Engaging People in a Down Economy

Matt Bertman
Director, Leadership Development
Pulte Homes

When people think of current economic challenges, one of the first industries to be mentioned is homebuilding. When that’s your business, keeping employees engaged and confident is a major focus.

At Pulte Homes, we’re proud of our 58-year history and the half-million new homes and communities we’ve built for people across the country, and the awards and recognition we’ve gained over the years. In the past few years, we were growing at a pace that moved us from not even being on Wall Street’s radar screen to being a Fortune 200 company.

Tough Times, Tough Decisions

Since 2006, there’s been a drastic shift in our market. Housing starts that had been at 2 million a year just a few years prior are now less than 800,000. Markets shifted, where supply drastically outweighed demand. We knew we faced a decision: Should we focus solely on the short term, as many of our competitors were doing, or should we take advantage of the situation by building a stronger, more disciplined organization that would thrive in any market? We did both! While shoring up the business in the short term was a key priority, a significant portion of our focus and energy has gone into investing in our employees and keeping them engaged. Because our business is a local business driven by local market knowledge, the value of our employees can’t be underestimated.

Having made that decision and refined our business strategy, we needed a way to communicate it to our employees. We had to do more than just present the strategy clearly, but to explain why it was needed, how the business would change, and most important, what individual employees needed to do. We wanted to create a sense of urgency for stabilizing the business in the short term while also building a sense of hope that the company would thrive in the long term, even though we didn’t have all the answers just yet.

An Active Response

We worked with Root Learning to develop a Learning Map® module, “Thriving in a Turbulent Marketplace.” The intent was to ensure that every employee understood the case for change and their role in the process. Although we were certain that this would help employees be clear about our marketplace realities and strategic direction, we had some unexpected benefits as well. Because we implemented the session using division presidents as facilitators, leaders were able to interact directly with all the employees in their divisions; this showed employees that leadership was dedicated to inclusion, one of our core values. Having division presidents facilitate the sessions also allowed them to have a deeper understanding of where our employees are strong, where they have opportunities to improve, and where there is confusion within the business. The Learning Map® development process also enhanced the alignment of our leadership. A second module will be implemented soon that will more deeply explore the details of the new strategic plan. Together, the maps will create a direct line of sight for employees and enable them to connect their team and individual actions to our overall strategic direction.

In the near future, we’re hoping that positive market conditions will return. But we’re proud that, in a time when uncertainty forces many companies to be paralyzed by fear, we decided to take the offensive, and we did so first and foremost by investing in our employees.