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People Skills Solution

by David Lupberger


Question: I go out of my way to communicate my willingness to help homeowners through the remodeling process. My problem is finding field people with the same willingness and ability. Finding carpenters with people skills is like searching for an honest politician. Where do you find these people?

Answer: Carpentry and people skills don't always go together, do they? It's not hard to see why. Tradespeople in construction like to work with their hands. They want to work on nice projects and build beautiful things. They express themselves through their hands. The best carpenters I know are quiet, self-sufficient people who want to be left alone to focus on their job. If people skills were of higher importance to them, they'd probably be doing something different. To further compound the problem, good carpenters frequently become lead carpenters, or project managers, and then they become responsible for scheduling subcontractors, material deliveries, and following tight production schedules. They have a long "to do" list of things that need to happen every day. Added to this demanding mix is homeowner management.

Finding a good field person with people skills is not impossible, but these kinds of people are a valuable commodity and in high demand. Training employees on the "soft skills" of homeowner care can be equally frustrating.

In my own company, to respond to this ongoing problem, I decided to take the path of least resistance. Instead of trying to find and hire these rare birds, I developed standard operating procedures that define what is supposed to happen, by whom and when. These simple job procedures define what is expected of everyone on the job site, including the homeowner. Everyone agrees to these procedures before the job begins.

In past columns, I've written about how job procedures help manage anxious homeowners. Good job procedures also help define jobsite roles and expectations. Managing expectations is the key to successful project management. The cornerstone of this process is a preconstruction meeting in which we review and agree on the following items:

  • When will daily work begin and end?
  • Can work be scheduled on weekends?
  • If weekend work is an option, are there any restrictions?
  • If there is an after hours emergency, whom do the homeowners call?
  • Whom do the homeowners talk to about change orders?
  • Whom do they take day-to-day comments and suggestions to?
  • What areas need to be completely cleared of furniture?
  • Where can workers store tools and materials?
  • What outside areas will hear the brunt of construction activities and what protective measures can be taken?
  • Does any landscaping need to be moved or protected?
  • Is there any way to lessen the impact of construction?
  • If there are pets, where will they be kept during construction?
  • What rules apply to homeowners' children around the work site during working hours?
  • What dust containment measures will the contractor employ?
  • What cleanup will be done each day?
  • Is there a designated eating or smoking area?
  • Are there any parking restrictions?
  • In addition to the above, I set up a weekly homeowner meeting to address questions and review progress. I put a "job book" on site that allows homeowners to write down any questions or comments about the work going on in their home. We agree to get back to them within 24 hours to address any concerns that may have been noted in their "job book." I review supervision, being very specific about who is going to be on site and when. I try to address any issues that could come up before they become a problem.

    My list of questions may or may not reflect the questions you need to ask on your own jobs. The point I want to make is that by doing this, I'm taking the responsibility of managing homeowners off the shoulders of the people in the field by arriving at a set of "agreements: that everyone acknowledges before the job begins. In this way, the "conditions of satisfaction" are clearly stated, and I've eliminated most of the upsets that used to plague previous projects.

    We sometimes put field people in a difficult position. They have a job to do, a schedule to follow, subs to organize and deliveries to handle. They have a long list of things that need to happen every day, and if not properly managed, a homeowner can become an interruption to a long "to do" list. I don't want homeowners to be an interruption, so I "schedule" that interruption. My people don't need to have great people skills. They just need to follow procedures.

    Reprinted with the permission of Qualified Remodeler

    To contact David Lupberger directly, call him at (301)570-9756. You may also send your comments and/or questions to David at his personal email..

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