What’s not being said about subcontractors?

No one has talked about this about this. Why? Let me set the stage. In a time where power words like “transparency” and “communication” are the hot topics of project management, almost no one is talking about the relationship project managers have with subcontractors. Sure, there’s a few here and there on selecting the right ones for the right job, but pretty much zero on how to engage in an effective professional relationship. This surprised me a little as a couple small considerations can go a long way.

Why isn’t there anything out there?

Possibly, there might exist out there, an air of “… they are the ones trying to get work from us, let them do all the impressing.” Instead, when it should be “… we need to be working to attract quality subcontractors. We need to be impressing them.” Yes, the subcontractor is there to provide the necessary services to help us get the project done which proves the reality of the situation and that is: we are reliant upon them. And yet sometimes I see them treated as if there is an infinite supply of talent out there to always fill the gap.

What to do and what effect will it have?

In all aspects of the project you should be treating them as equals. Why? Because they are equals. You’re both professionals who participating in the same project process and you both are on board because the project needs you. When dealing with subcontractors you need to be working with them as if you need them coming back time and time again. Working with them to a degree where they want to come back time and time again. Because you never know what project you’ll be on next. And you more important, you may get in a pinch where you really need these guys because something happened with the project and you have to scramble and where do you turn at that point?

Specific way to effectively communicate with your subcontractorsBidding process (1)

Bidding, and even more specifically, the end of the bidding process. Bear with me here, because even I find the topic of the bidding somewhat of a snore. Let’s say you got through the bid process; what’s next? You’ve received all the quotes from the qualified subcontractors and then you selected what was likely the lowest bid. Or perhaps, it was close and you went with higher bid because you believed they had a slight edge in experience. But what did you do about the losing bidders? You contacted them right? Or do you run the rout project managers typically lean towards and just wait for them to get tired of waiting and assume they didn’t win the bid because they didn’t hear from you? Or, they get tired of the no call and call you? A lot of unanswered questions here.

If the bidders are the ones that have to call and ask “So what happened with that last bid process?” then you’re absolutely doing it the wrong way. I get it, you’re busy, I’m busy, we’re all super busy. And once the winning bid is selected you want to get on with the project and let’s face it, it’s a lot easier delivering the winning bid news than it is the losing bid news. But, if you take the time to call, not email, they will really appreciate it and the gesture could go a long way. Either when you need another quote from them or, even better, when you need them in a pinch as discussed above. Yes, they want the work, they may desperately need the work, but that’s not always going to be the case and they will remember how they were treated in times-of-lean when they get to times-of-plenty.

Note: How do I know? I’ve been guilty of the wrong way and experienced the right way. I definatley prefer the latter.

Expert’s Input: in Effective Communication with Your Subcontractor, a post geared towards IT but still very relevant in any field, the author says: “… if you don’t follow up on your communications, your team may not care as much about your business and may not do as good of a job for you.” It’s true, this exists, and if you’re not already, you should be actively aware of it. In my previous blog post there’s a portion called HOW TO BE A BETTER LISTENER and in it I briefly talk about following up; check it out.

Two more ways to effectively communicate with subcontractors

  1. If you do have a winning bidder, but the project gets delayed, make sure you continue to follow up with that subcontractor so that materials, supplies, and equipment that they me be holding for you can be used elsewhere as needed. It’s another way to communicate respect and appreciation.
  1. Finally, when you do call the losing bidders, they are probably going to ask: “What was the winning bid?” And unless you work in the public sector, chances are you are not required to share that information. I consider it a disservice to the winning bidder to share those numbers because I don’t want the next bid process to be a race to the bottom. I’m looking for fair and honest bids, based on what their capacity is. If it turns into a race to the bottom, then quality could suffer and you could end up with over charges at the tail end after selecting the lowest bidder.

Note: These “specifics” are probably more typical in a smaller sized bid process but the nature of how to treat subcontractors is universal.

Go the extra mile
Go the extra mile

Expert’s Input: From that same site but a different post, Conquer Deadlines with Subcontracting, Collette says: “There is a popular saying in sales which says that ‘It is eight times easier to get new business from your current clients than it is from cold calls.’” This is a solid reason why to always treat those you’re dependent on with the respect they deserve and maintaining open, effective communication.

I’ve just listed three very simple ways that can be very effective when dealing with subcontractors. There is a plethora of other small (and large) things that can create a strong and lasting professional relationship regardless if they get to bid or not. Remember, subcontractors are your ambassadors to the professional community from which you draw necessary skills and labor. It’s up to you what they will be saying about you. So, go the extra mile, use them wisely, and treat them with respect. The results is they will be proponents of you even when they don’t win the bid.

Image Credits: Sketches by Author


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