With hunting season coming to an end, it’s been fun listening to all the stories from people at work. The most entertaining story was the bear story. Dave in our office and his son were hiking through the woods when they saw a bear in the distance. They crept up on the bear from the rear. They nestled themselves down behind a log while the bear was busy stripping berries off vines. Dave told his son to take the shot. Dave’s son is 17 and Dave thought it was a great opportunity for his son to take this monster bear at such a young age. Dave’s son put the rifle up to his shoulder, aimed and shot. The bear leaped into the bushes never to be seen again. They searched for the bear only to determine the shot had missed its mark.
In many of my recent stories, I think I’ve been missing the mark. Yes, I give suggestions, which appear many are using based on my e-mail responses. However, I think it is important to provide a “plumb bob” or a comparison of what subcontractors are looking for in a general contractor.
One of my customers has an annual Christmas party at a Seattle hotel each year and once again, my wife and I were invited to this lavish event. Each year, the president of the company starts the event with a formal--yet very persona--speech. He begins by acknowledging owners, employees, subcontractors, and others who have made a serious contribution to the company’s success.
The president of the company ends his speech by thanking everyone for the valuable contributions each person has made throughout the year.
After dinner, the president and I sat down and talked. I asked him if he could explain what his secret to success is?
He summed it up in these words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat others good.
“I’ve never noticed that wording in your contracts,” I replied.
“No, it’s not in our subcontracts but it is the way we do business,” he said.
“Contracts are a requirement in our business. However, our company is about relationships, not contracts.”
I know Mr. X runs his business based on the “Golden Rule,” because I have experienced it. For example, when you attend a pre-con meeting you will be greeted with a handshake by the project team. The owner or owner’s representative is normally present. The process of building a relationship with each subcontractor starts at these meetings.
The company considers subcontractors a valuable asset. The subcontractor’s success will lead to his company’s success. His meetings are open and honest. He requires each subcontractor to participate in developing the schedule. How many subcontractors can say that their customers (general contractors) have taken good care of them through thick and thin? How many subcontractors can honestly say that their customer treats them fairly?
To quote the president: “Our employees, vendors and subcontractors are part of our family. Our success is built upon each one of these relationships and we work to keep our relationships. Every person involved in a project is part of the solution. Each person has different talents which we greatly value.”
The company’s office and field staff have proven their high regard for subcontractors by asking, “What can we do to help you or what do you need us to do?”
The company’s policy is to pay vendors, including subcontractors, 30 days from the day the company is invoiced by the subcontractor, no matter if the company has been paid or not.
The company’s policy on change orders is that, once the company accepts the subcontractor’s price, a change order is sent to the subcontractor with notice to proceed. Once the work is done, the subcontractor is allowed to bill for the work and get paid in 30 days no matter if the company has been paid or not.
Pre-construction meetings The company’s pre-construction meetings are the most interesting meetings I have ever attended. The meetings have very little to do with the project but have everything to do with the people and the process. The lead project manager opens the meeting with a hearty welcome. The group is then led through the company’s guidelines. The guidelines are basically the company’s policy relating to teamwork with a common goal. After the teamwork guidelines are reviewed, there is a short break prior to the scheduling meeting. The pre-construction meeting is a mandatory meeting for all vendors.
At the scheduling portion of the meeting, each trade represented is given the opportunity to schedule the time required to complete its work. If the company or the owner has a problem with the durations given by a specific subcontractor it is discussed at that time. Once all of the durations are given, the project team goes to work in order to determine if the durations fit the move in date. If problems are determined, the specific subcontractor is contacted and advised of the problem, and the subcontractor and project team find a solution together.
Weekly subcontractor meetingsEach week, the entire project team as well as the project owners and subcontractors, meet for about two hours. The project leader asks all trades to individually express any problems they are experiencing. Each subcontractor is asked to express problems, concerns, and solutions. When a subcontractor voices a concern, it is quickly resolved during the meeting in most cases.
When a problem does arise the company’s policy is to ask, “What can we do to help?” The mangers and supervisors of the company are constantly taking the temperature of each subcontractor to be sure everything is going well, and that the subcontractor is happy. The owner is kept well informed of problems and is always welcome to attend all meetings.
ContractsThe company’s contracts are no better or worse than most of the contracts we sign daily. However, the company has never had to bring litigation against a subcontractor, nor has any subcontractor brought litigation against the company. The reason for this extraordinary track record is due in most part to the company’s teamwork policy, which is designed to solve problems as they arise.
The company takes an active role in resolving subcontractor problems before they fester into hard feelings. In fact, I’ve not been able to find a subcontractor who has worked for the company that has been dissatisfied with how they have been treated.
If you ask the president about the company’s subcontracts he will say, “A contract is not near as important as the people who sign them. Relationships take priority over contracts, and so far we exceed personal and business goals by several fold.
“Our contracts with the owner are the same old complicated contracts, however we have a requirement that the owner takes an active role in the project by attending subcontractor meetings. We want our project owners to get involved in what they are spending money on. I don’t like separating the owner from the project. I want the owner to be part of our team and to have the satisfaction of completing a job on time and within budget. If the owner is not involved with or exposed to the problems first hand there tends to be more problems. I look at it this way: The team puts together a bigger team of subcontractors who together accomplishes what the owner wants.”
One year, I had several large projects going on at the same time and had crews working two shifts. I told the company’s project manager that my crew size was becoming bigger than I anticipated. He asked, “What can I do to help?” I replied, “It would sure help if I could resubmit my billing for the month because I underestimated it and it would also help if I could get paid sooner than later.”
He said no problem. I resubmitted the bill and received a check in two days via overnight mail.
Another situation arose where my foreman and supervisors were getting burned out from all the shift work and overtime. I mentioned this at a subcontractor meeting that the guys are getting tired and the next day, the second shift was eliminated for three work days and the weekend so all of the night shift workers could have a five-day weekend.
The company came through another time when it was critical that an area of the building be done by a certain date; however, the architect had not detailed the work and we needed some tube steel installed in order to support our walls. Again, The company project manager asked, “What can we do to help?” I said, “I need some tube steel installed to support my work but it must be in by tomorrow night.” The company’s response was that it could be installed by the time I needed it and to plan accordingly. Sure enough, the steel fabricator got the steel ready and the company trucks went and picked it up and it was installed on time.
I’ve wondered for years when this company would become a hard-charging, contract-driven, get-the-job-done-my-way-or-the-highway outfit. They haven’t changed and it appears they never will. Why should they?
You may be wondering at this point if the company I’m referring to is real or just a figment of my imagination? The company and the people are real, and they are a great example of what subcontractors are looking for in a general contractor. When you’re treated, as well as this company treats subcontractors, you will do everything you can to please this kind of customer.
Who is this masked man, you ask? Where is this company located, you ask? How can I contact them, you ask? Don’t ask me, because I’m not going to tell you. You’re going to have to find your own and when you do (good luck), take care of them! Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contact!