Evolving the trade partner relationship

Dec 06, 2020

Evolving these relationships is a critical and too-often-overlooked key to successful project delivery and retaining satisfied clients.

Futuristic technologies, like drones and augmented reality, are currently an exciting source of innovation in the construction industry as they radically reshape the way projects are built and delivered to clients. And yet, in other ways, the industry is stuck in the stone age. One such dinosaur is the existing template for the general contractor/trade partner dynamic, which too often can be adversarial, not allied.

There are any number of reasons to evolve the contractor/trade partner relationship, beginning with the most basic: trades can’t do what they do without GCs, and vice versa. This symbiotic affiliation behooves all involved to partner for performance and support one another to achieve shared success.

Increased profitability is another compelling justification. Simply put, less drama on projects means less time wasted – and time, of course, equals money. Communication and understanding facilitate this. Aligning trade partners with the client’s view of a project’s success greatly improves their ability to deliver that success to the client. When the whole team is aligned on a common set of goals, they are better able to perform.

A more professional, streamlined team atmosphere, where people work alongside one another as equals instead of against each other as obstacles to the other’s advancement, encourages people to bring their best selves to the trailer each day. The ripple effect will positively impact your projects and position you as a preferred GC – not just with trades, but also with clients.

Below are six simple strategies for immediately evolving the trade partner dynamic:

  1. Start by understanding the trade partner’s wants, needs, and goals for the project. Every stakeholder, the trades included, will have their own definition of success and their own critical needs that need to be met for any given project. Without understanding the trades’ criteria, a GC can’t work with them to help ensure they’re positioned for success.
  2. Clearly and consistently communicate the client’s and the project’s needs and objectives to your trade partners so they understand the client’s perspective. When all stakeholders are having their needs met and their interests respected, they can work as partners in solving problems. A True North (also called Conditions of Satisfaction) session is a great place to start.
  3. Invite their input in scheduling. Allowing trade partner involvement respects their role, achieves their buy-in on the schedule, and allows them the opportunity to have ownership over their commitments. Look to the Lean Construction Institute to learn more about Pull Planning, which collaborates the scheduling process.
  4. Now, hold them accountable to those commitments, as these are promises they have made to the other trades. Holding a trade partner accountable is about supporting and improving relationships across the entire team. When all parties are held to a standard of accountability, they know they are working together as part of a cohesive unit instead of in disconnected silos. A daily huddle, where all trades communicate their progress and constraints, offers a great way to keep those commitments on the forefront and provides a natural opportunity for accountability checks.
  5. Approach the trade partner’s problems and the GC’s problems as a “we” opportunity. Use the language of “we,” not “I” or “you,” to communicate a supportive team approach. For example, instead of, “You did this,” or “You need to fix this,” say, “What can we do to work together toward a solution on this?”
  6. Remember the golden rule. Pay the trades on time, communicate with and listen to them, be fair with them, and be just as quick to call with praise as with a complaint.

A trade partner’s success is a GC’s success in this uniquely interdependent relationship. This is especially important now, with historic industry disruption and ongoing labor shortages that are adversely impacting all involved in the business of construction. Evolving these relationships is a critical and too-often-overlooked key to successful project delivery and retaining satisfied clients. Fortunately, adopting a new view of the trade partner dynamic doesn’t require a financial investment, new tech, or the use of special glasses – changed perspectives and behaviors are free, and can be implemented immediately.

As senior vice president for Skiles Group, Michael Blakemore is responsible for planning, directing and overseeing the company’s daily operations with a focus on ensuring client satisfaction and championing a culture of continuous improvement. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.