The Culture of Subcontractor & Installer Relationships...I hope you like my humor around reality!
After 20 years of managing, growing, evaluating, fixing and embracing subcontractor operations in different organizations, one thing I have learned is that we DO have control of the culture around the relationships we manage, lead and influence. This has not always been easy for me as I was breaking the mold is every way being an African-American woman in a leadership role, that wasn't HR...lol, in the construction industry. What may surprise many of you is those weren't the big obstacles... the industries known culture of favoritism, lack of integrity, and good ole boys club made it hard for change but I was up for the challenge! So lets talk about it....
I will start by stating the obvious, the remodeling industry is unique to say the least and building your "skin of leather" A-Team to juggle it all is a conversation for another day with a bottle of wine...lol. For this discussion we are going to focus on subcontractor & installer relationships and the foundation of culture needed for them to be successful. Culture is built from within and maintained by constant practice and leading by example...WAIT STOP right here and evaluate those points. Are you a leader? Have you built a foundation of culture? Most importantly, do you lead by example?
Foundation of Culture: This starts from the way you allow your business/office culture to be developed. Proactive communication, honesty, morals, ethics, character, accountability, respect, inclusion and awareness are all incorporated into a good sturdy foundation. Be comfortable letting your teams talent shine bright, don't allow tensions to grow, be approachable, know the facts and control your emotions as a leader. Do your staff members come to you to complain or do what I like to call "sneak hate" on their team members with hopes of shining in your eyes? Do rumors often circulate about relationships, stability of the company, etc.? Do you have certain employees constantly carrying the weight of others and instead of dealing with the slackers you're telling that certain employee "thank you" for going above and beyond? These are ALL signs of a broken foundation in your culture and it bleeds into the warehouse and the field!
The Foundation Starts at Recruitment: Now remember we are talking about CULTURE, which is built on a foundation..... So my one question for you before we dive into the fact that your entire relationship with your subcontractors and installers starts with you at recruitment is: Do you have a Proactive or Reactive recruitment process? If the answer is, "well I recruit when we have an increase in sales" then your culture is one of desperation from the minute you meet a potential sub or installer. Most can smell desperation from a mile away and it leads to a state of vulnerability which shatters the base of your foundation for a healthy culture.
Story time: When I started in the industry I inherited a culture made up of reactive recruitment, desperation and constantly being held hostage by my subs & installers on what they would or would not do. I struggled to understand the culture and quickly realized each day was a day of survival as a hostage negotiator with subs and installers to get jobs completed and make customers happy. Luckily for me, since I was in kindergarten, I have been told my assertiveness and lack of concern for confrontation would benefit me one day, well that day had arrived. I started to very respectfully ask questions and make statements to the subs and installers like: "why do you refuse to do work when you know its needed but when they offer to pay you more you will do it.....why not just ask for a pay increase and behave as though your worth it so everyone can stop living this nightmare everyday." or "can you send me pictures of the rotten wood so I can share with the sales team and help them understand what to account for so the customer is properly charged." or "can you help me understand why you (insert one of a million things here." THE POINT I am making is that I stopped letting things just get swept under the rug, I stopped allowing them to control a one way street as though we owed them something, I was respectful in my approach and I started to develop a culture of honesty, respect, accountability, inclusion and building a healthy foundation one piece at a time. Doing this daily and coaching my staff through the change of behavior I was leading by example and creating a healthy culture.
Now for the "hard lesson" learning part: I have learned over my years to try and anticipate all the possible outcomes and ensure I have a proactive plan in place when handling tough situations....which in the beginning I did not! Well I am here to tell you if you talk it you better be ready to walk it as I found myself one day in a very reactive position! One of the biggest, baddest installers to ever walk our company quit on me after I approached him for theft of a referral that he kept and did as a side job (y'all know exactly the crap I am talking about...lol). I had proof, there was NO question what had happened and he was beyond angry that I addressed him about it as he had gotten away with these things for years, so he QUIT, on the spot in the middle of loading out a $11k job, OUCH. (insert funny side note: in the future I suggest addressing the issue after the job is completed for the day not while they are loading it out and can walk off on your like he did me....and anticipate they may not be finishing their existing schedule. I was a young, know it all manager at the time so I surely didn't think that one through...lol... OK carry on). I was now desperate, needing installers as he easily produced what 2-3 one man crews could in a day, yikes! I placed ads, walked lumber yard parking lots and finally after 3 bad hires and a LOT of angry customers I found a new, reliable, quality crew (those don't come easy).
Things were good... now here it comes fulls circle: The installer that quit came back, he realized it was indeed a two way street that we both had to respect each other to make it work and he wanted his workload back. I offered for him to come back but sharing the workload as I would and could not release nor take work away from my new guys. I needed a backup plan, I needed to create a culture of pro-activeness and to be ready for things to happen and my customers to not suffer. Most importantly I had to lead by example for my team as we turned the page to a new healthy culture. I continued to recruit weekly, built a proactive recruiting system that only requires 3-4 hours per week to be managed and ensured the foundation of your culture remained sturdy!
Believe me when I tell you that not all of the subs/installers liked or agreed with my style. Nobody had ever questioned them before, nobody held them accountable to what they committed to, and surely they could never be replaced. I had the audacity to not only do those things but I did them in a respectful, controlled and proactive manner that couldn't be denied. Creating this proactive system meant I was in a confident, relaxed and in stable place when I met new potential subs or installers the first time. I didn't desperately need them, allowing me to onboard them properly, check references, set proper expectation of our culture and develop a retention program to match the growth of our business!
Now go build you a CULTURE you can be proud of!