by Peter Quince on 2017-08-22 2:04pm
Now, More Than Ever: Do What You Do Best
& Outsource the Rest
Visit most job sites today and you’re likely to find two, three, four, or more licensed independent contractors all working on pieces of the same general contract. Contracting IS subcontracting these days, particularly as specialties become more technically demanding and specialized. Subcontracting allows a general contractor to add workers quickly when jobs flood in and avoid layoffs or going broke when the jobs dry up. Subcontractors get the bonus of picking up smaller jobs when the big jobs aren’t there.
We’re in an unusually challenging time for contractors/subcontractors. If there was ever a “subcontractor’s market,” it’s now. Labor shortages and rapid growth within the industry are making subcontractors more in demand than ever. As a subcontractor, you want to know what being in such demand gets you. If you’re a general contractor, you’re right to be concerned that mismanaging subcontractors will make them choose one of their many other options. So, how do you keep the best ones working for you and still get the most out of them?
One trade magazine article or continuing education class for Virginia contractors after another will give you a laundry list of how to make the most of the subcontracting situation: Pre-Qualify, Plan, Communicate, Make it in Writing, Pay on Time, the laundry list is always pretty much the same.
These days require a little more than that. If you want to make the most of this challenging time in subcontracting, look for inspiration in the Golden State Warriors. They’ve turned basketball on its head with a radically different management style and are tearing up the league. It’s a management style that can easily be adapted to the building trades, and it begins with the “four core values” that the Warriors focus on during every practice as well as during games:
Joy: Almost more important than money, feeling uplifted instead of dragged down is going to make subcontractors choose you over other options. I’ll point out just three of the ways to increase joy on a job site:
Ownership: Seeing a job well done and knowing “I did that” feels great. In order to make that happen, subcontractors should be invited to be significant participants. A subcontractor whose ideas and approaches are embraced is invested in following through. General contractors might want subcontractors to do their own drawings and plans of the work they’ll be doing so they have more ownership. It also clarifies the expectations for the job and avoids miscommunication.
Bonding: If the only interaction is when working, it means every contact is in order to ask something of the other. At a picnic or ballgame or paintball tournament, you build bonds based on shared pursuits that will make for a more willing collaborator at work.
Be one company: You’re NOT in one “company” with a subcontractor but, for as long as the job lasts, act like one. The Warriors assemble for a season as a “team”, not a collection of independent players. Subcontractors in “silos” doing their own thing with unconcern outside their assigned task is a recipe for disaster. When an owner talks to a subcontractor, he should get the same feeling as when talking to the contractor and the only way to make that happen is to share the company’s “culture”. Make it one joyous enterprise, all are invited to join.
Mindfulness: Everyone knows it – the most critical part of a contractor/subcontractor relationship is communication. But just saying, “communicate” doesn’t really give much guidance. By making mindfulness the guiding principle of communication, you can focus on where it matters most. Mindfulness means that each participant in the enterprise focuses on the task at hand while making that anyone else who needs to be mindful of that part of the project is kept informed. Safety, attention to detail, cleanliness, precise record-keeping, all are in the service of mindfulness. Mindful supervision can be summed up in the phrase “trust, but verify”, in other words, you allow talented people to use their talents while being mindful that it’s up to you to verify that tasks are done as required.
Compassion: This may be the most surprising “core value” for a professional sports team. What it means is being aware of the needs of others while not ignoring your own. The compassionate subcontractor/contractor communicates both up and down the supervisory ladder but also side to side so that the concerns of other workers are taken into account. It also means not to expect from anyone what they aren’t there to do; following the rule: “Do What You Do Best and Pay Someone Else to Do the Rest” is compassion in action. Remember, compassion also means “shared passion.”
Competition: Healthy competition among colleagues can be a good thing, if not taken too far. More to the point, it means you compete with yourself to be better each day, each assignment, and in your profession. Competition must be fair. If you’re a general contractor, being fair earns loyalty and trustworthiness. Finally, competition without reward is not competition. A job well done deserves monetary compensation (praise is nice, too), and efforts above and beyond deserve a bonus, if possible. Telling the subcontractor or contractor ahead of time that you plan to work together again is also a type of reward.
The construction industry today is not your father’s or grandfather’s. To have the spirit and ingenuity to thrive as a subcontractor or general contractor today, there’s no better model for success as a Virginia contractor licensee than the four “core values”:
Peter Quince, the author, is a researcher and writer in the construction trades for At Your Pace Online, an online provider through VAContractorTraining.com of Virginia contractor’s license classes, continuing education for individuals holding a Tradesman license.