‘Self-Performing’ Contractors and the Loch Ness Monster
By John Loheit
The bid is complete, the scope refined. The work started yesterday: A lighting conversion rollout months in the making that will impact 300 locations across 12 states is finally underway.
You spent many late nights creating the specification, identifying qualified partners and reviewing quotes. At times it felt like the rubber would never meet the road. But, here you are – Facility No. 1.
As you walk up to the crew lead, you notice that the company logo on his shirt doesn’t match the name of the business that won the bid. The one that claimed to be “self-performing.” The one that hammered the table and claimed ad nauseam that the ticket to success was hiring them, “because ‘self-performing’ companies are the key to success in large-scale rollouts like yours!”
Al, the nice crew lead you just introduced yourself to, isn’t from that company, but he’s been doing work for them for years. As a matter of fact, he’s scheduled to convert 45 of the sites on your project list. But while Al seems like a nice enough guy and appears to have things rolling along, he wasn’t what you were expecting.
The horse is out of the barn on the project. Stopping it on principle would strip you of valuable projected savings. There really is no way to turn back now.
So how will you explain this to the senior staff or anyone else who may ask? After all, you helped sell this idea!
Do “self-performing” contractors really exist? Or are you more likely to stumble across the Loch Ness monster in your search for one? And is it self-performance that really matters?
What’s really in those blurry photographs?
The reality is that most contractors who claim to be self-performing might be that on some level, but not for a project your size. The self-performing model that allows a firm to gear up for 300 locations and then gear down while it waits for another 300-store rollout isn’t practical – unless the rollout you are planning takes place over a period of 18 months or more.
If Al were a part of that company, he and his crew could probably do a lot of those locations, giving you your self-performing model. However, you would have lost thousands of energy dollars waiting for Al and his team to finish the lighting conversions.
To provide a competitive price, it’s important to keep the amount of movement by crews to a minimum. The company that won the bid knows this. While it claimed to be self-performing, the plan all along was to take advantage of the local partners it has worked with in the past to meet your schedule.
The contracting company banked on the fact that you are more interested in speed than the logo on Al’s shirt.
What’s most crucial for you and your business?
Your primary concern is quality. It’s easy to assume a direct relationship exists between quality performance and self-performance. But, just like “Nessie,” that’s fiction. Instead, your focus should be on these key areas of performance that ensure the promise and full potential of your project becoming reality:
Communication – Some say it’s an art form to communicate effectively, but the basics are still the basics. Expect timely and complete communication and a willingness to be the first to communicate bad news if it should occur from the company you hire. You and your team should feel fully informed through all phases of your project.
Ownership – You need to know that there are people who are taking charge and driving results. The contractor you hire should ensure a single point of contact for projects and on-site installation activities. This individual takes care of the aforementioned communications responsibilities and drives projects to successful completion.
Should an issue arise with a crew or crew lead, the organization you hire needs to be able to act quickly to ensure that next-day results are better than today’s. If a company is self-performing, this can be complex and time-consuming, and ultimately sidetracks your project.
Measurement and improvement – No project is ever perfect. There is always a need to improve on actions taken, timings, pre-installation activities and more. The minute your contractor thinks they are “done” improving on the job they are doing for you, is the day you should start looking for another contractor. Someone else will do a better job.
Seamless hand-offs and site coordination –
Your business is your business, and the only evidence of a lighting conversion should be the positive results. Product movement on-site, trash, recycling and adjustments to accommodate facility activities should all be seamless and effortless to ensure that the business you are in remains priority one for your facility.
Keeping in mind these key areas, you will notice that the above list doesn’t mention a need to be “self-performing.” The skills required to successfully implement a lighting conversion are not tied to a business reporting structure. Instead, you need a team of people who are committed to understanding your business requirements. And who are capable of delivering a full turnkey solution on aggressive schedules to maximize the return on your investment.
So, like Nessie, self-performing contractors on any meaningful scale don’t really exist. Sure, there are lots of rumored sightings, but in the end, the evidence is limited, and more important, there is a lack of any real incremental value that can be tied directly to the label.
And, at the end of your project, you will have been better served if you worried less about whether your partner “self-performed” the work, and more about the quality and results that your partner can provide.
John Loheit is Director of Marketing and Customer Incentives at Energy Management Collaborative. He can be reached at
Article Abstract from August, 2014