Listening Helps You Get to the Bottom of Things
Steve, project manager for a mechanical contractor, told Session 6 of Turbo’s Leadership Lab (LDL):
“My ‘Pearl’ is Tom, one of the lead engineers at an important client’s paper mill. Tom is a great supporter of our company and has hired us for millions of dollars of work over many years. I have worked with Tom on several large, complex projects in the mill. Most of the jobs we do for Tom are time and material projects. His most important project considerations have always been safety, quality and successfully meeting shutdown schedules. Budgets are important as well and we track changes, but on our time and materials projects, if we are plus or minus 20% it typically isn’t discussed further because the overarching project goals are meeting the first three criteria. Something seemed to change in the last couple of months; Tom became critical of our project budgets and began to scrutinize all of our change order pricing. My questions to him about what seemed like distrust and criticism and my need to justify my pricing position was creating friction between us on projects we were working on now and the projects we were estimating for the future.
“Recognizing the friction and tension, I asked Tom to sit down with me to discuss a new estimate I was working on for one of his projects. I thought if I could see his point of view (Leadership Principle #5) and actively listen (Leadership Principle #6) to his concerns, I might be able to help him relax and ease the uncomfortable friction between us.
“When Tom and I met, I expressed concern about the pricing issues that had come up and offered to help in any way I could. Tom told me that it wasn’t our fault. Because of the recent acquisition of his mill by an international firm, all engineering budgets were considered very important and were under strict scrutiny.
Requests for capital authorization (RCA) for projects were considerably lower than construction costs, sending a ripple effect
through the department and senior management. I offered to assist him in the early stages of his requests for capital authorization to help narrow the gap between construction costs. He thanked me and it was obvious he appreciated my concern, interest and willingness to help. A week later, Tom called to ask if I had a few minutes to look at an RCA budget he was submitting for an upcoming capital project. I certainly obliged and offered him the budgetary construction numbers he was seeking.
“The lesson I learned from this experience is not to let myself become defensive or cynical of individuals when they offer critical analysis of my work. The action I call you to take is be open with your clients, be careful to gain a complete perspective of their concerns, and be responsive toward their criticisms. The benefit you will gain is a deeper relationship with your client. They will appreciate your understanding and you will gain an opportunity for continued future work.”
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