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Contractormag 11204 Crisismanagement

Crisis management

June 19, 2018
It is how we deal with unexpected situations that can either make you a better businessman or one of the many short-lived company management executives we’ve all seen come and go.

What happens when the proverbial “poop” hits the fan?  The unexpected happens with remarkable regularity in life and your business life is no exception. How people handle the unexpected problems says a great deal about how successful they are and how successful their business will be. 

Just about anyone who is in business can do a good job when things are running smoothly. When the men show up on time, the material is on hand and the progress is ahead of schedule, we are all Bill Gates... calling the shots and smiling as the job gets done. What happens when half the crew calls in sick, the supply house loses that special order and the general changes the delivery date for any number of reasons, or that great customer turns into Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?

There is an entire industry devoted to telling you how to react, why, and what to do. It’s called crisis management. Everyone’s definition of a crisis varies by the individual, and how you handle the stressful parts of your business is an indicator (all though not the end-all be-all) of how well you’ll do moving ahead.

Are you the boss, or foreman for that matter, who blows a gasket every time someone, or something, doesn’t go your way? Do you run around with your hair on fire (figuratively, that is), railing against the incompetent morons, owners, general contractors, municipal officials or you name it? Do your employees steer clear when you get in one of your ‘moods’? How about assigning blame? Do you cast your disappointment on the nearest person instead of taking the heat yourself?

If you see yourself, or someone you know, in the previous paragraph, perhaps getting a little crisis management training, or a Dale Carnegie course might be in order. Let’s face it, we all have a point at which we lose our cool. It’s part of being in business. Everything doesn’t always go according to plan. It is how we deal with unexpected situations that can either make you a better businessman or one of the many short-lived company management executives we’ve all seen come and go.

The reality is that making decisions based upon anger or fits of pique are usually bad decisions. You readers already know that, or you should. Far better to take a deep breath, evaluate the problem and look for a way to solve it rather than immediately projecting your anger or disappointment. Assuming you are the plumbing contractor in the following scenario, how should it be handled?

You are doing the plumbing for a new, upscale, restaurant in a large metropolitan area. There have been many delays due to owner requested changes, specialty items not showing up, etc. The owner and his backers are getting shriller by the day and are leaning hard on the GC to complete by a date certain. As they say, the brown stuff flows downhill, so you are being told that you have to have the building and kitchen completed and inspections passed well before the time frame originally scheduled. You are totally unprepared for the new timetable and do not have the manpower to spare. Worse, the prospects of hiring new people with the skills necessary to augment your work force are very dim if not impossible.

Standing your ground is one thing, becoming belligerent, unpleasant and defiant is another thing entirely.

Granted, this is not an earth-shattering issue, but it isn’t hard to see that it can be costly and can definitely affect you, your men and your bottom line. With many projects sporting a thin profit margin, a problem like this might segue into a net loss instead of profit. How you handle the crisis can either improve your business or give you a black eye... the choice is yours.

Going a bit outside of our industry for a moment; in aviation there is a saying that the three things you must do when you have an in-flight emergency are,

1- Fly the airplane

2- Fly the airplane

3- Fly the airplane

As simplistic as it sounds, that is the best solution to the problem at hand and to achieve the results you want. Never lose sight of the basics and the desired results when dealing with a crisis. Fall back on the one thing that gives you the best chance of successfully solving the problem. In the case of flying, it is getting on the ground safely, in the case enumerated above, it is solving what one might perceive to be an almost impossible problem. 

In reacting to the situation posed, you could run around raging about how unfair it all is. You could dig your heels in and defy the powers that be, stating that it’s an impossible task and that there is no way you can do it. You could tell them that they are out of contract and that you are not bound to perform. You might even go so far as to threaten legal action. To what end? 

Standing your ground is one thing, becoming belligerent, unpleasant and defiant is another thing entirely. Somewhere in almost every contract there is a sentence that reads something like, “at the discretion of the general contractor (or owner, or architect)...”  Instead of solving the crisis and defusing a difficult situation, you would be pouring fuel on the fire and that serves no one’s interest. The possible down side of such a reaction isn’t too hard to calculate; ruining a relationship with a general contractor and/or owner that could potentially bring more business in the future while simultaneously getting a reputation of being hard to deal with that might affect you with other professionals such as architects and engineers.

A better, more pragmatic approach would be to, first, evaluate the problem with an eye toward a solution that would work for all concerned. Second, formulate a ‘doable’ plan that has a reasonable chance of being accepted. Third, present that plan to the owner, general contractor and any other interested parties as a way to achieve the end they desire. 

Knowing your options, and what you can do to get the results everyone is looking for before presenting it to the interested parties, is key. Having one of the principles coming up with a solution that you will have to implement is the last thing you want. By going over every possible scenario that you can think of with the current information, and putting it in such a way as to make you look like the reasonable, well-informed guy you are, may defuse the crisis.

Working through the crisis as a part of a team that includes all the players, can give you much greater control of the situation. Instead of pursuing an adversarial avenue and contributing to a palatable solution to the problem, you are managing the crisis not contributing to it. Your ability to negotiate your way out of a crisis is a critical skill that you cannot discount. 

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a third-generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].

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