If success is a stool and the first two legs are our employees and customers, the third leg is our subcontractors. Without any one of those legs, we would likely collapse and embarrass ourselves in front of everyone. For this reason, TCG regularly surveys employees and customers to determine whether we’re meeting our goals, to make sure they know they are appreciated, and to get clues on how to improve the longevity of our relationships with them. We survey subcontractors for similar reasons, and our 2014 survey has given us interesting results, as it does every year.
TCG’s annual survey revealed that over 77% of our subcontractors are ecstatic with our management, and 95% are happy with how TCG communicates. But the survey has also shown us where there are opportunities to do better.
For example, our overall rating was 8.27 out of 10, meaning we’re 1.73 short of perfect - and we strive for perfection! (Happily, our striving shows clearly in some results: 100% of our subcontractors reported always being paid on time.) We looked at where we had fallen short and saw that, when we removed one particular project from the results, the overall rating shot up to 9.33 out of 10, which is much more acceptable. So why were TCG’s subcontractors on that project giving us less-than-stellar ratings? We think the major reasons were a misalignment in core values, and allowing the instinct to make a customer happy to overtake our better natures.
On this project, we inherited subcontractors from a prior contract and didn’t thoroughly establish ahead of the new contract award whether our core values matched theirs. We know that an organization or an individual’s core values underpin every decision and interaction with others. The initial part of every relationship with a client, subcontractor, or employee involves determining whether we will have a good relationship or a fraught, complex one. The differentiator is whether our core values mesh well with their core values. Ideally, they are convergent or cumulative, such that the resulting relationship makes both parties stronger. But occasionally, no matter how excellent each party may be professionally and personally, core values don’t align and that creates friction that is difficult to manage, creating problems in unforeseen ways.
Ignoring Our Better Natures
We find ourselves frequently caught between two instincts: the urge to make a customer happy, and the knowledge of what’s necessary to make that customer satisfied. Happiness and satisfaction aren’t the same thing. I can make my eight year old son happy by giving him candy all day, but his hunger won’t be satisfied and he’ll end up feeling sick if all he eats are Nestle Crunch bars. (And he would. Oh yes, he most definitely would.) To satisfy his hunger he needs good, nutritious food, even though I know he may balk at the idea of eating it. But once he’s had that, and he’s perhaps had a small dessert, he will be both happy and satisfied…and he won’t feel sick or ask me for another meal in an hour. Projects are similar; we need to do the necessary things to make satisfaction possible before happiness can be established for the long-term. On this project, we insufficiently followed this rule. Yes, we tried to do the necessary things but, when we encountered difficulties, we reverted to striving for happiness first.
These two factors created a vicious cycle in which the misalignment of core values disabled our ability to do the necessary things to establish satisfaction, which drove us to aim for happiness alone, which ran counter to TCG’s core values (“We invest ourselves in the project”) and obscured our view of what the necessary measures for satisfaction were. And so the cycle continued. This cycle, ultimately, led to our subcontractors being dissatisfied and rating us lower than we’d ever been rated before.
We try to learn deeply from every project and relationship we have, both positive and negative, and the lessons we have learned from this project are significant. We are reminded of the need to ignore the urge to create happiness until we’ve established satisfaction. And we know better to really examine the core values of each of our partners and, if we see misalignment, to address it fairly, openly, and honestly (another of TCG’s core values) as soon as possible.
It’s for insights like these that we do the subcontractor survey every year. Not every company invests in its partners as TCG does, and we take our partners’ occasional disappointments very seriously. We try to admit our failings and improve, which is a hallmark of a quality-oriented company. (And we’ll have another announcement about that very soon!)
All this said, we remain pleased and honored that the vast majority of our subcontractors rate us as a top prime contractor, that they would welcome the opportunity to do more business with us elsewhere, and that they report being heard, respected, and paid on time, every time.
For a more in depth breakdown of our survey, please see the press release.