of me.”

To create this participation, Monroe holds monthly companywide meetings. They start their annual cycle with a planning meeting at which they review past years’ performance.

“This sets the stage,” she says. “Then I have developed an annual Strategic Plan that I present as a springboard for discussion.” To help each person on the team thoroughly understand it, Monroe uses a projector to display the plan on the wall. No paper copies are provided.

She then asks different individuals to read portions of the plan aloud to the group. “This is one way I can be sure that everyone understands the plan the same way,” she says.

The strategic plan begins with a reiteration of the company’s core values such as excellence in work and process; commitment to clients, team, and success; and a commitment to be a growing and profitable business. “Every decision we make has to reflect our core values,” Monroe emphasizes.

The values discussion is followed by the development of specific targets and goals for the coming year.

Raising The Bar

Then the fun begins. “At this point, the entire plan is open for discussion, and boy, does our team take advantage of that!” Monroe says.

Everyone participates in a wide-open debate on the company’s goals for the year. During the process, team members are forging connections with one another. “We do whatever we can to get our folks to mix it up,” she says. “Sometimes we role-play in small groups. This helps those who are not strong leaders have an opportunity to grow and learn.”

At meeting’s end, goals are detailed and champions determined. Specific quarterly results are created. “This quarter, our theme is ‘Fill the Board!’” Monroe says. “This means fill up our schedule board with work. It’s measurable and everyone can help us achieve it. To help push the point, we also created a reward. Every time a team member brings us a viable lead, they receive $50. Even if the quarterly goal is not specifically in someone’s department, we spell out clearly how they can affect the goal. For example, we tell our production team, ‘Every time someone walks on the job, you’re selling our company. Every time you interact with a client, you’re selling. Every time you ask for a referral, you’re helping us reach our goal.’”

Another way Melinda keeps her team focused on results is with a “Rounding Third” meeting. “Three weeks before the end of a job, we do a deep analysis of the project to make sure that all change orders are accounted for, that we’ve collected any outstanding payments, and that we are still on schedule to finish the project,” she says. “We know that loose ends can ruin the profitability of the job, so this is our way of eliminating them. This extra review makes a huge difference in the success of each of our jobs.”

The steps that Monroe takes to encourage participation from her team also affect her as an owner. “By working together on specific results for the company, I find that I pay greater attention, too,” she says. “It raises the bar on my performance as a manager and on the results of the entire company. And that’s exactly what you have to do in an economy like this.”

—Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Ad­vantage, helping remodelers build consistently profitable companies. www.remodelers; 301.490.5620.