Communication breakdowns can be minimal, like neglecting to tell a project manager that the Port-o-Lets will be cleaned on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays. However, miscommunication can also cost your company thousands of dollars and/or your reputation, like when the project manager forgets to tell the contracted crane crew they won't be needed until the following Monday - - until the crane crew is pulling up. The former is one thing, the latter needs to be avoided at all costs (pun intended).
Consider what your construction company culture is like when it comes to communication. Are there systems in place? Is communication digitally tracked and stored? Do you communicate openly between clients, employees, vendors and subcontractors? Have communication breakdowns cost you?
Improving Construction Communication Culture: Get on the Same Page
As Kelly Lignos Ziv writes on projectkickstart.com, "In today's world...projects need to be undertaken in partnership with the business, and this partnership absolutely requires solid communication. In fact, many of the problems that surface on a project are actually the results of poor communication." Isn't that the truth? It's a rare company owner or manager who can't recite at least five examples of when communication glitches led to some pretty serious consequences, or narrowly averted disasters.
The thing is, you want those five stories to be spread out over a 25-year work history. If they all took place during the past month or year, it's a good sign that your company will benefit from some construction business communication tips.
- Evaluate your company's communication system. Of course, the first step is always awareness, right? The same is true for communication. What kind of communication system does your company employ? Is there a shared outline or format for what "good communication" between stakeholders, clients, management, personnel, subs, vendors and so on looks like? Start your new commitment to improved communication early on and ask this question openly at a meeting, or in a group email, so you can get honest feedback from others. Your management team may think they're doing great but a certain subcontractor or vendor may feel they're always left out of the loop. Getting feedback regarding how communication is or is not effective can help you develop a new and improved system.
- Take advantage of the good ol' cc: and bcc:. Are you optimizing the cc: and bcc: features when you use email communication? To be clear:
--cc: means carbon copy, and is used to send the same message to a list of contacts, all of which will see each other's name in the "recipient" category so they know who was included and who wasn't. It's good to keep people in the loop, and it encourages others to keep everyone in the loop also. You must hit "Reply All," rather than the standard, "Reply," button for everyone to get your response.
--bcc: means blind carbon copy. In this version, the person you send the email to will only see your name and anyone you cc:d on the letter. They will not be able to see the addresses of those you bcc. Thus, if you are explaining to a client that a particular sink will not work with the plans as is, requiring a change order, you can bcc: the sink vendor and your plumber to let them know where things stand.
Emails are wonderful paper trails and they are also a quick and easy way to communicate the same message, to an infinite number of contacts, in a single action.
- Are you too sensitive? Often, contractors avoid communication that has to do with "emotive" issues. Instead, says project management expert Max Wideman, "The antidote lies in treating emotive issues like any other business decisions." Research shows that construction professionals often take the "ostrich approach", burying their head in the sand and not communicating about situations that will ruffle feathers or make others angry, upset or reactive. This only makes things worse. Instead, take deep breaths and present the facts, using calm language, to mitigate emotive scenarios and responses.
- Consider construction project management software. Construction management software will streamline much more than communication, but improved communication is certainly one of its highlights. Your system can be set up such that access to the system, emails, reminders, calendar alerts, etc., are available to any number of people involved on a given project, ensuring everyone is on the same page (or at least has access to it).
- Hold frequent meetings. Don't let your pre-construction meeting be the only meeting you have with everyone on board. Instead, hold frequent meetings that are short and efficient, providing the opportunity for team members to voice their concerns and offer solutions.
Check back with the Whirlwind Blog for information about steel and metal building construction and for tips on how to grow a successful construction company.