Managing Subcontractors Compared to Coaching Basketball

This week basketball practice started for my son’s 1st-grade team, The Clippers, whom I get the opportunity to coach. At first glance, outside of the very dissimilar physical differences, I thought I was in one of our weekly subcontractor progress meetings. Four kids locked in and focused on having a productive practice. One kid did not want to be there, two kids wanted to complain about everything, two showed up for the snack at the end of practice and one kid showed up 10 minutes late.  Yes, this season will be the constant herding of cats but then I laughed, went home, and told my wife I do this every day. Our job as the general contractor is to take the constant chaos and charter a path for everyone to follow. Below are the eight principles The Clippers are focused on this season followed by a description of how each tie directly to the way The Douglas Company manages our subcontractor force:

  1. Practice with purpose – At TDC we expect a lot out of our subcontractors. We run a tight schedule and demand subs to follow accordingly. If a subcontractor doesn’t show up and get work done, we will find someone else who will. These projects are too big and too complex in today’s world to not make progress every single day.
  2. Play together and move the ball – We expect our subcontractors to work together to both solve problems and do things in a way that helps all parties involved not just one specific trade. No, Mr. HVAC, you cannot run your large duct directly down the center of the hallway first because we also have light fixtures and fire suppression heads that run down the center of the hall.
  3. Know your role and don’t care who scores – Roles can and usually do change as the job progresses. One thing that is consistent is that each sub reports back to TDC and it is TDC’s responsibility to make sure any issues are dealt with accordingly and timely. When each sub comes to the table working to solve an issue and not trying to prove who is right or wrong, we are much more productive and typically end up with the best solution possible.
  4. Defend with toughness – At TDC we are our client’s contractor. This means we do our absolute best to limit surprises and keep our commitments through proactive attention to detail. CHANGE ORDERS are a constant fight but we fall on that sword fighting to keep our clients within budget. We own it if it’s on the drawings and we tell our subcontractors the same thing.
  5. Take smart shots and trust each other – If something comes up that doesn’t look right we say something. We convey to our subs don’t be a hero. Ask the question and we will get the proper parties involved to help solve the issues at hand.
  6. Communicate clearly and everyone is held accountable – It is in our subcontractor’s bill of rights that we return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. We ask the subcontractors to do the same in return. If someone on our staff isn’t getting back to subs and open items remain on the meeting agenda for more than one week we are doing our subs a disservice. We hold them accountable and we expect them to do the same to us.
  7. Embrace pressure and compete with confidence – At TDC we like to compete. The construction business is challenging. It’s one reason why I personally love building. You need a little bit of a chip on your shoulder to get to where you want to go or you’ll get run over, backed over, and run over again.
  8. Focus on a common goal and have fun – We have milestones in each of our schedules that we push to achieve. The common goal across all trades is to maximize production. When we help subcontractors maximize production they get things done quickly which leads to more money in their pockets. When subs win, we win and ultimately the client wins. Have fun = have fun. Find something to laugh at or it’s easy to go crazy.

Every coach has a saying they like to leave the team with at the end of practice. Mine for the reader of this blog today comes from Theodore Roosevelt. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It is a new year. Push yourself to the next level…or two.

Landon Kessler

Project Manager

The Douglas Company

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