Home Again – Part 2


The Borden Foundation

The Borden Foundation

If you read about our arduous trip to Florida to take the new post here at Saint Leo, hang on.  You ain’t seen nothin yet!

How can I say that after all of our Earthly possessions were loaded into unknown crates and stored in unknown locations forcing us to buy knock-off duplicates of all our stuff?

Read on!

As I mentioned, my in-laws moved here with us.  So, every effort was doubled.  Every company got a “two-fer” out of us.  The pod company, the loaders, the unloaders, the apartment complex, etc.  That also meant the movers lost OUR stuff and THEIR stuff too…

As such, we both took the opportunity to build houses back to back.  Why not create as much of a “Leave it to Beaver” experience for our daughter?  She’ll be able to walk across the yard to Nana’s house at any time.  She’ll grow up among her people.  Check.

So, we found a builder in north Tampa and found lots that fit the scenario.  Both corner lots, we would build two houses – they a ranch and us a two-story – back to back.  We would share all of the backyard amenities, from a pool to a playset to a BBQ.  The houses would be done, as mentioned previously, near the end of March.  Check.

Enter March.

Our houses were being pushed back.  It wasn’t because of rain or permits or anything you might imagine.  The reason was….well, just because.

OK – we would wait until April!

Enter April.

Dan Pink said it best...

Dan Pink said it best…

In fairness, my in-laws did move in.  Late April allowed us to all move into their house (the apartments were that bad) and look across the yard every morning at our house not being worked on…ugh.

But it was a meeting in April that is really at the heart of what I have to tell you.  I don’t just want to…I have to.

As well-educate people who are spending the most money we’ll ever spend on anything by purchasing this home, and since my wife had no Florida friends or activities in place when we moved here, we were ‘close’ to the build process.  My wife and daughter and both in-laws went to the houses 3-4 times per week.

As a result, they saw all kinds of problems, inefficiencies, and poor conditions for the homes.  They came in one evening to find chicken bones strewn about the floor of my in-laws house covered in thousands of ants.  Another trip found the wrong lighting in our home.  And each time someone spoke up.  We texted or called our house rep and/or the builder.  You can guess how popular we were…

At the same time, we experienced a new build for the first (and likely last) time ever.  Wow.  As a person who has spent the better part of his life looking at how organizations and processes are architected and trying to fix them, I can tell you that home builders are a confluence of inefficiency and nonsensical process.

The Design Center is as good a place to start this conversation as any.  After seeing the models, buyers have no idea just how many things they are seeing are upgrades.  (A LOT…believe me)  But while this, in theory, is ok, it causes tremendous confusion.  Buyers don’t always know what to ask about.  Builders don’t always know what to discuss.  And as such, builders leave a bunch of money on the table and buyers get a home that isn’t quite what they expected.

At the same time, the process is not automated AT ALL.  The Design Center workers are just supposed to know what cabinet is taller, wider, blacker, or whiter and they input the right codes as you go.  Then, when you’ve finished your 3-4 hour (exhausting) experience, they should you a list of codes.  You sign that list, not knowing if any of it is accurate.  And when there are troubles around the list…it gets ugly.

I hope you are seeing the powder keg that was building up as I describe the next important concept, because it applies to education, business, etc., as much as home buying.

In April, before my in-laws moved in, we found that the wrong cabinets had been installed.  We told the head construction guy immediately.  He pointed us back to the signed list and said, “Sorry, you asked for these.”  So we demanded a meeting with the managers of the process.  And boy did we get one.

The meeting started off quite tenuously and went from bad to worse.  The manager began shaking, obviously quite upset.  He explained that having buyers like us, who were upset with any number of things throughout the process, made it hard to want to build a house for us.  He was extremely worried that when a final survey was given, we wouldn’t give a “Will Recommend” response.  And so, he wondered if we should – are you ready for this – if we should “PART COMPANY.”

The cascade of information and emotion wafted over us.  What?  You want to break the contract with us because you might get some negative survey inputs?

That was when it came to us.  The survey.  Of course.  The builder, sales rep, and manager were all INCENTIVIZED based on the final survey.  If we gave any of them a score other than “Will Recommend,” they wouldn’t get paid and might even lose their jobs…

Now look at that closely.  You and I both know that builders are trying to build a house as cost effectively as possible.  So, every time we would ask for something to be fixed or corrected, it cost them.  And so they will fight tooth and nail NOT to pay for fixes or corrections, often coming back to the signed documentation.  BUT…they have to get a score of “Will Recommend” when the process is done.  If not, bad things happen.

So what did they do?  They were going to game the system.  They were willing to walk away from a sold house, which would allow them to explain to their bosses that the Borden’s simply backed out, instead of getting a negative review.  Then, they would deal with selling the home as a stock house instead.


Luckily, I’ve read Drive by Pink.  I speak about the trouble of incentives as merit based pay for teachers.  I understood quickly what was happening.  And we were able to stop the madness!

MoneyIncentivesBut do you see the trouble caused by fixating on a satisfaction measure?  Do you see the way employees (whether home builders or professors or managers) will game a system that is based on those kinds of incentives?  Didn’t we all learn a decade ago that incentives aren’t even prudent for highly cognitive based tasks and processes?  Financial incentives actually create a worse final product when creative, cognitive, problem solving tasks are on the table.  You know, like paying teachers based on student grades…

In the end, this wasn’t the last calamity.  When our stuff finally arrived, some big stuff was broken or ruined beyond repair.  (Stuff like my in-laws grandfather clock, their refrigerator, etc)  My family finally got into our house on May 27, about 2 months after we expected to.  Our dishwasher went out on day 1 in the house.  So it wasn’t all sunshine after what we’re now calling, “the meeting.”

In the end, we’re all giving a “Will Recommend” survey score to the builder.  Not because we would – in fact, we would not.  But because it’s not worth hurting these builder’s people with that mark.  So, the score is meaningless.  Just like the process, which could be SO improved through surveys, will not be.  The builder will continue to believe they are creating a “different kind of build experience,” when in reality, they are not.  Customers won’t recommend their homes despite most builders working the same way.  All in all, the experience will help…well, nobody.

But I do have to say, now that it’s all over, I’m just glad to be home.  While the process was awful and the bad stuff did happen, at least now we’re ready to move forward.

Antithetically, my work at Saint Leo couldn’t have started much better.  While there were some hiccups and some more communication could have been used, all in all we are setting forth to do some transformative work and it’s exciting to me.

Chalk up my house building experience to lessons learned….lessons I’ll use in my University work for sure.

Good luck and good learning everyone.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.