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Winning business from new and existing clients is essential for any construction-related firm. Though each general contractor has its own process for handling proposals and bids, most tend to take a very siloed approach where the preconstruction team is solely responsible for tackling RFPs and RFQs. 

While the preconstruction team is busy with its construction documents, pencils, calculators and estimating software, other groups and departments (outside of marketing) are going about their own work, completely unaware of the projects the precon team is working on. 

Ask why employees outside the preconstruction team aren’t involved in the RFP and RFQ process, and a likely answer is “That’s just the way we’ve always done it,” or “I don’t have enough time.”

It’s worth noting that the construction industry certainly isn’t the only one operating in silos. Nearly every industry struggles to get different groups and departments to work together.

Yet leaders in the construction industry are always looking for new and better ways to build, so it makes sense that GCs should question whether their proposal and bidding process is giving their firms the best chance at success. Because of silos, the answer is probably a resounding no. 

Developing a “win strategy”

There’s a stereotype in the construction industry that preconstruction experts, and particularly estimators, prefer to be left alone with their drawings and their numbers.

There’s a reason this stereotype exists. More often than not, precon groups don’t engage with other departments or team members. But some forward-thinking firms are advocating a more integrated approach that breaks down walls with a construction process that involves collaboration among several groups including preconstruction, operations, legal and risk management, and marketing.  

Adolfson & Peterson Constructions preconstruction group drives the process and engages other teams so RFPs/RFQs aren’t just about the numbers. The group takes a proactive role in reaching out to people in the field, scheduling meetings with the legal and risk mitigation team, and connecting with the marketing department to make sure all the RFP/RFQ requirements are met. Ultimately, the final package must prove the firm knows the best approach to the project and why it’s best suited for the job.

This approach ensures that everyone is synched and shares the same goal. By working together, the company has developed an effective “win strategy” for new opportunities. Every RFP is a reflection of the company and its commitment to the client and its project. 

Silo Silence

Research has proven that siloed organizations are less successful than more collaborative and team-oriented ones. There are some very real consequences that come from a lack of collaboration among various groups. In fact, without employee engagement across departments, the risk to the organization increases substantially. 

Risk in the construction industry typically refers to anything that could threaten a project, and more often than not, GCs think of risk as it relates to the rules and regulations that help keep people safe on job sites. What many GCs don’t think about are the risks related to silos, particularly during the entire sales process. 

Consider this: During the proposal process, the preconstruction group doesn’t engage with the operations group, and without that input, the pricing, construction plan and schedule are unrealistic. That puts the company’s financial wellbeing and future in jeopardy. Indeed, an organization can only lose so many deals before it fails. But what if those pricing and schedule inaccuracies don’t prevent the GC from winning projects and the package is impressive enough to get the deal. 

Time to celebrate, right?

It’s only after construction starts that the metaphorical cracks begin to show. Because of the lack of collaboration between different groups, the project budget blows up, the schedule breaks down and contract requirements are not accounted for. 

At that point, the risk to the organization multiplies. The client is frustrated and disappointed. Even worse, trust and confidence has been eroded, and the client won’t consider the GC for future work. Subcontractors end up losing money because of schedule delays, and the best subs aren’t willing to work with the company any longer. Because the operations team wasn’t involved initially, the plan was flawed from the start, making it even more difficult to complete the project successfully. 

Rumors about the project’s difficulties spread like wildfire, impacting the GC’s reputation and reducing the number of opportunities to bid on new projects. Internally, team members are worried about their own jobs and the company’s stability, which compels them to seek out new opportunities with other firms. 

Ultimately, because of the lack of employee engagement and the siloed approach, the company ends up losing its most valuable assets -- its people and its reputation. That might not be risk in the traditional sense of the word, but it certainly imperils a firm’s future. Getting all these disconnected groups looped into the process minimizes risk. 

Imploding Silos

It’s not easy to create a collaborative environment. Some companies don’t even try. Others put in some effort but give up when they realize how much commitment it requires. Yet smart companies find a way to overcome those impediments and build cross-functional teams. 

Organizations that struggle with employee engagement across different groups usually blame it on a lack of desire and a lack of time. That’s when company leadership needs to step in and step up by providing a clear plan for collaboration and outlining the process for a team-oriented approach. 

Without a plan and a process, the team is disjointed and disorganized and things will inevitably slip through the cracks. Every GC has its obvious external customers (owners, tenants, architects, program managers, etc.). Equally as valuable are internal customers. Namely, the operations team – the actual builders of the project. The more proactive and collaborative upfront planning is to win and prepare for a project, the more successful the project will be for the operations teams.

Impediments to employee engagement and team collaboration can be overcome by better time management, clear processes and consistent communication. It’s particularly important to explain why silos are a weakness and, conversely, collaboration and engagement are strengths.

While some team members may be resistant to collaboration at first, once the benefits are communicated, they usually buy into the concept. At Adolfson & Peterson, employees are more than receptive to working on cross-functional teams. In fact, when different groups are involved in the proposal and bid process, it fires up internal excitement and gives the team something to look forward to – a new project equals a new challenge.  

The level of employee engagement and commitment to collaboration can be measured by two obvious metrics -- job win-rate and employee retention. If the company bids on 10 jobs over the span of four months, how many did it win? What is the average employee tenure at the firm and why do people leave?

Each and every opportunity to compete for new business is a reminder everyone needs one another to do a job well. Don’t forget that companies are always better when individuals function as a team.  

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