By Ray Rayburn
It is not unusual for problems to arise during the construction process. Ray Rayburn gives some good suggestions on how to address this.
A local A/V contractor ran into a situation dealing with a church where they were making decisions that are likely to cause them problems down the road. I mentioned the situation to Bob Young the Executive Pastor of Vinelife Church and asked if he could write up some suggestions for dealing with such situations. What he wrote can apply to far more situations than just dealing with churches. With his permission I am sharing this with SynAudCon. – Ray A. Rayburn
On occasion during the life cycle of a project we can see storm clouds on the horizon – and sometimes they appear to be heading our way. There is a problem that is going to land right in our lap!
What should we do when the clouds are looming but the project is well underway?
A few suggestions:
1. Follow the advice of the flight attendant in the pre-flight announcement. “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure – put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others”. In other words if you see problems, your first action should be to enter into the process to protect your company. How?
a. Carefully assess the risk the situation presents to you. Ethics, costs and probability of failure bringing culpability to your door are among the factors you should consider.
b. Develop documentation. Use language appropriate to your level of concern in your writing. If you see minor issues, call them out without a lot of hyperbole. If you feel the problem could become major, you may want to use more dramatic language to underline your concern. In either case, remember that if things go south, every statement you make in writing might be subject to discovery and used as evidence in arbitration, mediation or litigation.
c. Communication is important – so is respecting your particular “chain of command”. If your contract is with the Owner then your formal communications should be with the Owner unless the contract specifies otherwise. If you report to the Project Architect or the General Contractor the same rule applies. But remember, nobody likes surprises except on their birthday and Christmas. As a result keeping others generally aware can be a good practice.
d. When you formally communicate in writing concerns, you can establish a state of constructive notice which can shift some of the burden of risk from you to those you report to.
2. See things from the point of view of the other responsible parties in the project. Just like you, they do not want problems or downstream consequences that are disruptive or expensive. They are also generally goal orientated and so sometimes it can be difficult to get their attention. Generally they do not want to hear about some issue that can be a barrier to their mission. In articulating your perceptions several tactics can be helpful:
a. Speak in the language they use. Explain the issue using a vocabulary they understand. For example, explain that their goal of X will be difficult to achieve if this issue is not addressed. Conversely, if it is addressed the benefits will be Y.
b. Be sensitive to their goals. Position yourself as a concerned partner with an “us” value as opposed to an opportunistic critic with an “I” value.
c. Don’t just illuminate the problem, offer suggestions that might lead to a better outcome. Try to find possibilities that avoid or minimize cost increase or time dely. Offer alternatives, if they exist, along with your recommendation.
d. Explain the “win” of those suggestions in terms of the goals of your audience.
3. Try to anticipate a range of possible outcomes of your actions. Go from worst case to best case and try to develop responses that continually reinforce that you are a team player – not an opportunist or a complainer.
4. Don’t be a pest (you will neutralize yourself) and simply say what you need to say.
At the end of the day, a project that blows up because of issues in your area of expertise is not helpful to the future of your company. Neither is a project where you have antagonized the General Contractor or Project Architect possibly leading to barriers in obtaining future work.
It is a fine line – but one to be aware of.