The job was sold to a couple but it was the wife who selected products and provided input into the design process. So when her husband developed the habit of arriving to check the work while the crew was on break or immediately after the workday was completed, he had so many questions that job progress slowed. “I had my best guy on it,” says Bob DuBree, owner of Creative Contracting, in Wales, Pa. “He was going crazy.” DuBree resolved the problem by coming out to the house to confer with the homeowner.
Such conflicts can cost you a job, a referral, or a skilled employee. Switching personnel isn’t always practical. “Usually it’s a key person,” says John Rusk, owner of Rusk Remodeling, in New York City, which specializes in high-end apartment work. “And it’s over a specific issue that has our person saying no to an unreasonable demand and the client being upset by that.”
Avoiding a Clash
Three steps to help avoid such clashes:
1. Match employees to clients. Pushy client? A hyper-controlling project manager or a finicky lead carpenter may not work. Oak Remodeling owner Dave Brady, in Oak Park, Ill., says that the one occasion when he had to pull a superintendant off the job “was a real personality issue. I should’ve seen that in advance.”
Personality profiling using tests such as DISC or Persogenics help you better understand the strengths and weaknesses of staff members.
Strite Design/Build Remodeling, in Boise, Idaho, took its local building materials supplier up on its offer to profile employees and their families. “We don’t want the talkative person in there with the talkative client,” former owner and now consultant to the company Jim Strite says. “Nothing will get done.”
2. Meet weekly on job progress. Advise clients that conflicts are not only possible but likely, and let them know that your regular communication will forestall them. Weekly progress meetings with all parties, including the owner, let you know if something is starting to go sideways, says Mark Scott, owner of Mark IV Builders, a Maryland remodeling company. At Mark IV, this process began in 1996 and is now “inviolate,” Scott says. “It has to happen.” Don’t have time for a weekly meeting? Strite Design/Build sends clients a weekly email update on jobs.
3. Have a policy. At Brooklyn, N.Y., remodeling company Long & DeLosa Construction Group, clients are asked to stay away from the jobsite while work is in progress. “I explain that for insurance reasons, they can’t be there when the men are working. It’s a safety issue,” co-owner Brian Long says. If clients want to view the site later, he’ll set a time to walk them through it.
Whose Side to Take?
One reason why remodelers should head potential clashes off in advance is that if and when such a clash reaches the boiling point, it forces company owners to choose sides.
For many, that type of conflict can damage the morale of valuable employees, particularly field employees. “You have to be supportive and know what your guys are capable of,” DuBree says. “You also need to know whether the customer is being realistic or not.” For many remodelers, lead carpenters and other field staff represent a serious long-term investment of money and time. “There is much more cost there in losing the employee than in losing the client,” Strite says.
Common behaviors that can cause conflict:
• Not listening
• Being dismissive
• Being uncomfortable with change
• Having unrealistic expectations
• Using vague language
• Being unable to admit shortcomings