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“We now embrace a clear understanding of who we are and what we are”

Sean Sullivan

Elkhorn Construction, Inc. CEO

 

 

Corporate change.  The inevitable reality.  Every business must go through twists and turns to find the best path toward greater productivity and achievement.  But corporations are simply groups of people; and few people relish the opportunity for change.

 

So how do companies make change seem meaningful and important so that people can see the vision and embrace it?  One Texas-based business has created a concept that appears to overcome the resistance to change.

Ken Bratz Consulting (KBC) is headquartered in Palestine, Texas, but is changing cultures and climates in businesses throughout the US.  How is that possible?  “People talk,” says KBC founder, Ken Bratz.  “When we go in and impact a company’s culture, and it leads to bottom-line success, other corporations notice - and their leaders want to know how to make those kinds of successes in their own companies.”

 

A case in point is the transformation of Elkhorn Construction Inc., a firm that serves the oil and gas industry throughout the northwestern US.  The firm grew from 100 to 500 employees in four years and restructured from a two-man partnership to an employee-owned firm.  The vastness of the changes resulted in understandable challenges.  The leaders realized that a small company with big company aspirations had to develop deep roots that would nourish the firm’s potential for success.

 

An Elkhorn manager who had worked with KBC through a previous employer recommended that Elkhorn contact Bratz to see how his firm could help.  Bratz saw the value that his firm’s IMPACT process could offer to set the groundwork for positive and productive cultural change and he recommended that Elkhorn give it a try.

 

IMPACT was developed by the KBC team in 1988.  Culling the best-of-the-best business leadership ideas, then packaging them into a logical development process model, IMPACT has been implemented in over fifty locations in ten states.  “The obstacles organizations face are primarily based on changing individuals’ behavior,” says Bratz.  “To be what we want to be and where we want to be, all individuals must do some things differently than how they do them now.  They must explore the question, ‘What will we do differently tomorrow?’  The answer must come from the individuals, the organization, and the system; yet, most organizations struggle violently though this transition.  IMPACT provides the road map for this change.”

 

While the struggle was not violent at Elkhorn, the need to do things differently was clear.  “We knew things had to change,” says Elkhorn’s CEO, Sean Sullivan, “we just needed a change process and we needed to stay focused on long-term issues.”

 

The beginning of the IMPACT process includes identification of the expectations of upper management. These are communicated to the organization in behaviorally-based terms.  An assessment of the company’s current culture is compared to what should be and the gap becomes the focus for the process design and implementation.  Previous experiences and training that the organization wants to capture are included in the design.  Common language elements are identified that everyone should know and practice.  Training events are scheduled and group process facilitators are coached to assist teams in implementing best practices.  The process varies within every firm, but adheres to some general principles.

 

IMPACT has three major components:

 Developing a clear strategy and communicating it throughout the organization.

 Implementing the strategy through increased communication and team building exercises.  All core employees are involved in monthly exercises that reinforce the organization’s values and goals.

 Follow-up and review on a monthly and annual basis.  Over a period, each team becomes accountable for a review of their accomplishments for each month and their goals for the next month.

 

At Elkhorn, a strategic plan was developed out of the initial IMPACT process Once the strategy was developed, all core employees attended a one-day workshop to introduce them to a new common language, help them understand their individual communication styles, and provide experiential exercises to illustrate how real-life problems can be constructively resolved.

 

 All employees then began participating in a series of monthly exercises and discussions that reinforce the common language and help them create action plans to implement new ideas that arise in their discussions.  Internal facilitators were trained to lead these exercises and keep the teams on track.  The results are monitored monthly through the development of scorecards, with a balanced emphasis on five areas: financial, customers, processes, learning and growth, and culture.  Leading indicators are encouraged (measuring proactive factors), as well as lagging indicators (measuring something that has already happened). The corporate scorecard is their benchmark measurement tool.  All other scorecards must align with the corporate card.

 

 During the development of the Elkhorn strategy, a two-day retreat was also held with the major stakeholders.  The interactive session required pre-work to gather data about Elkhorn.  That information was presented and facilitated discussions provided frank insight into what was really happening, both within Elkhorn and within the evolving construction industry.  Leadership was defined as it pertained to the work place. A major conversation centered around the firm’s internal processes and how well they were functioning.  The discussion proved revealing and led to the development of a PERT team (Project Evaluation and Review Team) to evaluate company processes and recommend improvements.  The team relies on the expertise of all employees in the improvement process, believing that the combined knowledge and insight demonstrates how they want their future culture to function.

 

 Perhaps the most visible changes are the result of PERT team

 recommendations.  By establishing cross-functional teams to evaluate project problems, the team has been successful in assisting in the elimination of project overruns – a significant feat that clearly translates to the bottom line.   The team used input from across the organization to restructure processes to define a better business model.  This approach helps to clarify strengths and weaknesses and put them on the table.

 

So how is the process going?  The company is finding that change is a step-by-step process of monthly improvements that are leading to new corporate norms.  “We now embrace a clear understanding of who we are and what we are,” says Sullivan.  “We have a clear, communicable strategy that all can embrace.  We measure the accomplishment of goals and can see our incremental progress.  The use of scorecards helps us set, accomplish and communicate milestone achievements.”

 

The journey to achieve cultural change is said to take five to seven years.  Elkhorn expects to cut that time well in half. One huge key is having a champion of the process.  “Sean certainly fills that role and without his enthusiasm and persistence, Elkhorn would not be making the progress desired,” says Bratz. “And new ideas are being generated daily that are truly changing Elkhorn’s future.”

 

The company’s goal is to double their income by 2007.  Sullivan says, “We can see that path to achieve our goal by applying the IMPACT process principles that are making us more efficient and profitable.”

 

 

 

 

The Impact of “IMPACT” at Elkhorn Construction, Inc.

 

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