Advice on Advice
After reading my last three blogs on forming a board of advisors, I can hear some of you out there saying to your computers that the last thing you need in life is an advisor who doesn’t know as much about contracting as you do, and a “board” of such meddlers is simply absurd. I want to take one final shot at encouraging all closely held contracting company CEOs to seek the advice of outside experts as they wrestle with thorny management decisions, business strategies, and long-term planning. Let me start with a true story.
A True Story
Having installed drainage and waterproofing on the ground floor of an existing huge commercial structure, seepage developed after heavy rain and the owner held the contractor responsible for costly repairs. Of course, the situation turned into an expensive dispute between the designers, engineers, and lawyers on both sides that went on for a year without the contractor receiving final payment or retainage.
Eventually, I was called in by the contractor to take an outsider’s objective look at the situation. I began at the beginning and asked to see a copy of the estimate and contract files and an original of the contract document itself. I discovered a letter written by an executive of the construction firm (who had since retired) to the designer and copied to the owner that stated because the structure was below grade, there may be water from outside the contract limits, possibly under some pressure during heavy rains, that may penetrate the proposed repairs to the concrete slab. The letter, which was attached to the original estimate, proposed a solution, and went on to say, “The contractor will not be responsible for water penetrations from any source outside the contract limits.” This letter was also attached as an addendum to the signed contract for the project. – End of dispute!
Because this was viewed as a technical construction issue, no one involved in the dispute had even looked at the original contract. In one day, submitting the contract for their review, the dispute was resolved. The contractor was paid in full and engaged to do the additional remedial work, and his relationship with the owner and designer was salvaged.
Every substantial public company operates with a professional board of directors and frequently engages consulting firms to offer them an outsider’s objective view of their management decisions, Strategies, and planning. The story above is a dramatic example of how the human mind operates within a carefully honed “tunnel vision” that is incapable of seeing factors outside its chosen field of vision. It is almost unbelievable that no one involved in that costly dispute thought to take a look at the contract, including attachments. I am not implying that experts from outside your firm are smarter than you are or know more about your business than you do. They are simply more objective because they are less biased and as such, often see things from a different perspective.
In his recent book, Think Again, Adam Grant explains why our own thought processes often lead us astray, and why we can all benefit from a separate pair of eyes. He states:
“We’re swift to recognize when other people need to think again… Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right… Part of the problem is mental laziness… We often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones. Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking. Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that the facts may have changed, that what was once right may now be wrong…”
Grant offers an example from the practice of medicine: “As of 1950, it took about fifty years for knowledge in medicine to double. By 1980, medical knowledge was doubling every seven years, and by 2010, it was doubling in half that time. The accelerating pace of change means that we need to question our beliefs more readily than ever before…This is not an easy task. As we sit with our beliefs, they tend to become more extreme and more entrenched.” (I’m still struggling to accept that Pluto may not be a planet.)
Grant goes on to say: “Vintage records, classic cars, and antique clocks might be valuable collectibles, but outdated facts are mental fossils that are best abandoned…”
All human thinking benefits from an objective, outside audit. Contractors are no exception. If any of us see ourselves in the story above, we might recognize the “blind spots” that we maintain in our “tunnel vision” to keep us comfortable. In a high-speed competitive industry like construction, “blind spots” can be fatal. (This space is for construction professionals of the future)
Biden’s $2 trillion “everything but the kitchen sink” infrastructure boom may fizzle in the face of the republican $568 billion traditional “roads and bridges only” counter-proposal.
A $1.4 trillion negotiating gap will slow things way down.
Don’t buy new equipment or put on help just yet.
Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you.
For more information on developing and utilizing a board of advisors, read more here: https://simplarfoundation.org/?s=advisors. For a broader overview on organizational change, click on https://simplarfoundation.org/category/organization-transformation/
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