General contractor focus

Forge good relationships with your subs

General contractors and subcontractors share a contractual relationship. But, as colleagues and partners engaged on projects in common, they also must relate to one another as people. As with all interpersonal relationships, mutual consideration and clear communication can go a long way toward keeping things running smoothly and cordially.

Here are some steps general contractors should take to forge good relationships with their subs. (If you’re a sub, we invite you to read on anyway. But we also have some specific tips for you in “Subcontractors, here’s what you can do.”)

Selection process

For each project, establish a fair and transparent process for subcontractor selection. Make sure to provide all prospective subs the information they’ll need to prepare a complete and accurate bid. Let them know what qualifications they’ll need to demonstrate, and do your best to ensure they understand the full scope and requirements of the work.

Because you’re responsible for completing the project on time and within budget, it’s important to keep the bidding process competitive. Sometimes a subcontractor you’ve worked well with on previous jobs won’t be right for every project. To maintain that good relationship, openly and honestly explain why he or she wasn’t chosen and encourage the sub to bid on future projects.

Open communication

Once you’ve chosen a sub, be sure he or she knows what to expect on the job. Explain the procedures and protocols to be observed on-site, including:

  • Safety requirements,
  • Updates of scope changes,
  • Submission and approval of change orders, and
  • Method and timing of payments.

Maintaining open communications with a sub throughout the course of a project is critical. By all means, take advantage of technology to do so. Conference calls, emails, texts and even more sophisticated cloud-based, collaborative software can enable you to share information easily and instantly.

But don’t stop there. Visit the jobsite and talk to the sub face to face about how work is going. Ask how the job compares with his or her expectations, and whether there are things you could do to run things more effectively or efficiently.

Above all, get to know your subcontractors as people. Let them know you think of them as valuable members of the project team. Always be mindful of ways to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings, and reduce tensions and solve problems when they do arise.

Timely payouts

Among the most important things general contractors can do to maintain good relations with their subs is to pay promptly and in full. Proactively issue a clear punch list so you can sign off on the job as soon as possible. Ask for missing reports or paperwork that may be holding up the payment process. Run your financials in a manner that facilitates reliable, timely payouts.

When a project is complete, solicit each subcontractor’s feedback. Ask for suggestions and recommendations on how you might improve the overall building process. Offer your own constructive comments, both positive and negative, without pointing fingers or assigning blame. Aim to establish consensus with each subcontractor regarding best practices to follow on future jobs.

Ultimate goal

Every general contractor’s ultimate goal should be to establish a network of trusted subcontractor relationships. Doing so will make working with subs more pleasant and increase the likelihood that every job will contribute to each party’s financial success.