Working with subcontractors is one of the great challenges in remodeling, and failing to set standards for trades is where many remodelers go wrong. “We decided to make clear what our expectations are,” says Janice Donald, CEO of Eren Design and Remodel, in Tucson, Ariz. “This way, [the trade contractors] aren't guessing.”

The company now uses a rating form (below) to monitor and manage the performance of its subs (see “Keeping Subs on the Grade”). Eren sprung this program on its trade partners roughly two years ago, and Donald says that it's been well-received.

“We got some letters saying ‘Great idea!'” she says, noting that the only two subcontractors who complained about it were, naturally, two of the three who didn't fare well in the ratings. Eren no longer works with those two subs.

The trade contractors are notified of their ratings in two ways: by mail they receive a packet that contains all the ratings for subs that work with Eren, accompanied by a personalized cover letter; and by phone, in a conversation with Donald. Eren works with subs to bolster low ratings — “It's part of our culture not to kill people off if they show an interest in improving,” Donald says —and rewards the top of the heap with plaques and gift certificates to local restaurants.

“The things that we decided to rate are the things that we complained about and the things that we praised for,” Donald says. She adds that coming up with the categories and rated items wasn't arduous. “One of our project managers came up with the idea of rating, and he made a list [of areas to rate] over a weekend.”

All of Eren's trade partners are rated by the production managers, estimators, and field crew on an annual basis.

Donald compiles the ratings. If one rating varies markedly from the others, she'll talk to the employee to find out why. If the negative rating seems to be based on an emotional judgment, she'll throw it out.

Otherwise, Donald finds out from her employee what work habits the sub needs to change and then relays that information to the sub.