Building Accountability through Engagement and Advocacy

Jim Ellinghause
Jim Ellinghausen,
Executive Vice President,
Human Resources,
PulteGroup, Inc.
Pulte Logo

PulteGroup has been providing the American Dream of home ownership for more than 60 years. What started as a single home built and sold by an 18-year-old Bill Pulte has grown into the industry’s sole multi-brand homebuilding company serving customers in all phases of life. Today, PulteGroup boasts a strong culture and a proud workforce that operates in approximately 60 markets across the country. Headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, we are a domestic operation with about 3,500 employees. We sell under three national brands: Centex, our first-time home buyer brand; Pulte, a first move-up homeowner brand; and Del Webb for active adults over 55.

Turning Challenge into Opportunity

In any business, things happen that force you to take a hard look at how you are operating and what, if any, changes should be made. It’s no secret that the housing industry was greatly affected by our country’s recession. As Pulte worked through this challenging period, we wanted to ensure we were making decisions that would help us survive and thrive long-term. While the external challenges fell outside of our control, we also had some internal challenges to face. Many of our strategic decisions and execution-related behaviors were not in line with the goals necessary to maintain our position as a top-tier performer. If we were going to remain a leader, we needed to create alignment and accountability in our workforce. We knew that effective communication was key to accomplishing this, but we were unsure where to begin.

Fresh Eyes Set Us on a New Course

If we wanted our people to work as a cohesive unit for the greater good, we needed to model certain behaviors, starting with our CEO and the senior operations team. We had to be crystal clear about our expectations, goals, and how we planned to define and measure success.

We partnered with Root Inc. to help us achieve our goals. They helped us think differently to change our behaviors. They pushed us to take the crucial first steps to get started. With our CEO setting the behavioral standard, we had to accept reality with humility and vulnerability. We weren’t performing at a level we expected. Together, we compiled a wealth of data including intuitive internal information regarding our beliefs, behaviors, performance, strategies, and team efforts. Over the course of a year, we defined the reality of our business and where we were with regard to reaching that reality. We defined key objectives :

  • Transfer energy we could have spent disputing and debating facts we uncovered instead to moving forward and sharpening our focus on things within our control
  • Become equipped to tackle any challenge by aligning as a cohesive team
  • Build organizational momentum by recognizing and rewarding people for positive behavior
  • Set a course based on facts and informed decisions with a balance of performance metrics and habits

We stayed true to our values and believed in every interaction and communication.

We adopted a set of ground rules to establish a standard within the organization. These rules helped us stay the course and provided clarity into what we were striving for, thereby promoting alignment. Throughout the process, we held a balance between what was going on within the business and what was going on in the market. We stayed true to our values and believed in every interaction and communication. Possessing a strong cultural foundation and a positive, considerate approach to decision-making and overall business tactics helped us build the momentum we needed to enact meaningful change.

To alter behaviors, we instilled the belief in our leaders that we could indeed change performance, we could change how we make decisions, and we could test and validate changes with a sample audience before we deployed them to the entire organization. Our CEO and his team demonstrated humility, vulnerability, and a willingness to accept reality. They showed our people what it meant to lead themselves before leading others – and that really resonated.

Feeling Invested Leads to Accountability and Results

It’s amazing what happens when people understand a new strategy and actually see it working. When it is validated in practice, it quickly starts to build traction in the organization. Engaging people in testing concepts prior to full deployment invests them in the change process. If they experience positive results, their enthusiasm becomes contagious. You don’t have to convince the entire workforce at once, but you do need to build continuous momentum step by step.

Operating as a team built accountability in our organization because we created advocates across the workforce. The buy-in was so strong the positive, enthusiastic tone spread like wildfire. We realized some tremendous results, including:

  • Significantly improving performance trends across the company
  • Setting and staying the course to position ourselves for future success
  • Establishing regular face-to-face meetings with leaders to keep them engaged
  • Achieving a monumental shift in engagement scores
  • Making a conscious shift to focus more on the business and to perpetuate this attitude throughout the organization
  • Establishing more interactive and functional communication

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