I did a radio interview the other day, and the host mentioned my book-specifically, the chapter on Integrity. She pointed out that she admires this trait in people, and sees it often in co-workers who are veterans. She asked what it takes to get people to see that you have integrity. I answered, "Make the deadline." Then I thought about businesses that are known for not making the deadline. I even asked around. Can you guess one of the most frequent responses to my question of who doesn't make the deadline? You guessed it, contractors.
In business, you get no points for second place. To be successful, you make a commitment and then, you deliver on it. I see situations in my own life that underscore the importance of this point. For example, the other day my wife and I eagerly unpacked two new student desks for our kids. We had done some minor remodeling, and were excited to have found some new furniture to help them feel good about studying. (Whatever works, right?)
Our anticipation turned to disappointment when we found one desk broken and the other, covered with what appeared to be water stains. The call to customer service moved the experience from disappointment to disgust. The store's representative refused our request for one of their trucks to pick up the damaged furniture. She also refused to look into how quickly the damaged pieces could be replaced. And when I asked her name? Yep, she refused to tell me.
We ended up taking the useless desks back ourselves, and giving the store manager a deadline to have the situation fixed. If he makes the deadline, he'll keep our business. If not, we'll cancel the order, and one thousand bucks will go to another furniture store.
I find another example in the case of my attic fan. The fan was installed last summer, but the contractor never got around to wiring it. Shortly after the installation, summer ended. I didn't need the fan then, so there was no rush to have it wired. I figured the guy would make a point to complete the job as soon as he could.
A year has passed. It's hot and I'm bothered. I spoke to the contractor and set a deadline. He failed to make it. My money and word-of-mouth recommendation are now going to someone who can get the job done when they say it will be done.
Of course, there is the flip-side. I try to play golf. Actually, I play golf; I am trying to play it well. On Tuesday of last week, I tested a few drivers and found one I liked. 'Told the guy at the pro shop that I wanted the set of woods. (My old ones were really out-dated; this new technology could help my game.)
The problem was they only had the 3-wood in stock. It would take about a week to get new inventory. Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem, but there was the club championship coming up that weekend. (Not that I was going to win the thing, but it would have been nice to have the new clubs.) He told me he would see what he could do with a local trade-out. I came home from a business trip on Thursday and went to hit some balls. Out comes the guy with my new clubs--all three of them. He went out of his way, put in some extra effort, and made the deadline. I was very happy, and am hitting it much better of the tee!
Two of my clients just renewed their contracts for 2008. I wasn't even planning for that conversation to happen until later this year. But they're pleased with the results they're seeing - results clearly defined in the development process. One client commented on how much he liked working with me and my team. He said, "I trust you. You tell me what you are going to do, and then you do it. And it works."
In other words, I make the deadline. My team makes the deadline. Our integrity motivated him to renew for next year and to lengthen the program we're doing.
Now I fully recognize the complexity of the construction business. A lot of the challenges you face are not your fault. The customer doesn't care. The customer expects you to make the deadline. That is what they pay you for. They expect you to know how to handle things and to deliver on the commitments you make. They don't pay you for broken promises.
Every day, I see examples of people and companies not living up to commitments. Broken pieces and broken promises are no way to run a business-you simply will not last. It's the contractors who deliver, whose integrity assures they make the deadline, who rise to the top.
Wally Adamchik is the President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, a national leadership consulting firm based in Raleigh, NC. You can visit the website at www.beafirestarter.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book is No Yelling (www.noyelling.net) is available online.