My family is currently undertaking some construction work at our home. As I looked out at the construction zone around my home this morning, I had the sense that the work has been going on forever. I realize this may be a bit dramatic; however, I am ready for the construction to be finished.
A lot of my frustration with the construction has to do with communication with our contractor (or lack thereof). There are days when it seems as if we are not speaking the same language as our contractor.
For example, in a recent discussion, we indicated that based on the remaining items to be completed, we hoped that the construction would be wrapped up by the end of August — which at that point was about three weeks away. Our contractor indicated that timing would be more than adequate to wrap up. Yet, midway through September, we still aren't done.
I realize there often are delays that come with undertaking any construction project. Weather, availability of materials, and permitting are among the many factors that can impact the timeline. That said, a lot of the frustrations that my husband and I have dealt with throughout the project could have been alleviated with more proactive communication from our contractor.
I realize these types of frustrations can be felt in any profession. With that in mind, over the last few days, I've been thinking about the characteristics of good communication, how they translate to my internal audit work, and how I communicate with my audit customers and stakeholders. I particularly thought of the inevitable obstacles that come with any internal audit project. A few things that come to mind include:
Communication Medium. Understanding how my customers best receive and process information can play a pivotal role in effective communications. Some people prefer face-to-face meetings, for others a text or email is sufficient. Regardless of the medium, understanding the preferences of my stakeholders and tailoring my communications to them will help ensure they receive the message effectively.
Proactive Rather Than Reactive. For me, this encompasses a few different things. Establishing a cadence for communication frequency is important. Ensuring regular updates, per an agreed-upon schedule, can assist in assuring my customers and stakeholders that they are up to date on project status. Further, ensuring there is a protocol to report significant issues or impacts to the project timeline early also is important. In the case of my construction project, I recognize weather patterns can have a significant impact on my contractor's ability to complete outdoor work. However, proactive communication from my contractor after review of the upcoming weather forecast regarding potential impacts would help me better understand what the revised timeline may look like.
Responsiveness. Recognizing that feeling I get when an email, call, or text goes unanswered, I believe it is important to be responsive. I realize that everyone is busy, often multitasking to address competing priorities. However, setting expectations for response time and prioritizing responsiveness both are pivotal in building stronger relationships with my customers.
Speaking the Same Language. Looking back on my construction frustrations, I realize that part of the challenge with my contractor is that I think we aren't always talking the same language. For example, when my contractor says, "We will be done in 10 days," I take that to heart, counting out 10 days and marking that date on the calendar. In retrospect, what I'm finding is that what he really means is, "We will be done in 10 business days," or "We will be done in 10 days pending good weather, passing inspection, etc." In this situation, I believe ensuring a shared understanding of the definition of 10 days would have reduced some of my frustration during the construction process.
Being Realistic. It is sometimes human nature to tell people what they want to hear, particularly when dealing with a customer. However, when setting expectations, it is important to be realistic, even if that means communicating that a project may take longer than may be desired. Again, thinking about my construction project, I would rather have been told the true estimate of project length so I could set my expectations accordingly. Of course, with this, as with any project, building in time for slack/unknowns also would have aided in developing realistic expectations.
Hopefully by my next post, our construction will be complete. Fortunately, I believe there are learning opportunities in every situation. That said, learning from those situations and thinking about how I can better communicate with my internal audit customers and stakeholders is a valuable unintended consequence.