Communications, power and construction marketing: The new rules

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The Apple store in Chicago — Communication is instant.

I enjoyed Michael Stone’s most recent markupandprofit.com blog posting, where he advises general contractors to establish clear rules that subtrades should not engage in conversation with homeowners — the chances (either intentionally or accidentally) of slipping out information to cause confusion or anger are just too great.

michael stone
Michael Stone

However, his thoughts take us to the broader picture of, for want of a better phrase, “communications control challenges,” which have become outrageously more complex in the Internet and social media era.

These are the days of Wikileaks, instantaneous communications internationally, and massive amounts of data and knowledge (and quite a bit of information) readily available 24/7 at home or on the road.  Good news stories, of course, can find distribution quickly, but bad news . . . well it moves so fast through social media within relationship groups and centres of influence, that you risk being blindsided if you don’t, ideally, have systems in place to prevent the negative experience from occurring in the first place, and secondarily, you lack a truly effective and thoughtful rapid-response strategy.

(Generally, this means combining respect for your critics, a good-faith effort to remedy the problems and go beyond with extra-good will compensation — and following that, a sensitivity to the overall environment mood. These concepts are generally effective, but of course can be complicated by the scam-baiting client who knows how to game social media to extort you; or simply wants to be an a–hole.)

To give you an idea of the issues here, and showing my age somewhat, when I was younger and travelled through Africa, for many months the only communication I had with home in Canada was occasional letters delivered to “Post Restante” (general delivery) in obscure African cities. It was a hit-and-miss affair, of course, whether the letters would arrive and the news certainly wasn’t fresh. Even local phone service was a luxury not an assumed service in much of the world as late as 1980. I received my job offer by a bicycle-riding telegraph delivery man. (Agreed, in 1978-80 Rhodesia, there were some time warps even further in the past, to the mid-1960s, because of sanctions. They were using linotype machines in the local newspapers long after the rest of the world had converted to offset presses.)

In these times, you could escape from communications — and if someone wanted to dig dirt out about you, you would have either had to have some first-or second degree immediate connections, or spend a small fortune researching the matter, or the issue would have reached the level of seriousness that mainstream media would assign reporters and researchers to uncover the issues. In other words, you could sometimes get away with bad stuff, and survive, and while word-of-mouth was obviously very important, it didn’t travel quite as far and as fast as it does now.

Equally, it is much harder to regulate the news and manage word-of-mouth reputation in 2015, when everyone has instant power to communicate as much as they wish.

So, yes, it is okay to set rules — subs on residential job sites should generally not speak with owners, except to greet and say “hi” and equally, it makes sense for your business, if it wishes to have a cohesive identity and image, to set some rules regarding behaviour, social media communications and the like. But you won’t be able to stop people from talking with each other, and boxing in too many stringent rules may result in an aloofness” that could strain relationships and cause anger to rise in the instant-messaging era.

Ultimately, the best solution really is the oldest one — manage things so that problems don’t arise in the first place, and when they do, build your systems so that you can learn about them as fast as possible, and then (within reason) empower everyone at the front line to solve the the difficulties quickly. Here, the story might require some direct communication between the homeowner and the sub — if only for the sub to quickly show the owner that he is communicating with the general — and there will be a rapid response to the job-site problem or challenge.

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