How am I the problem?
In January of 2017, it became clear that our apartment project was going to be delivered late and likely over budget. The impacts of such delays are certainly felt financially, however, I knew that the most significant impacts were being felt by the people moving into this apartment community. As well as the management team, the contractor, and my employees. With promises being made regarding unit delivery but not realizing it was creating significant challenges for all parties involved and threatening disruption to our other projects. As the severity and reality of these impacts settled in I knew some drastic action was warranted. My initial thoughts went to simply terminating the contractor and replacing them with someone that could get the job done. However, I recognized this was an emotional and ultimately irrational response. Our relationship with this contractor was long-standing, positive, and built on mutual trust. So how were they failing us? Perhaps a better question was if it was actually them that was failing? Who else could it have been? It was at this moment that I asked myself probably the most important question; how am I the problem?
I resolved to meet with their founder and president and while my frustrations were still present I needed to resist the temptation to point the finger of blame, threaten, and make unrealistic demands. We met early one morning in mid-February for breakfast and I could tell there was some trepidation on his part regarding what I was going to say. We talked about life, family, including a serious health issue being faced by one his employees, and eventually the work situation. I had been clear in prior correspondence regarding the gravity of the situation and took the opportunity to again reiterate the significance as well as my disappointment. I also expressed gratitude for the working relationship and trust we have built over the years. He expressed similar sentiments. Then, I asked a simple question, “what do you think we should do.” His response was immediate and unequivocal, “I’ve thought about this and I know what the problem is.” He added additional clarity to the issue and the associated impacts on his team and the other projects we have been working on together. As the conversation continued I found our objectives were perfectly aligned and at the same time it was clear there was a lot of work ahead of us to get the project back on track, keep our other projects on track, and not jeopardize future projects. We polished off breakfast and went to the project site. There we met with other members of our organization’s and jointly talked through the next steps and process we would implement to help ensure success. Most importantly we demonstrated unity in the relationship and expressed confidence in our teams to get the job done. We remained accountable for our own shortcomings and committed to fixing those first.
Over the course of the next few months, we met every week to check on progress, help resolve issues and challenges, and continue to demonstrate unity and confidence. In the end, we completed the project ahead of the revised schedule and within the original budget. I don’t believe this outcome could have been achieved without having taken the time to first reestablish trust and ensure alignment. Likewise, trust and alignment would not have been achieved without first asking myself “how am I the problem?” This question might sound absurd or even unreasonable, especially when there is clearly someone at fault. My point is that there was a need for accountability on their part, however, there was certainly a need for accountability on mine. How can I expect others to change when I am not willing to do so myself? The very fact I held any ill feelings of resentment, judgment, and blame, inhibited my ability to see clearly. Most importantly it inhibited the ability to reach the desired results. We would have figured out how to finish the project, but likely not as timely and not on the budget and the damage to the relationship would have hurt other projects happening concurrently as well as opportunities for future projects. Gratefully, the project was a success, but more importantly, the people involved were positively impacted by the experience, our relationship was strengthened, and new projects have been created; delivering cascading positive impacts. The solution to any problem always needs to begin with me asking how I might be part of it.