Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 7)

Doug Bellamy / February 2015

What follows is the seventh letter in a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendent’s (Joe Gensup) request for something more than the typical job description. Though the company had provided a generic job description, what the superintendent needed and received was much more personal and heartfelt, when compared to the sterile notion of do’s and don’ts so commonly emphasized, throughout our industry.

Dear Joe:

We are going to get back to our concerns with the busy period, but due to the current state of affairs, I can’t help but address cultivating communication. We have a problem communicating. Talking, emailing, texting, on the phone, voicemail, connecting in general, you name it! Houston, we have a problem! We simply must cultivate communication.
Fact or fable, allow me the use of an ancient story to underscore the critical importance of communication. It is said that long ago, at the beginning of time, mankind set out to build a tower to heaven. However, such a project was inconsistent with the divine plan. Frustrated with mankind’s intention, the deity intended to disrupt the project. In doing so, utilizing the genius only a deity could possess, he knew precisely how to shut the project down. How? Disrupt communication. To do so He simply scrambled languages. Management and crews were given multiple languages indiscriminately. It was imposed upon them, much to their dismay, I might add. Consequently they were unable to communicate.
The result? They were unable to communicate, and they gave up on the project. It came to an immediate standstill and stopped forever. It was impossible to proceed. Brilliant! Without the ability to communicate, in their frustration, they lost interest and ability. It was impossible to proceed without communication.
This example is a perfect segue to the topic at hand. Without the critical necessity of communication in order to effectively proceed with any construction project, the project will completely shut down. Have I made my point? Take it or leave it, it is nonetheless true. Developing and maintaining effective communication is necessary to complete our projects.
Fast forward, here we are, attempting to complete the never-ending projects we are tasked with as contractors and organizations. So then, what interferes with communication? The list? Read on and see.

Let’s start at the top, where everything of importance originates. OK, Mr. General Superintendent, what kind of example are you setting? Do you want to interfere with progress or facilitate it? Are you leading the way, leading by example or interfering with progress?
Thirty years ago I was faced with this predicament. I faced it and addressed it. English speaking, I needed to communicate with Hispanic employees. It was a daunting task. What did I do? I attended Spanish classes. I was completely lost. I felt as though everyone in the class understood more than I. I was at the bottom of the class.
My instructor made some suggestions. Use the language whenever possible. Watch Spanish newscasts on TV and then watch the same newscasts in English. Doing so gave me the opportunity to compare the two. Attempt to read Spanish publications and compare them with the same info in English. It really helped. In addition he recommended that I ask questions of my Spanish counterparts, get feedback and insist on learning how to communicate effectively. In doing so, I learned. I currently speak better Spanish than anyone who attended that class.
Yes, I believe that Spanish speakers need to learn English. After all, this is America. But I had to reach some sort of compromise. I had to do my part. But until I did, the stalemate continued.
Let me give you a piece of advice: Never ask anyone to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself. So then, if I want my Spanish employees to learn English, I had to be willing to learn Spanish.
Together, I and my Spanish counterparts learned to communicate, but not without mutual effort. I learned Spanish, and they learned English. It was a slow and grueling process, but by working together, we got through it. Nevertheless, this process is still ongoing. Does it ever end? Let’s talk about that next month.
How critical is communicating? Welcome to the information age!
Jack (I’ll be back!)
Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at dougbellamy@me.com.