Don't let the past stop you from looking at opportunities today.

The headline above is always good advice for any relationship that ended due to a misunderstanding or mistake by either or both parties. As our economy tightens up and we are looking for survival or growth opportunities, consider opening up any doors that were slammed shut by your company or by one of your good customers.

I know what you're saying -- many of these doors got slammed for good business sense. Do any of these ring a bell?

  • Issuing extra work orders, but not issuing a change order or paying for that work on time.

  • Delaying all change orders until the project is complete.

  • Filing liens, long drawn-out arbitration settlements or expensive court claims.

  • Poor scheduling resulting in excess mobilization costs.

  • Architect or engineer errors or omissions blamed on you.

  • Poor coordination with the other trades causing costly extra work or rework.
However, how much effort went into resolving such negative conditions? Throughout my years working on jobsites and as a consultant, I've found that more than 90 percent of all problems were resolved by going up the chain of command. Are you certain that the owner or top management were fully aware of your problem and condoned their employees' actions?

Always use the chain of command to solve any problems and maintain a profitable relationship with all of your clients. When you reach the CEO and do not get a fair shake, then maybe you can justifiably close the door on the company. In most cases, however, you may find that your "problem" no longer works for the company.

What we want to look at are the possibilities of a positive "second chance" with good companies that made a mistake. Many of those companies may also like to work with you again. Make a list of everything that went wrong with your previous working relationship and ask for a "partnering" meeting. You may be amazed at the other side of the same story.

By using a written list, you are sure to discuss every item and incident as well as produce written documentation of promises and commitments for this new project.

When you start this new project and something goes awry, you need to ask for another "partnering" meeting with the owner to review the agreed- upon written ground rules. This will ensure success with that project along with a continued win-win relationship with that customer.

Bad To Good

If your bad relationship was directly with the owner, you will need to do some research with the other trades who bid and work with him or her. Was your fiasco a mistake or a misunderstanding or a purposeful act? If that company has an ongoing group of satisfied subcontractors who continue to work and get paid properly, you should consider "burying the hatchet."

Here again you should ask for a meeting to review and discuss your written list of whatever went wrong on that previous project. The company's attitude and response to your side of the story will help you decide if you want a second chance. Naturally, you will want written commitments and ground rules for any future projects.

Now, if the door was slammed shut due to a bad relationship with an owner's rep, architect's rep, engineer's rep or building inspector, you should analyze the situation with the following questions in mind:

  • Was it a purposeful and willful act by a scumball?
  • Was it a misunderstanding or mistake by an insecure employee lacking experience or knowledge?
  • Will you be exposed to that same individual on a future project?
  • Is there a possibility that your foreman caused the problem?
  • Would a partnering meeting resolve your problem?
  • Do you need the job?
As you ponder these questions, you will come up with a tentative decision to give it another try or go look somewhere else for a decent job.

Lastly, you should consider renewing relationships with any lost customer, even if the problem was your fault. Here again, you are totally responsible for all your employees and your customer also realizes that everyone make mistakes.