When a Contractor Has the Gold
Ever wonder about the "Haves" and the "Have-nots?" I once got a real education — up close and personal. And this is a lesson that you need to hear today — and take to heart.
A few years ago, I was in a West Coast city, working for a company that did pipeline work. What makes this an interesting story is that the pipeline work was actually sewer pipe replacement utilizing "trenchless" technology. Even though the work was being performed with state-of-the-art, robotic equipment and closed-circuit TV, it was still sewer work. We basically helped to make "you-know-what" flow downhill — which isn't very high tech when you think about it.
What takes this story from interesting to fascinating is that this city is one that has a number of TV and movie studios. And these studios cater to the upper crust, the créme de la créme, the elite and the "beautiful people." The city's economy was very much dependent upon these people, so it catered to them, and only tolerated contractors as a necessary evil. We were fairly low on the social food chain, if you know what I mean. Got the picture? Ever worked in a city like that?
Set that image aside for the moment while I remind you of another scenario you probably know all too well. This can be best summarized with the well-known statement that business works on the principle of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules!
So let's bring those two pictures together. Where does that leave us: in a city which owned all of the gold, catering to the beautiful people, tolerating contractors who are in that city only to make life even more beautiful for its residents. Not an enviable position, right?
Maybe not! As contractors, and as Full Contact Project Managers, we should never find ourselves accused of being dumb. The essence of being a contractor is being a survivor, knowing our business, knowing the rules of the game, knowing the contract documents.
Okay, now you know all of the background. Let's get to a specific situation — one that I encountered, and you might too.
The nature of underground work is similar to remodeling and other construction work: The plans do not show what might be lurking underneath the surface, and contractors run into this all of the time. I once joked with the city's construction manager that the city's plans might as well have been sketches written on a paper napkin, considering their lack of accuracy. (By the way, the comment was definitely not appreciated, but it was accurate!)
But here's the deal — what you always have to remember: When you are working for the beautiful people, or with schools, hospitals, factories or homeowners, whether making their "stuff" flow downhill, or building a wall that holds up the roof over their heads, you are more than a necessary evil. You are a problem solver. More than that, you are their problem solver! They need you, especially when things go wrong or when things change. And those things happen all the time.
Think about that for a moment. You and your company are important as problem solvers. Because no matter how beautiful some people may think they are, their lives become much less pleasant when they can't do some things that they take for granted: such simple things as having a roof continue to provide cover; and that's about as critical to them as being able to flush!
You might be asking yourself, "But Coach, how does all of this stuff affect my job." Glad you asked. So let's look at the whole picture, as it might play out for you.
Your company is working hard on a project when — surprise! surprise! surprise! — something changes. Your client comes to you and is frantic. He has a new problem. He wants it to go away. He wants to make his problem become your problem. What did you do to cause the problem? Nothing! You were just following the plans and specs that your client gave to you, but something not shown on those plans and specs has now jumped out at your client. Since his problem touches your masonry, he expects that you will solve it — and for free. When? Oh, yeah, he wants this done now! He reminds you of how important it is (to him) to not shut down the project. Gold is at stake.
Two questions for you: Who is in the bigger hurry right now, your client or you? Who is more concerned about this right now, your client or you?
Now, the biggest question for you: Why should you drop everything, change your planned work routine, and impact your own efficiency and profits when you don't believe it's your work to do in the first place? Second, you don't even know how and when or if you're getting paid? I say, that sounds crazy to me!
Since one of your business goals is to survive, how well can you do that when you allow your client to interrupt you — for free? Fortunately, we have a procedure for things like this — the RFI (Request for Information). It all begins with the RFI.
Let's remember something else: When your client comes to you and asks you to do something (He's thinking for free!), why is he coming to you in the first place? It's because he has already evaluated the situation in his mind. He believes that your company can do this work in question. As a matter of fact, he will normally think that you can do this better than anyone else on the job.
This adds to your leverage, your position — your "gold." This also is part of your heritage as a problem solver. In fact, you're such a good problem solver that you should almost be able to swagger when you walk onto the job site or into a meeting! Yes, you are a problem solver. If it's in the specs, by gosh, you're going to do it for them. If it's not, or it's not clear, then you'll tell them — nicely — why it's not included, and ask them how they want you to proceed.
You are their problem solver. They need you more than you need them. Your own roof still works, and you can still flush! You now have the gold. If you're smart, you'll be making a few rules yourself. And you'll do this by following the simple, proven, Full Contact PM procedure for protecting your profits. Getting paid.
Why, you and your gold are becoming quite beautiful! Got the picture?
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.
Copyright 2007 by Gary Micheloni