Posted by: JC Gatlin | January 10, 2010

Holding Building Partners Accountable: Speaking up when standards aren’t met

This story is a little shocking.

A couple of weeks ago, a Construction Professional (CP) and I walked his jobsites together at the end of the day. One homesite in particular had just completed frame stage, and it was a mess. There were cut 2x4s, pieces of plywood, nails and straps scattered across the entire site. Yogurt cups, water bottles, and McDonald’s bags littered the ground. Clumps of saw dust and mud plastered the interior floor. In fact, there was so much trash that debris was piled in the backyard flowerbeds of the completed home next door. The CP was fuming.

“This is the last straw,” he yelled. “I have to tell this crew over and over to pick-up their trash and sweep before they leave.” Grabbing his cell phone, he dialed the crew leader for the framing company and told him to meet him at the homesite in 15 minutes. The crew leader must have made some excuse because the CP responded, “No – NOW!”

I was wondering how to diffuse the situation… Would I need to get a bell and separate these two men to their own corners? Or could I just get them gloves and let them duke it out once and for all? Or should I call 911 now to get the ambulance on its way? The CP was that furious. Still, above all, we had to remain professional. We needed to get to the root of the problem.

The crew leader showed up on the jobsite inside of 10 minutes, leaping out his truck. He approached the CP with a stern, determined gait. The CP was shaking his head, glaring at the man. The fight was on. The only thing I could do was position myself between the CP and the Building Partner, like it would do any good.

Turns out – there was no fight.

“Sorry to make you come all the way back,” the CP said, extending his hand to the crew leader. They shook as the framer assured him it was no problem. The CP continued. “You see, your guys didn’t clean up or sweep after they left for the day.”

“Yeah,” the Building Partner said. “Sorry about that. We had to get to another job.”

“Well, I understand…” the CP answered. “I’ll clean it up today. Just don’t let it happen again.”   

Then the crew leader was back in his truck and headed down the street. I watched his tail lights for a moment before turning to the CP. I helped him pick up nails and fragments of plywood. We swept the mud and sawdust out of the interior of the home. Finally as we dugout candy bar wrappers and water bottles from the neighbor’s bushes, I couldn’t help but ask a few questions.

“I was worried that you were going to go ballistic on that framer,” I said. “I was trying to figure out how to calm you down and get you both talking rationally… What happened?’

“I don’t want to tick him off,” he explained as he held a 10 gallon trash bag open and I dumped trash in it. “He’ll quit and it’ll take me weeks to replace him. I can’t put this house that far behind schedule.”

And there you have it… Shocking isn’t it? The Construction Professional was afraid to speak up.  

But he wasn’t the only one. Ask the CPs of other communities and you’ll hear similar stories and reasons. They’ll tell you, “If I say something… “…the Building Partner won’t do a good job or meet my schedule on purpose.” “…the Building Partner is friends with upper management and will make me look bad.” “…I just don’t want the hassle or confrontation.”

So how do you sustain the discipline of 5S or ensure 100% job completion, first time quality and safety if the CP can’t openly and honestly communicate concerns with their Building Partners? Is the hassle and confrontation really avoidable?

Here’s a place to start with The Do’s & Don’ts of communicating with Building Partners.

DO:

  • Discuss concerns & expectations with the crew supervisor
  • Explain the expectation. Make it clear.
  • First ask them if something prevented them from meeting the expectation. Is there something you could do or is there something that could be improved on the jobsite?
  • Then ask them why it didn’t get done?
  • Ask what would keep them from fulfilling this next time.
  • Ask for their personal commitment to this item.
  • Hold them accountable. Be consistent in the expectation. Thank them when they complete it.
  • Be firm but be fair.

DON’T:

  • DON’T accept non-compliance
  • DON’T immediately jump on them or raise your voice.
  • DON’T argue with them
  • DON’T just tell the crew or an individual in the crew
  • DON’T threaten them
  • DON’T take “no” for an answer or a non-commitment to follow the standard in the future
  • DON’T accept excuses for non-compliance

Achiveing lean requires both Construction Professional and the Building Partner working together, upholding the standards and improving the condition of the jobsite. That’s required day in and day out. It’s sustaining the discipline, and speaking up — the right way — is just part of the job.

[Joel Freedland contributed to this article.]

© January 2010 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

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Responses

  1. This article is a reflection of life in general — we choose not to speak up for realistic reasons or a desire not to have a confrontation but then the issues/problems just continue or grow — The need for 5S is all around us.

    But if WE clean up the mess — the “messer” does not learn…much like your child’s room. PDCA and root cause can change the origination of the issue, dissipating the problem early and wiping it out; so that the symptoms (the mess) do not creep back in….be it at home, the office or a jobsite.

    What a great example this article gives about people. We do not confront so that we reach a goal, but that goal is reached at the expense of something else. A continual dilemma of life.


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