Over coffee with an investor colleague recently we were talking about the people we hire. Like me, she does a lot of renovations, and she told me how necessary she feels it is to be “on top of your contractors”, by which she meant hovering nearby, being in constant contact, in order to keep them on schedule, working to budget and ensuring their work quality. She made remarks like, “good staff are so hard to come by”, and “when you do find good people, they rarely stay that way”. She said that she believes “sooner or later” their rates rise, they “cut corners”, and they begin to get “lazy”.
When she turned to me anticipating agreement, I had literally nothing to say.
I found myself questioning whether I was doing something wrong, because I choose not to hover over the people I hire. As I thought more about it, I asked myself, Are the people that work for me perfect? No, we definitely have our challenges. I have employed many contractors to do renovations. Rarely, have I only used a contractor once. And if I haven’t reemployed a certain contractor it is because of price, not quality of work.
I wondered then, Is it possible that I am regularly choosing the best contractors? I highly doubt it.
I concluded that what is really happening, begins before the first hammer swing: you get what you expect.
I considered my colleague’s approach and my own. She begins her interaction with contractors, trades and prospective staff starts by expecting them to fail or disappoint in some way. She is conditioned to anticipate disappointment, and to act to prevent problems.
I don’t believe that trades, contractors, or people in general really want to perform poorly. Of course, there are exceptions, but I choose to believe that people want to take pride in their work and be appreciated for their efforts.
If we set the expectation that not caring about their work or intentionally working poorly is the norm then we are setting the tone of the relationship. At some point a mistake will be made, I agree that errors are an organic result when you deal with other humans. When the mistake happens, my colleague feels her belief in the need to hover is justified.
I happen to think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I know that I don’t work well when someone is leaning over my shoulder. You won’t get my best performance by hovering. In fact, I’m more likely to start playing scared or even angry, and quickly feel defeated, which could definitely land me in the poorer performance category.
When I bring on a new contractor, I am prepared for hiccups. There are often surprises when you tear things apart, particularly in older homes. I ask contractors that I work with to have potential solutions ready for me when a problem arises, ideally an efficient and cost-effective way of fixing it. I expect that contractors will get the job done in the time frame they commit to and for the most part, within usual circumstances, this has been my experience. I am so confident of this expectation that I rarely visit properties once they start renovation, especially if this contractor has worked on multiple properties for me. On my assistant’s weekly drive-by if there is something that my input is required on, a quick phone call to answer and ask questions lets folks know we are still here, but content to let them get the work done.
Interestingly, the main contractor that has done quite a few of my renovations actually wasn’t even a contractor to begin with. He did some landscaping at my personal house. He and his team worked hard on a landscaping project for a whole month, reliably showing up day in and day out. When I really didn’t like something or wanted a change, the answer was always “no problem” and the cost to make the change was fair.
I hired him to build a legal suite with pretty much no experience and I threw him right in the deep end. I gave him no guidance on how to deal with building inspectors, what materials he would need or the intricacies of getting the job done. He figured it all out on his own, once supplied with my drawings and permits to build the suite. I made myself as available for help and encouragement as he wished. It was his work ethic and willingness to learn that made me decide to give him a try. As a result, I believe we have a mutually respectful working rapport.
Are the houses perfect? Absolutely not. But I have never struggled to rent a property due to the quality of the workmanship. Are there some “not so great” paint jobs, mudding and taping? Sure. Tiles that could have been installed better? Yes, those too. However, I am not building custom homes and I certainly do not want to be paying custom home builder prices. Ideally, you find a balance of aesthetically work that looks good, will wear well, and is completed in a timely way.
Back to the night when I had the conversation with my colleague about how to manage people. By the time I got home, I had reassured myself that the way I approach things works for me. By not hovering over people I have more time to find more deals, spending time with my family or just taking time for myself. In not having to get upset, express disappointment or “lay down the hammer”, I have plenty more energy to be creative to new opportunities, find better solutions, I’m nicer to be around and I think people would rather do good work for someone that respect their intentions and work ethic.
I choose to assume we’ll have an easy relationship from the beginning, and for the most part the result is better for all involved.