A Roofing Contractor’s Guide to Completing Successful Public Sector Projects

In uncertain times, public sector projects can provide an equitable source of work for low-slope commercial roofing contractors. The primary advantage of public sector projects is that they are well-promoted, bid-based projects, which eliminates the need for substantial contractor marketing and sales activities. The projects are readily available and, in most cases, the budget has already been approved and the money allocated prior to solicitation of bids. Public sector projects are typically available throughout economic downturns, as the government often uses these types of projects to ignite the economy.

Following are some guidelines that roofing contractors can implement to increase the odds of being successful on bidding and executing public sector projects.

Check the Qualifications

The primary disadvantage of public projects is that the bid process is open to all contractors, which increases the competition. Some projects may have dozens of bidding contractors, some of which may not be primarily roofing contractors. Because these projects are financed with government funds, the process is designed to allow equal opportunity, but in an attempt to keep inexperienced and unqualified contractors from project selection, several qualifications may be set in place. For instance, the project requirements may include a list of references for similar projects completed over a specified timeframe. Contractors must also have proper insurance coverage. Another way to eliminate inexperienced contractors from these public projects is by requiring long-term material manufacturer warranties. These warranties are only provided to trained and certified contractors who are experienced with specific material applications.

Best practice is to review specific project requirements to ensure that your company can meet them prior to placing a bid. On project bids with numerous and specific qualifications, an experienced administrative staff can pay big dividends by providing all of the necessary qualification documents with the bid package.

Success Begins at the Bidding Stage

Most public projects are obtained through the low-bid process, which means the contractor that submits the lowest price is awarded the project. This can also mean that the contractor who makes the biggest mistake receives the project. Public projects often require bid bonds to ensure the contractor completes the project at the bid price, no matter the circumstances. I know of one case where the contractor’s estimator failed to include material costs with the company’s bid. The contractor was still required to complete the project, which meant incurring a substantial loss. To try to reduce his loss, the contractor instructed his crew to “cut corners” in application methods. Ultimately, the quality of the work suffered, and the project turned out to be a failure for all participants.

To avoid errors in the bidding process, the contractor should entrust these projects to well-trained and experienced estimators. The estimators should have vast knowledge of the roof material and application methods for the specified systems. Estimators should also have experience with the application crew — primarily the foreman — so that they can accurately price the labor. I knew a roofing superintendent that often criticized one of his company’s estimators because he felt that the estimator always bid projects with unrealistic production rates. If the crew does not meet the estimated project schedule, then the contractor loses money. Remember the sarcastic words of Herbert Hoover in describing construction estimators: “A man can complete more work with a pencil than they can with a shovel.” Best practice is to allow the estimators to perform their due diligence before placing a bid, because pricing mistakes in this early stage will compound over the life of the project — often at the contractor’s sole expense.

The entire bid should be thoroughly reviewed prior to submittal. This review should be completed by someone other than the estimator. For this function, successful companies typically use a management group that may include other estimators, project managers, and field superintendents. The review should include labor, materials, size of project, and all items that could impact the project — such as logistics, setup areas, work schedules, number of penetrations, and existing material removal. Proper bid review can eliminate potential project losses.

Proper Execution of the Plan

Due to the highly competitive nature of public project bids, the estimated profit margin can be minimal. Errors in application methods or production rates could quickly turn a profitable project into a loss. A best practice to avoid such a loss would be to organize an on-site conference with the estimator, field superintendent, and project foreman to discuss all potential problems on the project.

Once the plan is agreed upon by all parties, it is the responsibility of the foreman to properly and effectively execute the plan. The most productive crews are the most organized ones. I have found that crews that are segmented to perform multiple tasks at one time are the most productive. For instance, in many cases roof removal, layout and attachment of insulation, and layout and attachment of membrane can be completed simultaneously if the crew is properly staffed and the work is staggered. This leaves the last half of the day for detail work — the least productive of all tasks.

Material Knowledge

Public projects are intensely competed for by material manufacturers. It is not uncommon for several different systems to be used on projects within the same public sector. Once specified, it may be difficult to submit material alternatives, so the contractor should be experienced in the specified material application. Therefore, the contractor’s crew should be experienced in proper roofing application methods of the selected roof system material.

Best practice is to make certain that the project is staffed with a crew that has applied the same materials on several similar projects. Inexperienced applicators will be less productive and can cost the contractor money.

Communication With Project Participants

“Nobody wins unless everybody wins.” I have started every pre-construction conference I conducted over the past thirty years with this phrase. Simply stated, this means that all project participants will share in a project’s success; but more importantly, all participants will be accountable in the case of a project’s failure. Just think: when was the last time a lawyer only listed one party to a lawsuit?

The communication between the contractor and the project designer (i.e., architect, engineer, consultant) is particularly important. There should be no misinterpretation between design requirements and application. Building a good working relationship with these groups may also be a good source of recommendations for further projects. Several design and construction management companies specialize in public projects, and if a contractor performs well for them, they might have opportunities to complete more projects.

Be on the Lookout for Extras

Public projects are bid at very tight profit margins. In an effort to make more money on a project, many contractors look for opportunities to complete extra work during the course of the project. Because roofs have many unforeseen conditions (e.g., deck repair, deck removal, drain conditions, wood nailer deterioration, metal displacement or deterioration, etc.) contractors are required to provide unit costs. Make certain that the unit costs provided allow for profit.

I know of contractors that review design documents prior to the bid process in an effort to identify potential project extras. This practice could make a project more profitable.

About the author: John A. D’Annunzio is President of Paragon Roofing Technology, Inc. a Construction Engineering Firm he founded in 1989. He has published over 100 articles and has written four books on building exterior issues. For more information, visit www.paragonroofingtech.com.

Principles of Management for Uncertain Times

We are in the midst of economic uncertainty, and no one can accurately predict how long this crisis will last and what the long-term ramifications from this crisis will be. The only certainty is that the business practices that we have relied on for decades will require change. That means that business management philosophies must be altered to meet the forthcoming challenges.

The current business environment will require managers at every level to provide the leadership necessary to navigate the organization through the impending economic turmoil. A competent manger must always possess certain key traits to be an effective leader, such as accountability, confidence, and integrity. In these challenging times, a manager must also be organized and maintain the skills necessary to supervise and direct employees in an effort to advance the implemented goals and strategies of the organization by communicating effectively and engaging in conflicts productively.

Managers must provide the leadership required to facilitate the required organizational change. There are six leadership traits that are essential to managing through change in uncertain times:

1. Ethics

2. Communication

3. Involvement

4. Spirit

5. Flexibility

6. Vision of the future

Ethics

Business ethics is by definition “the moral standards by which a company conducts itself.” The company’s leaders and managers have a personal obligation to conduct themselves and the organization’s business practices in an ethical manner. Companies with unethical business practices have lined the front page of the nation’s newspapers in the last decade, perhaps none bigger than Enron and Arthur Anderson, whose demise can be directly attributed to unethical practices of top management. In some respects, the current global economic crisis has been propagated by unethical business schemes.

Business ethics is divided into three equally important categories: non-discretionary, organization specific, and discretionary.

Non-discretionary ethics includes universal items that allow for zero tolerance if they are violated. These include laws and regulations, public and employee safety, and truthfulness in financial statements.

Organization-specific ethics involves policies and procedures that the organization adopts as the ethical standards that cannot be compromised. The organization’s ethical standards should be clearly defined in the employee manual and referenced in its mission statement. It is the responsibility of all personnel to be familiar with these standards. It is management’s responsibility to ensure that these standards are upheld throughout the organization. Furthermore, management should enforce a no-tolerance policy for unethical behavior.

Discretionary ethics typically involve those issues that are not necessarily illegal or against the organization’s standards; however, they may still be perceived as unethical actions. The manager must set the organizational standard by acting in a fair and honest manner in all business dealings. Telling a “white lie” to close a sale is an example of discretionary ethics. Typically, these are issues that have to be conducted at a personal level. Asking such questions as “Will you be comfortable and guilt-free from your behavior in this matter?” or, “Does this behavior match stated guarantees or commitments?” could go a long way in determining the proper ethical response.

The best way to help ensure ethical conduct is through focusing on the three R’s: respect, responsibility, and results.

1. Respect. Respect is required at all levels of the organization, both internally and externally. Obviously, respect is required on a personal level and should be granted to all co-workers, customers, and vendors by treating them with dignity and courtesy. Respect for the organization and the work environment is equally as important. All members of the organization can protect the work environment by following the established rules and regulations regarding use of equipment and materials and by using organizational time effectively. Using equipment for non-organizational activities or taking office supplies (“because everybody does it”) is disrespectful and unethical. It is also unethical for an employee to spend large amounts of time on non-organizational activities during work time, such as updating social media accounts or managing fantasy sports teams. These are activities that should be completed in moderation during work breaks or at lunchtime.

2. Responsibility. It is the responsibility of all members of the organization to provide timely and high-quality goods and services to the customers. The community’s perception of the organization should be that they would uphold and follow through with all commitments in a legal manner. In simple terms business dealings should be completed by looking a person in the eye, making an agreement, and having trust that the agreement will be completed to the best of the organization’s abilities.

Each member of the organization has the personal responsibility of working collaboratively with others and ensuring that their work performance adds value to the organization and meets the expectations of management.

3. Results. Results are the measurement in which the organization is evaluated. Ethical results are only achieved when an organization derives them in legal and moral manners. Most unethical behavior in business occurs by falsifying results — typically by providing false financial statements. This was certainly the case in two of the biggest business collapses of the last decade — Enron and Arthur Andersen. To some extent lending institutions that falsified their results started the current economic crises that we are entangled in.

It is the responsibility of management to define the organization’s ethical standards and to ensure that all unethical practices will not be tolerated. It is the responsibility of the employee to follow the ethical standards and maintain personal responsibility for their actions. Ethical behavior can be achieved by following these five maxims that are important in all phases of our lives:

1. Don’t take what is not yours.

2. Don’t accept what you have not earned.

3. Maintain confidentiality.

4. Be honest.

5. Don’t bend the rules to get results.

Communication

Communication is key to success in any organization, and an effective leader must be a good communicator. It is even more critical in uncertain times that management keeps an open line of communication with the employees, customers, and vendors. Constant communication is vital in providing all essential information regarding the organization. The message must be articulated in a manner that is clear and understandable to everyone.

The message must be consistent at all levels of the organization, and studies indicate that repetition is often required for understanding. The most effective leaders are open and honest in all communications. Uncertainty can make it difficult to access the right direction in the business environment. Effective leaders will present their vision of the future with honesty and humility, and simply level with people by acknowledging there are limitations in forecasting future trends and that the current strategies may change. Honesty and transparency will earn creditability from all levels of the organization. This will go a long way in gaining the employees’ trust.

An effective communicator is also an excellent listener. It is important that communication flows at every level of the organization. Some of the best intelligence that you gather will be from frontline employees who interact with customers and suppliers. Their feedback can be valuable in determining the existing business climate and developing future strategy. It is also important that you listen to any ideas they may have in improving operations. By asking for their opinions (and implementing their ideas when they make business sense), it can not only lead to cost-saving procedures but it will also elevate the employees’ commitment to the organization.

The flow of information can be provided in various forms. The most effective method is through staff meetings. When change is fluid, it is imperative that meetings be held more frequently. Depending on the size of the organization and the speed of change in the business climate, it may be required to meet on a weekly basis.

Exchanging information on methods, initiatives and processes will benefit the organization. This can be accomplished through internal forums that state the organization’s goals and benefits. It is important to provide internal and external stakeholders with timely updates regarding the organization’s progress in reaching these goals. Communication can be provided through the regular maintenance of intranet and internet sites that also provide the organization’s policies, procedures, points of contact and other resource information for employees, customers and vendors. The best workforce is an informed workforce.

Involvement

Due to the rapid changes occurring in the business world, it is no longer permissible for company leaders to sit in their “ivory towers” and manage through delegation. The managers must make themselves available to every level of the organization to obtain all relevant information concerning performance. An effective manger must jump right into the game; this is not the time to sit on the sidelines and watch. Nothing can be accomplished by managing from the outside.

A prime function of involvement is to ensure a continuous focus of the organization’s operations. This can be accomplished through a series of meetings with senior management and specially assigned task groups. Senior management personnel should conduct quarterly meetings to review strategies and ensure that the organization is taking full advantage of its capabilities in meeting these strategies. The implementation and review of new products and/or processes should also be discussed in these meetings.

Management should also assign a task group within the organization with the responsibility of defining best practices. Management should meet with the task group on a regular basis through a series of briefings or updates to determine the progress of implementation of these practices.

Top management should be accessible to the employees; this can be accomplished by frequently walking the plant floor or by eating lunch in the employee cafeteria. Accessible managers give employees a sense of comfort regarding the direction of the organization.

Spirit

The manager will be charged with firing up the employees in uncertain times. This is of particular importance in organizations that have had a significant reduction in the workforce. Employees that have remained may feel threatened by the potential loss of their job or may be overworked from taking on extra duties due to staff cutbacks. A recent poll of American workers found that nearly 40 percent of employees are worried that they are going to lose their job within the next twelve months.

This troubling statistic illustrates the need for organizational leaders to inspire employees because a motivated workforce is a more productive workforce. People need to feel needed and wanted and they need to realize that they can and do make a difference. An effective leader can promote spirit in an organization in the manner in which a coach inspires an athletic team.

The first step in this process is to make certain that the organization still has the fundamental core vision that may have attracted many of the employees. Troubled economic times have forced many companies to diversify their products and markets to stay solvent. If these changes have altered the organization’s original core vision, some employees may feel alienated and become dissatisfied with their new role. Now is the time to evaluate the core vision of the organization and clearly define the mission moving forward.

Spirit is encouraged through team building. Management should promote collaboration among the employees give everybody an equal opportunity to participate. The employees need to feel valued, and setting goals and tracking the progress towards the goals can achieve this. Everybody has an internal desire to win, so if you set achievable goals, employee morale will increase as the goals are met.

One area where a manager can build team spirit is at staff meetings. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that these meetings are used as a time to enforce a positive message about the organization. The focus should be on making the meetings effective by exchanging information and discussing viewpoints and ideas that will aid the organization’s future growth. The overall spirit of the organization will be positive if the purpose of the meetings is to pull people together to solve problems rather than focusing how bad the problems are.

Flexibility

The only thing certain in today’s business climate is change. The manager must be able to navigate the organization’s strategy through an uncertain climate. To effectively manage change a configured response is required, the manager should not rely on an adherence to pre-figured routines. An important attribute of a manager is that they must be flexible and have the ability to drop whatever they are doing to tend to the more pressing issues as they come up.

Flexibility is also required in planning. The organization should follow the action-feedback model by planning and acting on information in short intervals. During times of consistent change, it is best to treat everything as a temporary measure.

Vision

A key role in leadership is setting the direction of the organization and then influencing people to follow. Even in these tough economic times, an effective leader should have an eye towards the future in charting a path for the company’s growth. All organizations require growth at some level to succeed. Growth does not necessarily have to be in the number of employees or physical sites; it can be measured in such important business variables as effectiveness, quality or production.

An important attribute of a good leader is to provide vision for the future. Vision is achieved by long-range planning and is most effective when the organization has a true vision statement. The most successful leaders write down their goals, values, and visions for the organization and use them as a barometer for performance.

A vision statement — or a mission statement as it is sometimes referred as — defines the organization’s long-range planning and identifies the steps required to achieve success. To establish a successful vision statement, the company’s core values must be defined. Unless the long-range planning is intended to stir the organization away from its core business — a tactic almost never recommended — the vision should focus on improving sectors within the organization’s core values.

A vision statement can be prepared by answering a few questions about the current state of the organization, including:

· What are the core values of the organization?

· What does the organization do best?

· Which sectors are growing and what is required to compete in the future?

Once the vision statement is prepared, it should be shared with all stakeholders in the organization and management should define their roles in meeting this vision. The vision statement should be referenced at all strategic planning meetings to determine if the set goals are being accomplished.

Successful leadership involves making key decisions that affect an organization — and then following through on those decisions to accomplish the desired results.

About the author: John A. D’Annunzio is President of Paragon Roofing Technology, Inc. a Construction Engineering Firm he founded in 1989. He has published over 100 articles and has written four books on building exterior issues. For more information, visit www.paragonroofingtech.com.

Customer Connection: Building a Long-Term Relationship

Connecting with customers is more than just communication. Connecting is a strategic effort to create relationships beyond the initial transaction. It involves communication, but it is so much more.

Why is connecting important? Because connected customers tend to become repeat customers, and repeat customers are vital to business success. Also, it is less expensive, and therefore more profitable, to KEEP a customer than to create a new one. Connected customers may not need to be enticed to come back, they come back because they want to. They may make more frequent purchases and become advocates for your business.

Connection is a two-way street. Both parties, you and your customer, have different perspectives and different needs. You each seek something and you both have something to give.

What do you want from a customer relationship?

  • A sale, reasonable profit, loyalty and referrals. 

What about your customers? What do they seek from you?

  • Quality/value, honesty, information and support.

If your business provides what the customer wants, it is far more likely the customer will give you what you want. 

Initiate

The customer connection begins even before your first personal interaction. The image of your business plays a role in how you are initially perceived. If you present your business as friendly, knowledgeable, trustworthy and providing value, then the customer will come to you expecting a positive experience. Your website, advertising and social media presence all have an impact on your image and customer expectations.

The first actual meeting, the initial in-person selling experience, is an important factor in customer loyalty. This is where the connection begins, so it is essential to provide a great experience wherever that first encounter takes place: in the home, at a trade show or on the phone.

The key to a successful initial meeting is listening. Ask questions, get to know the customer and find out their actual need, not just what they are looking to purchase. Their need is why your business exists, so meeting that need within their budget and to their satisfaction is essential for sales success. Remember that consumers typically want options, both in product choice and payment options. In your discussion, help the customer avoid potential problems, provide value and assure them of support after the sale. And, make sure they do a fair share of the talking.

This first encounter sets the stage for future interactions, so it is important to establish trust. If they trust you, they could be more likely to buy from you and perhaps become a repeat customer. They may also provide their contact information, which is extremely valuable in establishing a connection.

Communicate

If they are willing to share their contact information, then you can begin to communicate with them on an ongoing basis. It is important that you do not abuse this privilege. Overcommunicating is a turn off and can kill the connection. When you communicate, here are three things to remember:

• Provide useful information – a special sale or discount, new product offering, seminar or something else of real value to the customer.

• Make it personal – use their name and pronouns such as “you” and “I.” Write as if you are writing to a friend, and keep it brief. And remember to acknowledge their birthday, purchase anniversary and other milestone dates.

• Online communication can be an effective way to connect with your customers – although which channel may depend on the age demographic. Younger consumers may prefer Instagram or a text, while older customers make prefer traditional email or Facebook.

Responding to customers is a powerful connectivity tool, too. If they reach out to you with a question or complaint, get back to them right away, the sooner the better. A same-day response is best, but certainly within 48 hours. In the customer’s mind, the swiftness of your reply reveals the value you place on their business.

Educate

You are an expert in your business. You know more about your products than anyone (or you should). Customers look to you for answers. Become their trusted advisor. But also beware; make sure you know the correct information. Make sure you’re up-to-date on all the latest industry innovations, trends and local news.

You can become a trusted advisor by sponsoring or participating in events. Host seminars or webinars. Become a media contact for your area of expertise. Use social media to create friend groups relevant to your business. The goal is to make your business a hub of information and activity for your area of expertise. This will encourage customers to value their connection with you.

Validate

It is great to feel appreciated. Show your customers their value by reinforcing their behavior through connectivity.

Service after the sale is a great way to connect with customers and make them feel appreciated. Any time you can solve a problem or make something right for a customer, do so, even if it doesn’t make complete financial sense for you. Going out of your way to make a customer happy can reap significant rewards for your business. Your customers will feel special, it adds value to the purchase and it enhances your reputation for honesty and integrity.

Commit

Connecting with customers is not a campaign, it is a commitment. It is a business philosophy that impacts every aspect of your organization every day. Consumers are always looking for businesses they can trust. Earn their trust in that initial visit then grow it through strategic and consistent communication. Stay connected and you will make customers for life.

Synchrony (NYSE: SYF) is a premier consumer financial services company delivering customized financing programs across key industries including retail, health, auto, travel and home, along with award-winning consumer banking products. With more than $140 billion in sales financed and 80.3 million active accounts, Synchrony brings deep industry expertise, actionable data insights, innovative solutions and differentiated digital experiences to improve the success of every business we serve and the quality of each life we touch.

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(855) 274-6560

How To Create Advocates — Not Adversaries

Everyone we come in contact with can either help us achieve our goals, or create obstacles. The outcome is dependent on how we engage with them. When we are looking to grow our business, we interact with many people in many different roles. How we see them informs how we choose to deal with them. If we are wrong, we can hurt our growth.

Everyone we meet is not a prospect. There, I said it. Moreover, it is really dangerous to assume that everyone is a potential customer. When we believe that everyone we encounter is a possible client, we approach them from that direction. We decide our communication structure based on that belief. The problem with this belief is that most of the people we meet are not potential customers. So, we are instantly alienating people instead of attracting them.

The truth is that no one likes being treated like a “kill.” We are better off not even thinking about our business when we interact with people. That way we are more interested in finding out who they are than we are in telling them about our product or service. It is that curiosity that will help us build relationships.

Consider it this way — throughout our travels we will meet all sorts of people. Some will be colleagues. Others will be referral sources and resources for our connections. Others still will be conduits to our prospective clients. And, of course, some will become clients. That array of possibilities speaks to the value of leading with curiosity and respect.

The more advocates we have in our business, the easier it will be to grow. When you call to speak with a prospect or stop by to see a prospect, everyone you encounter can either help you or hurt you. The gatekeeper can be one of your greatest supporters or they can keep you from getting in to see the prospect. The receptionist can patch you through or keep you out.

The people you meet at networking events can become great resources for you and your business or they can simply be people you meet. The beauty is that you get to choose the result because you choose how you interact.

Let’s break it down.

Networking

When you are networking, you can choose how you approach people. When you decide to be curious about the people you meet you are out of sales brain. That’s good! Being curious allows you to be fully present. You will be listening and learning. You will be determining who you want to continue to build relationships with. And you will be someone other people want to get to know.

What you won’t be doing is selling. You won’t be telling other people about your product or service. You won’t be trying to gain a client. And, you won’t be disregarding people you think aren’t prospective clients.

When you attend networking events looking for clients, you dismiss anyone you think doesn’t look like a prospective client. And when you do that, you miss out on discovering resources and referral partners. It’s a very shortsighted strategy. Remember, you need a variety of connections in your business community in order to be successful.

Prospecting

When you reach out to a person or company to make a connection you are probably not going to speak with the decision maker first. Most likely you will have to go through a receptionist, assistant, or connection. How you interact with them will have a direct impact on your ability to get to the right person.

Their job is to ensure the people they support are not interrupted unnecessarily. You aren’t the only person seeking a conversation. If the gatekeeper let everyone in, the decision maker would never get anything done.

Decide to engage with the initial contact with respect for their responsibilities and workload. Too often salespeople take this blocking personally. However, it has nothing to do with the salesperson. It has to do with the responsibilities the receptionist/assistant/connection has in their role. When salespeople realize they can actually help these folks become allies and advocates, the whole conversation changes. You need that gatekeeper in your corner. So, figure out how you can first be in their corner. How can you help them? Stop seeing them as an adversary. Take the time to build a relationship with them. That’s how you will gain access to the decision maker.

Elsewhere

Wherever you go you are building a reputation. It’s your decision whether that reputation is good or bad. Whenever you interact with people they are creating a view of you and your company. They are deciding whether you are someone they want in their world or not. Realizing you need as many advocates as possible can help you decide how you will interact with everyone. Build the best reputation you can. That reputation should be one of problem solver, helper, giver. The more you show up as someone who is more interested in helping others than in gaining business, the more attractive you will be. And the more business you will gain.

Everyone is not a potential client. Potential clients are not the only people worth speaking to. Other people can directly impact your ability to grow your business. Remembering these things will help frame how you engage as you venture out on your business building journey. Seek to gain advocates. It’s the best way to avoid gaining adversaries.

About the author: Diane Helbig is a leadership and business development advisor helping business owners around the world. She is the author of Lemonade Stand Selling, Expert Insights, and Succeed Without ‘Selling,’ as well as the host of the “Accelerate Your Business Growth” podcast. For more information, visit www.seizethisday.co.

3 Best Practices for Communicating During a Crisis

From jobsite accidents to employee or management misdeeds, no business is immune from crisis situations — including the roofing sector. Contractors, manufacturers, distributors, and stakeholders throughout the supply chain do their best to safeguard against crisis situations and hope such events will not occur. But of course, hope is not a strategy and even the most stringent procedures cannot guarantee a crisis will not damage a business’s operations or its reputation.

As with many aspects of managing a business, advance consideration and planning can help minimize the consequences of a crisis situation. Have you asked yourself, “What would I do if a crisis situation threatened my business and the media/social media were at my door?”

A good place to start is by understanding not all crisis situations are the same. Most crises fall into one of two categories: “sudden” or “smoldering.” As the name implies, a sudden crisis arises without warning. Industrial accidents, terrorism, workplace violence and acts of God are all examples of sudden crisis situations. There is little time to prepare in these events and they are more likely to generate the public’s sympathy. In contrast, smoldering crisis events generally emerge over time and present problems not generally known that could generate negative public sentiment if they become public. Examples of smoldering crisis situations include business concerns such as audit findings, drug use by an employee, board mismanagement or a potential regulatory violation. A smoldering crisis may rapidly evolve into a sudden crisis if the news becomes public on the news or social media. As opposed to sudden crises, smoldering crisis events are rarely viewed positively.

Three Keys to Crisis Communication

Regardless of whether a crisis is sudden or smoldering, communication is imperative. A crisis communications plan can help manage either type of crisis. The plan should outline a central spokesperson to deliver all messages and include specific processes for who within the organization to contact in the event a team member is contacted by the media. While the details of a crisis management plan are beyond the scope of this column, every crisis management plan requires communication. When crafting crisis communications, three “best practices” can be applied to most situations. These practices are:

1. Tell the truth. Rarely are all of the facts readily available as a crisis situation unfolds. Yet members of the media are trained to “demand the facts” as news is still breaking. Obviously, trade secrets, confidentiality agreements and legal issues typically limit what can be disclosed. And the reality is, many times an organization simply does not know all of the details surrounding an unfortunate event. As such, it can be tempting to refrain from making any statement during a crisis situation or uttering the words “no comment.” But evasiveness naturally breeds suspicion. While organizations should never speculate during a crisis, they can share some truths about what they are doing.

A good technique to use in these situation is the “why plus what” approach. For example, “While not all of the facts are clear based on the investigation underway at the site of the accident, we are cooperating with first responders and posting updates on our website.”

The “why plus what” approach is a very useful technique for communicating without speculating or refraining from comment. Using this approach, spokespersons explain why they cannot elaborate and follow up with what they can share right now. For example: “While I can’t speculate about the root cause as research is still underway, what I can tell you is (approved statement).” A classic example of this technique used by reporters covering unfolding stories is, “While the details are still emerging, what we do know is ¼”

2. Tell it fast and with empathy. Not only is it important to tell the truth (what you can tell) quickly, but it is important to be prompt in response and empathetic to those affected by the situation. History provides some unfortunate examples of the damage a company can suffer from delaying its response, or not responding empathetically. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska is a good example of the damage that can arise when timeliness and empathy are lacking. The company waited a full week to address the media following the oil spill. When the executive did speak in a TV interview, he delivered a strong impression that he didn’t really care about the environmental impact of the disaster, committing a huge PR cardinal sin — lack of empathy.

More than 20 years later, after another oil disaster, another oil executive committed a crucial PR blunder. (Google “Tony Hayward get my life back.”) BP former CEO Tony Hayward conducted a number of high-quality media interviews before complaining halfway through a conversation with a reporter, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” His comment demonstrated a lack of sympathy for the many lives lost and the hundreds of jobs lost due to the incident’s aftermath throughout the affected area. Unlike the Exxon leader’s interview, BP’s situation unfolded in the social media era, amplifying the damage of the negative PR as the unfortunate interview went viral.

In any crisis situation, it is imperative for an organization’s leadership to put themselves in the shoes of those affected. This means thinking like a customer — and just as important talking like a customer — personally affected by the situation. Leaders should acknowledge the affected parties’ fears and frustrations. In stark contrast to the corporate speak of a prepared statement, empathy acknowledges that the speaker feels and shares the customer’s pain. Effective crisis messages project empathy and concern while explaining clearly and succinctly what can be shared. The best examples also provide perspective by framing the issue in context. For example, “Each year, our operations produce XX metric tons of product without incident.”

3. Tell your employees first. Despite all the efforts companies invest in developing messages for their website and official statements, a company’s people are usually the most sought-after and trusted source of information. Thus, in crisis situations, it is a company’s people who will receive questions from customers, friends and family about what’s “really” taking place. Employees must be a key audience in any crisis management plan. The plan should educate employees on the issue and provide clear information on how to direct inquiries to the appropriate spokesperson.

Whether it’s a sudden or smoldering crisis, the crisis communications best practices outlined above coupled with a crisis management plan can help members of the roofing community navigate the challenge.

About the author: Susan Miller is director of public relations at 5MetaCom, a marketing agency for companies selling technical and scientific products, including building products.

Bedside Manner

About a decade ago I had to find a new doctor. While researching doctors on the internet, I stumbled onto to a bunch of articles about the decision-making process of patients. Surveys asked patients which traits they looked for in a doctor and which factor was most important when choosing their physician. As I remember it, the answers varied quite a bit; some looked for certain areas of expertise, while others stressed an affiliation with a local hospital. Referrals from a trusted source were the most important criterion for some people, while others pointed to compatibility with their insurance carrier as the key factor.

While the reasons for initially choosing a doctor were all over the map, there was one overwhelming reason patients gave for staying with their doctors: their ability to communicate with them, encourage them, and explain a diagnosis or treatment options — otherwise known as their “bedside manner.”

I thought of those surveys as I spoke to the contractors who worked on the health care projects profiled in this issue. In many ways the dynamic was similar to that of doctor and patient. Whether it was a new construction project or a roof replacement, the owners of the health care facility needed an expert opinion. For the contractors profiled in this issue, technical competence, quality workmanship and experience were all extremely important. But all of these contractors also stressed the importance of communication — with the building owner, the manufacturer’s rep, the facility manager, their own crews and members of other trades. Throughout the job, they discussed what was necessary to eliminate or minimize disruptions for all involved — including patients, visitors and guests.

For Jason Carruth of Advanced Roofing, the task was especially tough, as his re-roofing project at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Florida, placed his crews right above the main entrance of a busy hospital — and its neonatal intensive care unit. When asked why the project was a success despite its challenges, Carruth replied, “The communication between the manufacturer’s rep, the owners and ourselves was excellent. Pre-planning is everything. When the key players on a job are all on the same page, that’s when a project ends up being successful.”

A good bedside manner keeps patients coming back to their doctors. It can lead to more business for roofing contractors as well.

Proper Documentation Can Be the Key to Dispute Resolution

Ever been told to dance like nobody’s watching? 

That advice is great for weddings and end-zone celebrations. But after wrapping up a week-long trial, your exhausted, cynical lawyer probably thinks “write every email like it will one day be a courtroom exhibit” is far better advice than the dancing thing.

This might sound needlessly frightening, but for construction professionals working on challenging projects, documentation can make or break the ability to successfully negotiate — or, if it comes to it, prove the merits of — a dispute with another party. 

Below are some items that, if handled properly, can help companies establish their side of case and that, if handled poorly, can constitute problem areas. 

Contract Documents and Statutory Notices 

Many legal rights on a project come from the parties’ written contract agreement. Basic measures like ensuring the both parties have signed — and not just received — the contract can be crucial to preserving these rights. It is also a good practice to keep a copy of the signed contract and all attachments in a location where it is accessible to project managers and others who have authority to deal directly with the other party. As always, reading the contract in advance, and perhaps consulting with an attorney before signing the contract, is an important practice. 

Having a checklist for every project can also help ensure that good practices are routine, and not just employed for especially difficult projects. If practices are done on every project, no matter the size or complexity, it is easier to ensure that companies will comply with them. 

Potential project checklist items include: 

  • Has a written contract been signed by both parties and saved in the project file? 
  • Are certificates of insurance on file for all subcontractors? 

Checklist items for privately owned projects: 

  • Have any statutorily required project statements, notices of contract, or notices of subcontract been properly filed and served? 
  • Have any statutory prerequisites to filing lien claims been met — such as North Carolina’s requirement to serve a Notice to Lien Agent? 

Checklist items for publicly owned projects:

  • Has the payment bond been obtained?
  • If required by state or federal statute, has the payment bond surety information been sent to all parties?
  • Have statutorily required notices of contract or notices of subcontract been properly served or filed? 

Notices 

Most written prime contracts and subcontracts require parties to give written notice to the other party to communicate various things, like change orders, claims for extra payment, or the other party’s breach or default. Failure to provide notice using the proper means and by the required deadline can prevent contractors from asserting their contractual rights. To ensure compliance with contract provisions, ensure that a copy of the contract is accessible to the project manager and that notices are dated, signed (if applicable), and that copies of the notice are preserved. If notices are sent by email, a good practice is trying to obtain a delivery or read receipt. Notices to cure should state specifically what is expected of the other party in order to cure a default and what will occur if the other party does not cure the default. 

Where Notices are concerned, do the following:

  • Keep a copy of the signed, written contract in a place where project managers can easily access it.
  • Send requests for change orders and additional time or money in writing.
  • Send notices to the right person. The written contract usually dictates to whom notices should be sent, and sending notices to a person with managerial authority is generally recommended. 
  • Consult with an attorney and send a written notice before invoking contractual remedies like self-correcting defective work, supplementing a subcontractor’s workforce, or terminating a subcontractor. 
  • Maintain copies of any letters, correspondence, or notices sent to another party, including copies of proofs of service like Certified Mail cards, email read receipts, or fax confirmation sheets. 

Confirming Emails 

Emails and text messages constitute the bulk of the written communication on most construction projects today. Both emails and text messages — whether they are sent from work or personal devices — are discoverable in legal cases, meaning that companies will be required to provide them to other parties in the case during the litigation process. This may be true whether or not the company or sender believes they are relevant. The implication is twofold: contractors should send emails and text messages with care and should assume that they could one day be seen by an opponent, judge or jury. On the other hand, when used effectively, emails and text messages can be used to accurately document parties’ agreements and understandings about what will occur on the project. 

With all communications, but particularly email, attorney-client privilege is an additional concern. The attorney-client privilege protects communications between an attorney and his or her client. The client has the right to keep these communications confidential in nearly all situations. However, the attorney-client privilege can be waived if communications are shared with third parties. The ease with which people can forward and share emails makes waiving the privilege dangerously easy. In some situations, waiving the privilege once can mean waiving it in future situations. 

Below are some do’s and don’ts that can result in helpful, not harmful, emails.

DO

  • Send emails to document conditions on a project. 
  • Send emails to confirm important conversations, especially ones about dates of mobilization or that contain notices. 
  • Respond to any emails that accuse you or your company of failing to fulfill any contractual obligation. 
  • Ensure you have access to the emails of any employees who leave the company. 

DON’T

  • Don’t forward your correspondence with your attorney to others. This could waive the attorney-client privilege. 
  • Don’t copy people outside of your company on emails to your attorney. This could waive the attorney-client privilege. 
  • In a dispute over fulfilling contractual obligations, don’tlet the other party have the last word. If you are sent an email accusing you of wrongdoing, not responding to an email can make it appear that you agree with it. 
  • Don’t send emails from your personal account. If you ever need to pull and produce all of the emails related to a project, it will be much easier to do if you are only pulling from one account per employee. 
  • Don’t use profanity or offensive language or phrases. If there is anything you would be ashamed of a judge or jury seeing you say, think twice before typing it. 

Daily Reports and Photographs

Daily job reports, if done well, can serve as a diary of what occurred on a project. While emails can be helpful, too, photographs do not lie, and daily reports with objective information like number of workers, hours worked, and weather conditions can effectively corroborate a company’s narrative of a story or dispute another side’s version. 

These types of documents typically have to be authenticated in court in order for them to be admissible as evidence, so if possible, it is best for the person who wrote a report or took a photograph to be able to testify about the origin of the document itself. 

Recommended procedures include: 

  • Have competent, trusted employees, such as project managers, take photographs and complete daily reports. 
  • Have a system in place for uploading photographs and saving them in the construction file so that they are centrally located, not just stored on employees’ individual phones or tablets. 
  • Ensure all photographs are dated or otherwise stored so that dates and identities of the people who took the photographs can be accessed. 
  • Complete daily reports documenting conditions like date, weather, number of workers, and anything pertinent occurring on the project site.  

About the author: Caroline Trautman is an attorney with Raleigh, N.C.-based Anderson Jones PLLC. Questions about this article can be directed to her at ctrautman@andersonandjones.com.

Author’s note: The above article is not, and should not be construed as, legal advice. For specific advice, consult with an attorney licensed in your state.

Communication Is Crucial When You’re Working on Top of the Village Hall

Lincolnshire Village Hall houses city offices and a police station. The structure’s roof and gutter systems were recently replaced by All American Exterior Solutions. Photos: DaVinci Roofscapes

The Lincolnshire Village Hall, located in Lincolnshire, Illinois, houses city departments and the offices of elected officials, as well as the Lincolnshire Police Station. When its natural cedar shake roof and inlaid gutter system began to fail, city officials looked for a solution that would provide the desired aesthetics but last longer and require less maintenance.

Dale Pole of All American Exterior Solutions, a full-service union roofing contractor headquartered in Lake Zurich, Illinois, thought he had the answer. Pole, a 32-year industry veteran who is now the company’s vice president of operations, dropped off samples of a synthetic shake roofing tile manufactured by DaVinci Roofscapes and asked if city officials wanted to give it a try.

All American was awarded the job in 2016. The scope of work consisted of a complete re-roof of the complex, including the steep-slope roof system on the hall and tower. The project also included five sections of flat roofing and replacement of the copper gutter system. The job was complex, but All American was up to the challenge. The company worked in conjunction with Illinois Roof Consulting Associates, located in McHenry, Illinois.

The Steep-Slope System

The building’s signature feature is the observatory tower over the main entrance, which extends approximately 45 feet in the air. The main roof features a pitch change at the rear of the building, where the roof goes from 4:12 to 12:12. All

The complex is located right next to a large pond and bordered by mature trees, so the jobsite limited access to sections of the roof. Photos: DaVinci Roofscapes

American installed approximately 23,000 square feet of the DaVinci product, Bellaforté Shake in Tahoe, a blend of four colors. The company also fabricated the new gutter system out of 20-ounce lead-coated copper with soldered seams. Approximately 600 feet of new gutters were installed.

Work began in late spring, and the 23-year-old existing roof was torn off in sections. GAF Weather Watch Water & Ice Shield was applied as a leak barrier, followed by Proof Synthetic Underlayment from ABC Supply. “We couldn’t install the tiles until the inlaid gutter was in place, so we used a synthetic underlayment to keep everything watertight during the tear-off process,” says Pole.

Gutters were installed in an 8-inch-by-8-inch trough. “There was a course or two of the DaVinci, and then the inlaid gutters were set into the roof, and the roof starts again,” notes Pole. “The trough area was also layered with ice and water shield before the copper gutters were put in.”

Transitions and flashings were also made of copper. “Everything on this job was 20-ounce lead-coated copper,” notes Pole. “All of the valleys, transition flashing, and the gutters were all lead-coated copper.”

The DaVinci synthetic shake tiles were easy to install, according to Pole. “They are nailed in place,” he says. “You can use stainless steel nails or hot-dip galvanized nails. In this case, we used 1-1/2-inch stainless steel ring shank nails.”

Low-Slope Areas

The low-slope roofs were covered with a GAF two-ply modified bitumen system. Michael McCory, project manager, headed up the crews on the five low-slope sections, which totaled approximately 2,700 square feet.

The observatory tower over the main entrance features a walk-out area with a modified bitumen roof system. Photos: DaVinci Roofscapes

The low-slope sections had different substrates. Two balconies had concrete decks, while two canopies and an area over the garage had wooden decks. Some of the flat roofs had paver systems, which had to be removed and replaced after the new system was installed.

Half-inch DensDeck Prime cover board from Georgia-Pacific was installed over the wood and concrete decks. The GAF mod bit system consisted of a Ruberoid 20 base sheet and Ruberoid Granular FR cap sheet in white. “It was applied in a cold-process adhesive,” says McCory. “No torches were used. A manufacturer’s inspection was part of the process for a 20-year warranty.”

The upper level of the tower features a small walk-out balcony. “That was probably the most difficult area,” notes McCory. “It was covered with pavers and difficult to reach. We had to remove the pavers and store them in the stairwell during the installation.”

A Challenging Jobsite

Logistics at the jobsite posed a few problems. “The hardest part was the observatory tower by the front entry,” Pole recalls, noting an 80-foot man lift was used to remove the existing cedar and install the synthetic shake. “On the tower, it was all lift work. For other parts of the project, workers on both the steep-slope and the low-slope portions of the roof were tied off at all times.”

Crews installed 23,000 square feet of Bellaforte Shake by DaVinci Roofscapes on the building’s main roof. Photos: DaVinci Roofscapes

The building is bordered by mature trees and a large pond, limiting roof access. “On the west side of the structure, the pond comes right up against the building,” Pole says. “We had to use a lift that could stretch over that pond to get that end of the roof.”

An Equipter mechanized debris hauler was used to get around narrow grassy areas near the building. “We used an Equipter, which is like a gas-powered, mobile dumpster, to drive around the building and enter the courtyard for our debris,” Pole says. “We have two of those pieces of equipment, which we use on a lot of our jobs to get the shingles out. They don’t damage lawns and help protect the landscaping.”

The building was occupied during the installation, so care had to be taken to ensure business was not disrupted and passers-by would be safe. “The village offices were open for business while we were working, and the police station was open as well,” notes McCory. “The tower and front entryway had to be completed on the weekend, as that was the only walkway for the public to get in.”

The police station had several doors, so crews had to coordinate with officers while replacing the roof on that section and let them know where they were setting up the crane. The courtyard area was also restricted at times.

“We obviously had to keep everything neat and organized and make sure we cleaned up every day to make sure nothing would bother the people working in the building and the residents who came in to the village hall to get permits or whatever the case may be,” McCory says. “You don’t want police cars getting flat tires.”

Communication is the key to meeting customers’ needs, especially with an occupied building. “Whoever the building owner is, I give him my cell number and make sure I have his,” Pole notes. “I try to stay in contact with them and let them know if anything is changing. I ask them if they have any questions or issues, or if their schedule is changing. On this project, they said it was like we were never even there, and that’s what we like to hear.”

Feedback from the city has been positive, according to Pole. “They are very happy with it,” he says. “The system has the look they wanted. It looks like shake, they had a lot of colors to choose from, and they won’t have the maintenance issues that they did with the cedar. And it will last a lot longer. They will save a whole roof replacement phase in the life of the DaVinci product.”

Pole believes his company’s diverse portfolio gives it an edge. “We’re one of very few union companies that have their own shinglers, flat roofing crews, and sheet metal workers in house. We also do waterproofing, metal wall panels and insulation,” he says.

“This project shows our strength — we can do it all.”

TEAM

Roofing Contractor: All American Exterior Solutions, Lake Zurich, Illinois, www.aaexs.com
Roof Consultant: Illinois Roof Consulting Associates, McHenry, Illinois, www.irca.com

MATERIALS

Steep-Slope Roof System
Synthetic Shake: Bellaforté Shake in Tahoe, DaVinci Roofscapes, www.DaVinciRoofscapes.com
Underlayment: Proof Synthetic Underlayment, ABC Supply Co. Inc., www.ABCsupply.com
Leak Barrier: Weather Watch Water & Ice Shield, GAF, www.GAF.com

Low-Slope Roof System
Modified Bitumen Base Sheet: Ruberoid 20, GAF
Modified Bitumen Cap Sheet: Ruberoid Granular FR, GAF
Cover Board: DensDeck Prime, Georgia-Pacific, www.DensDeck.com

Garland Introduces a Quality Assurance and Communication Program

Garland introduced a quality assurance and communication program for its manufacturing operations at its Cleveland headquarters. GMAX, which stands for Garland Manufacturing Attention to Excellence, is a proactive program designed to provide more education to the manufacturing staff and open the lines of communication between key players in the product manufacturing process.

At its core, the concept is to keep all involved—from team members working on the production line to the management team—well informed with up-to-date information. The program also outlines a strategy for improving on safety, quality, inventory and efficiency. Each piece of the GMAX program was designed with one goal in mind: engage employees in a positive way that fosters personal ownership and a healthy team dynamic to maintain Garland’s high standards.

The GMAX program brings together many of the departments—manufacturing, product management, research, quality and safety—that help make the products a success in the factory, as well as out in the field. One aspect of the program is the GMAX Command Center—a new room built in the manufacturing plant with product mock-ups, educational information about the products, and real-time information from the Product Management and Quality teams.

Already, the new program has brought positive changes to the Cleveland operations. “Now that all of the team members know the goal and everyone is educated on the what and why of what we’re trying to accomplish, the quality assurance team went from just one department to the entire manufacturing team,” says Colin Downey, plant manager.

The GMAX program will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of a constantly changing business landscape while striving to always put customers first.

Software Improves Safety and Makes the Roofing Process Transparent for Clients

Safety is always a major concern and, at Castro Roofing, Dallas, it’s one of our core values. In fact, we have a full-time safety manager and a third-party safety consultant who evaluate every one of our jobs from a safety perspective. On top of that, we also have monthly safety meetings with the whole crew where we discuss best practices and train on new equipment. Safety should be a top priority for everyone in our line of work. I’m sure most contractors are pretty familiar with this routine.

So is there anything new to say about safety? Well, we’ve found a secret weapon! This past year we implemented an Online Project Management (OPM) software system. It has been a game changer for us.

How the OPM Works

The OPM streamlines communication with our clients and workers by archiving photos and information for every single project we have—every day. It notifies the client, via email, five days before the start of his or her job to ensure the client is prepared. We can personalize this email if we choose.

Once the job begins, each client receives daily reports, which include 12 to 16 photos from the job site covering the entire workday. Of course, someone on your team has to take the photos, but the software is linked to your smartphone and an app makes the process pretty simple. Through the OPM, everyone involved is made aware of the entire construction process.

The truth is, our clients really only have three questions for us:

    1. When are you starting my project?
    2. What have you done so far?
    3. When will you be finished with the work?

Ok, maybe there’s one more:

    4. How much is this going to cost me?

None of these questions take into consideration the personnel involved. Maybe this is a no-brainer, but if we are losing workers because of safety issues, our customers’ jobs are not going to be completed on time. Implementing this OPM addresses all those client questions and so much more.

OPM and Safety

The OPM allows quick response times by allowing us to fix anything we see that might become a hazardous issue before the next workday. Increased communication is literally available at the click of a button. Plus, the OPM makes it possible to go back and review any day of a project for different factors, like weather, safety and material delivery—not just work progress.

For example, while looking through the photos of a job’s progress as it was getting started, we noticed that if we unloaded and set up the scaffolding in a slightly different way, the unloading would be much smoother. We are constantly adjusting our approach to each job.

A New Outlook

While the OPM has made our work available in a much more transparent way—allowing our clients an all-access pass—it has also given us a new way to evaluate the ways we are utilizing our resources and our human capital.

When we know that others are able to keep such close tabs on the work we do, it changes the way we run our business. Our communication with clients should be as open and honest as possible. And the work that we do should be safe for everyone involved.

It’s pretty easy to pay lip service to safety in a monthly meeting and check it off the agenda. It’s altogether different when we are able to evaluate our daily routines from a different perspective. Our clients love it because our process no longer feels like a mystery to them. We love it because we can take our attention to detail to a whole new level—a bird’s eye view, if you will.

Before the OPM, it was nearly impossible to include our clients in our workflow. It was even harder to quickly evaluate and make changes that make work safer and more efficient for our employees. Now, we really can’t remember how we got along without it. Isn’t technology amazing? The OPM has genuinely helped us work smarter, not harder.

Online Project Management Software

Castro Roofing, Dallas, uses LookOut Software.