By John Caulfield
Elite contractors stay on track with powerful mission statementsCanadian Contractor
As a contractor, you may never have formulated a formal mission statement. After all, you know why you’re a builder, right? Still, many of Canada’s top contractors swear by the power of a written set of values. Here are some examples.
At the beginning of 2016, Neil Damackine took some time off to re-examine his 10-year-old company, Kirkland, PQ-based Construction ND, with an eye toward improving the customer experience. During this sabbatical, Damackine came up with a mission statement whose exact language he had been struggling to articulate for several years.
“I needed a way to transmit, very quickly, what it is we do,” he recalls. Damackine was also looking to convey his company’s “approachability.”
What he arrived at is simplicity itself: “Our business is renovation. Our focus is people.” His inspiration, he acknowledges, came from a speaker he heard during a provincial meeting of Business Networking International. And while he concedes Construction ND’s mission statement isn’t perfect, it succinctly gets the point across that “we’re making an impact on people’s lives everyday, so everything we do has to be for the customer.”
Straddling the line between platitude and philosophy, the mission statement has become the business community’s shorthand for distilling what companies are about and aspire to. These statements are often filtered through “core values” that guide companies’ decisions and interactions.
Mission statements vary widely in length, depth, and purpose, and intellectual rigor. They can be self-serving, high-falutin, and unrealistic. Or they can be thoughtful and dynamic. As often as not, they reveal the personality of the owner or CEO, for better or worse.
While some contractors say they do fine without them, many pros see mission statements as essential to their businesses, if for no other reason than to document what homeowners, employees, and business partners should expect from their companies, and vice versa.
Explaining a mindset
“I want the client to fully understand my mindset,” says Rose Barroso, owner and operations manager for Barroso Homes in Toronto. A good contractor mission statement, she says, “explains the manner in which you build, what you expect the client to see, and what you want the world around you to understand.”
Barroso’s mission statement, which she wrote three years ago, sets the quality bar high: “When you chose Barroso Homes you are guaranteeing quality, comfort and magnificent design,” it says. “For Barroso Homes, a custom luxury home is about the refining of the quality of life by means of modern but yet elegant designs, fine craftsmanship and innovative technology. This is what brings about true refinement. You will unquestionably appreciate our high standards of quality and attention to detail.”
Richard St. Laurent says his decade-old company, Edmonton-based Peak Improvements, crafted its mission statement in mid 2015, after it had joined Maryland-based contractor training organization Remodelers Advantage. The company’s seven employees and managers all had input into that writing process, and the statement is now part of Peak’s marketing literature and other communications with customers. “It makes us look more professional.”
“Peak Improvements’ experienced and capable team of professionals has been redefining renovations since 2007,” the statement reads. “Our distinctive six-stage project development and completion process builds client understanding and trust. Personalized service, constant communication, and our fixation on details painlessly take clients from initial concept to a flawless finished project. We foster excellence while encouraging the personal and professional development of each employee. Peak Improvements is constantly adapting to our changing industry, ensuring client satisfaction, sustainable sales growth, and a fair company profit.”
Keep it simple
Gavin Parsons, who owns Parsons Family Homes in Vernon, B.C., hasn’t gotten around to writing down his mission statement, which he says is pretty basic: “We’re in business to keep customers happy.” But as he turns over the running of this 41-year-old company to his son, Taylor, Parsons appreciates the significance of having a value system in place. “You should know why you’re in business, and it can’t just be the money.”
Ben Polley, president of Evolve Builders Group in Guelph, Ont., says he formalized his company’s mission statement in 2011, primarily for the purpose of reinforcing Evolve’s intention to pursue the certified Passive House market. He and co-owner Chris Vander Hout composed the original draft, which they then circulated to Evolve’s entire staff for comment and feedback. “The entire team concurred that this resonated with them, and was proud and excited to have our already pursued direction in print,” says Polley.
“Evolve Builders Group values ideals of sustainability and the natural environment,” the statement reads. “Through continuous learning, research, innovation, valued relationships, and professional integrity, Evolve is dedicated to being a leading edge custom green builder, dominant in its field throughout its chosen service area. Evolve focuses effort on projects that explore natural materials, energy efficiency, and human health or aid with professional development or public awareness. Evolve is committed to delivering a positive customer experience by combining these aspirations together with quality craftsmanship that is both on-time and on-budget.”
Evolve then states its objectives, that include: “To seek work that involves special considerations of any or all of human-health, environmental preference and energy or water efficiency. To secure meaningful, consistent work at market wages and continual improvement learning opportunities for our full time employees. To maintain and strengthen leadership in natural building including but not necessarily limited to straw bale, earthen floors and plasters, clay veneers and cob ovens. To develop on-site capacity and brand awareness in emerging markets: passive certified homes, “tiny” homes and additional natural building methods as well as re-locateable portable classrooms.
Avoid major revisions
The general consensus among pros is that a mission statement should be sturdy enough to withstand market and competitive vagaries without needing major revisions. And once contractors settle on a mission statement, most are disinclined to make a lot of changes to it.
Fifteen years ago, Steve Barkhouse, president of Amsted Design-Build in Stittsville, ON sequestered his management team in a local hotel for three days of brainstorming to come up with the company’s elaborate vision and mission statements, to which they’ve made only minor tweaks since.
“We will be the most sought-after company in our industry,” the statement declares. “We will be highly respected for integrity, excellence and success. We will provide a work environment that is enjoyable and achieves a balance between work and personal time. Our mission must be to exceed the expectations of our customers, whom we define as clients, partners and fellow employees. We will accomplish this by committing to our shared values and by achieving the highest levels of customer satisfaction. In this way we will ensure that our profit, quality and growth goals are met.” Amsted’s document than lists ten “core values” that the firm will always strive to uphold. They are: integrity, empathy, excellence, progress, teamwork, respect, trust, loyalty, fulfillment and pride.
Barkhouse is determined to make sure the company lives by its constitution. The vision, mission, and core value statements are read aloud before every company meeting. Then employees are asked to relate specifically how they have applied core values to their jobs. The company also provides each employee with a wallet-size card on which its statements are printed, and posts those statements and objectives in the office and at each jobsite. “We live and breathe our vision, mission, and core values,” Barkhouse says.
Michael Fobert’s mission statement for his firm Traditional Styles, Coboconk, Ont., speaks entirely to the prospective customer. “Specializing in turnkey design/build projects,” it reads, “we are here to guide you through all the stages of construction, from ‘wish list’ to “house warming!’ There is no such thing as a ‘small’ detail in custom home building – every detail is equally important. Building your dream is a huge and exciting endeavor that works best when there is strong teamwork, excellent communication and a shared goal: your complete satisfaction. Our team of skilled craftsmen and administrators work for you but build as if they were building their own. So whether you have a scribbled design or architect’s blue prints in hand, we’d be happy to meet with you to discuss your vision and how we can help make it a reality.”
Fobert says he has been disseminating this statement “for years – I don’t see any reason to adjust it.” But if he did, he says, he would boil his mission statement down to one word: “honesty.”
While mission statements may be timeless, the best ones are living documents that continuously provide the foundation and guiding principles for a company’s operations and relationships.
Rococo Homes in Spruce Grove, AB, doesn’t have a mission statement, per se. But its president, Rick Lystang, observes that its objectives in dealing with customers and trade partners revolve around three common denominators: “good work, value for dollars spent, and work meeting or exceeding expected time lines.”
He sees himself as the gatekeeper of those values. “I approve all invoices and make payment to the trades,” he says. “I monitor weekly schedules of my staff through our tracking system and regular construction team meetings, always checking that delays and variances do not happen. I do all the turnover and occupancy inspections with clients to ensure we delivered what we sold them.”
Lystang adds that the values inform his decisions about which homeowners he chooses to work with. “We interview our customers just about as much as they interview us. I have even referred some customers to a better-suited builder for their personality, price, or job scope. For us, it’s about quality, not quantity, and this has served us well when it comes to being true to what type of company we are.”
Contractors say one of their bigger challenges is getting employees and installers to abide by their companies’ mission statement. That’s one reason why Parsons is a big proponent of apprenticeships, “so new hires understand exactly what’s expected of them.”
Fobert of Traditional Styles says that he and his managers “recite the importance of integrity to everyone who works for us. We have a lot of subs, and they can make me look like a bum or a rock star. It’s important to reinforce our expectations. And I can’t assume that people’s memories are good; you have to keep reminding them.”
Some contractors are more systematic about how they monitor their mission statement’s execution in the field. Peak, for example, has “numerous system checks,” says St. Laurent, that track different milestones for its employees, who have access to a portal whose project software tells them what’s expected on a daily basis. St. Laurent explains that those expectations can include everything from working with a drywall vendor to completing a jobsite inspection.
Alair Homes in Collingwood, Ont., uses what its president, Kevin Blair, calls a “sophisticated, proprietary management platform” that measures key performance indicators that are tied to its statement. This feedback system “confirms whether our values and strategic commitments are being met on a continual basis” by its employees and installers, says Blair.
Blair thinks the term “mission statement” is antiquated because, he explains, “it’s built around the business, not the business’s clients.” He prefers an “ultimate strategic position” that “defines our purpose and the reason why our clients become our clients.” Blair’s ultimate strategic position is: “We are in the business of helping individuals and families eliminate the challenges they face in their living environment, to enjoy a happier, healthier and more comfortable lifestyle.”
Alair Homes’ “position” focuses on its commitment to be honest, transparent, accountable, “most respected,” trustworthy, and “pioneering.” Blair insists that its position and values are resilient to competition or changing market conditions. He also notes that his company is quick to remove any trade partner from its preferred list that doesn’t meet its “strict code of standards.”
Nearly all of the contractors interviewed vet their trade partners and customers through the prisms of their mission statements or written vision documents. “We’re trying to establish partnerships that aren’t all about making money,” says St. Laurent.
Evolve Builders’ mission statement is a kind of “litmus test” says Polley, that helps determine which prospects and partners are the best professional fits for his company. “We live our mission every day through selective hiring and selective project acceptance, followed by carefully considered project implementation and the provision of targeted in-house training.”
Having a mission statement in place can also give homeowners clearer insight into a contractor’s quality and reputation. “Ninety nine point nine percent of my business is cost-plus,” says Fobert of Traditional Styles. “Clients need to feel comfortable with us because our crews are often working in their houses when the clients aren’t there. Trust is an important word for us.”
When it’s hiring staff or subs, Amsted provides them with a deck of cards showing 52 different values, and asks them to pick their top ten. That way, says Barkhouse, Amsted can gauge whether their personal values align with the company’s corporate values.
Not too rigid
The precise wording of their mission statements notwithstanding, most contractors still prefer having wriggle room to re-steer their business models in changing tides. Barroso, the Toronto area builder, says that when her company began building Smart Homes, she altered her mission statement to include wording about innovative technology. She notes, too, that her electrician of 12 years “had to adjust to working with an Automated Tech trade.”
Damackine of Construction ND says his company is constantly changing, so its mission statement needs to change along with it. He’s thinking of adding another speciality—probably either windows, doors, or roofing—and bring its installation in-house. He is also considering adding a showroom and light manufacturing.
As he refines his mission statement, Damackine says the one thing that’s still missing is “the quality aspect,” which is tricky, he explains, because that sometimes requires extra work and costs. “By doing the best job possible, we’re focusing on the client, even if that hurts a bit.”