The Buck Stops Here

How many ways are there to say you made a mistake? Sorry, I missed that! My mistake, I should have caught that! Or a more formal: I take full responsibility for that mistake and will do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

The most difficult mistake to personally take ownership of is someone else’s mistake, whether it is my architect, engineer, lawyer, supplier, subcontractor or my employee. This is due in large part because most of the time clients will conclude that the problem arose from my team’s lack of supervision, whether or not that conclusion is justified. As company leader, the buck stops with me!

I understand and accept that whenever anything goes wrong on one of my projects, I am the one who cannot make excuses.

I am expected to find the answers that most quickly and efficiently fix the problem and restore the client’s confidence.

If you build custom luxury homes or additions, you and your team have almost endless opportunities to be blamed for job problems. Every order has a myriad of details. Every delivery can have an incomplete or missing component or a broken part. Often a problem is not discovered until after the installation is either partially or 100 percent installed.

Sometimes everyone does everything right and nature throws a curve ball. For example, after completing a beautiful stucco job on a client’s home, a few weeks went by and suddenly numerous imperfections began appearing in the stucco. Following countless site meetings and consultations with every related party, we concluded that a contaminant was mixed in the sand used with the stucco. We cleared the entire house of siding and replaced it.

On the same snake-bitten house, we purchased one of the highest quality windows on the market. The window package was a $90,000 order. In heavy rain storms, many of the windows leaked. The manufacturer did not perform to my expectations in accepting responsibility for the problem. In turn, they are no longer on my list of vendors. I attempted to reassure my client that we would do whatever was necessary to address both problems. We hired a new subcontractor to replace the stucco and we replaced all the problem windows. Although I accepted responsibility for the problems and the repairs, we were never able to restore the client’s confidence in us.

Last month another problem occurred that we could have prevented with a different client. However, my team did not recognize the problem at the plan review stage. My architect designed one fireplace chase to accept two prefab wood-burning flues that was too small. My supplier failed to recognize that the chase designed by the architect was too narrow. Then we framed and sided the chase with brick, only to find out when the installer showed up that the chase was not wide enough for the required separation between the flues where they terminated on the roof. Although I told my client that the architect, my supplier and my team were all partially at fault for not identifying the problem before the building process, he was disappointed with us. Despite my willingness to correct the oversight, my client’s confidence in me was shaken, at least temporarily.

When job problems occur, the best thing you can do is immediately accept responsibility for fixing it even when you are not the one who caused the problem. And then, fix it as quickly as possible so it is out of sight and out of mind. You may not always be able to restore your client’s faith in you immediately, but over time, rational respectful clients will come to appreciate that you worked hard to do the right thing.

Jay Grant is president of Grant Homes (granthomesusa.com), a residential design/build firm in Mendham, N.J. Grant’s business focuses on controlling and developing land for construction of luxury custom and speculation quick-delivery homes. His strict attention to weekly cash flow reporting results in industry-leading profit margins. Grant has given numerous seminars across the country and is available for consulting by sending e-mail to granthomes@msn.com. Read his past columns at rdbmagazine.com.

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