Love Thy Contractors.


Among the tested and true commandments of project management in any industry is one I bump to the top of the list: Love Thy Contractors.

People building service – oriented companies often make the mistake of getting swallowed by back office issues. Turn times promised to clients (sometimes unrealistic) leave them distracted while focused on a computer screen and tethered to the telephone checking status on dozens of projects. There is a thrill in boosting your clientele and getting smacked with a ton of new work. It’s validating to a business owner as it sends the message that the time they have invested in traffic flow to their company has paid off. The excitement of being loaded down by assignments to outsource means you are obviously trusted by your client. Way to go! The mistake easily made here is to crack the whip on your contractors at any cost to get the job done. After all, you’re looking at your computer screen and there are tons of assignments to be completed.

We sit at our laptops or in our offices or cubicles removed from the field by miles. Projects in RI and CA and TX and some other states send the signal that we going somewhere. “Nationwide” sounds so stinking cool to a business owner. Even better “International”! The danger at any time with being nonregional is that, when you’re building your company you don’t usually have the cashflow to fly to the site when there is an issue. You are forced to rely on photographs and status reports. This form of communication with any long-distance project is not the ideal. This is because it’s hard to even know the contractor you have assigned to the project. Also, it’s equally hard to appreciate all the work they are investing and the troublesome issues that may arise at a site. Not having an adequate picture, we find ourselves coming down on the contractor or being brutal when they are taking as great a risk on their end as we are. They are risking that we will not even pay them. There they are in CA and here I am in TX. How do they know for sure that I will pay? If I don’t they can’t just drop in and meet me face to face.

And, some of us often have no experience with the work we are assigning “in the field”. So, it’s hard for us to give instructions that will truly help them complete a job to our satisfaction. We tell them, “You need to do XYZ ASAP.” And they tell, us “To do this I need ABC”. Despite the fact that we don’t have their experience, we insist that they continue as we have instructed.

It’s not fair. It’s time to love our contractors.

For any service – oriented company to thrive, it has to assess who is most important. The entrepreneur might suggest they are because without them this business wouldn’t even exist. The accountant might say they are because they pay the bills and invoice the clients. The order scheduler would say they are because they often put the assignment out there and coordinate the work. But the truth is the CONTRACTOR is most important.

The contractor puts foot on project soil in order to get the job done. They are the one who is asked to be the face of the company. They meet with code officials if permits need to be reissued. They purchase materials needed for the work. They see the problems that occur first-hand. And, unfortunately, they are usually treated like grunt workers. When they call to get more work they are handled with impatience. When they attempt to give relevant status information they are told to email rather than call because we are too busy to be on the phone. Not caring for contractors is cancereous to a company’s success.

So, I propose the following for the sake of contractor care:

1) Get to know them on a personal level. Above all, form a relationship with your contractors. Ask about their families, get to know them as people rather than workers. I have found this creates loyalty and trust. Also, when they get to know you on a personal level, they will trust you more. The fear might be that this wastes too much productivity time and sets you up to be taken advantage of. The reality is just the opposite happens. When your contractor sees that you really care about them, they will got he extra mile for you.

2) Visit the Field. To truly get a picture of the life of your contractors, it would help to visit the site on occasion. This doesn’t suggest that you go to every site, stand over their shoulder and micromanage. What I am saying is your contractor will appreciate that you are able to tear yourself away from the office for them. Having an understanding of what is going on in the field boosts your ability to communicate with your clients and intelligently administer the project.

3) Pray for them. I realize that those who are not religiously inclined would also not be inclined to pray for their workers. If you do have faith in God, however, and you want your contractors to succeed, then pray for them. Praying for your contractor does two things: It makes you more keenly aware of who they are and what they are going through. And, it entrusts them to God for care, guidance and support.

4) Give them what they need. I have had to learn the hard way that many times when my contractors did not complete a task to my satisfaction, it was because I did not communicate the parameters of the project to their satisfaction. People understand things differently. Some people just need the facts. Some people are more visual. Others need guidance throughout the assignment. Inither case, we should be there to communication effectively what our client is asking of us. Without the tools to complete a task the one who is most to blame is the one giving the work.

5) Reward them. Rewarding your contractors for continued excellent work is important. Rewarding can come in different forms, too. What your contractor would like most is reward in the form of more work. To do this, see that you make it happen. Keeping your contractors’ skills in mind, you are able as an entrepreneur to tap your sources to find more work for them. I have found that finding work for contractors who have certain skills increases my product list, my coverage areas, and overall success. Reward can also take the form of featuring them on your company site. Many companies will have an “Employee of the Month”. Why not a “Contractor of the Month”? This communicates to the contractor and to the client that you are concerned about more than just the almighty dollar. Primarily, you’re interested in relationships. This is what builds business. A GC for a free meal, a thank you card, anything material will surprise most contractors. Lots of knuckleheads in this industry assume that they will keep their contractors happy with more assignments. Doing this and also giving them something material is a powerful message.

Our companies rise and fall on the health of our contractors. We are there to care for them as we mutually succeed. Just think what would happen to your company if all of your contractors quit tomorrow. And, that is a possibility when you neglect them. Keep in mind, this is not a tool to manipulate people to do things for you so you will look good. It is a service you provide to those providing services for you.

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