Tales from the
"The problem is not that
there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that
having problems is a problem."
- Theodore Rubin
More years ago than I care to admit, on my
first paid (and part time) super job, I once made an appointment with a
plumber to do non-emergency work in one of the building’s apartments.
Management had given me a specific contractor
to call. Although I had strong reservations about this particular plumbing
company based as much on the company’s sheer size as on a previous
experience with the firm, I made the appointment. I explained that I had a
full time job elsewhere and other buildings that I was responsible for, and
requested that this work be scheduled so that it could be finished before
2pm, when I would have to leave the building and get on to my other job (the
one that paid the bills).
I was led to believe that my predicament was
understood, and we agreed on a very specific range of time when a crew would
show up the next day, which would, if strictly adhered to, have give me
sufficient time to finish the job and be prepared for my 2nd job.
“Time is the scarcest
resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”
Peter F. Drucker
After the plumber was a full hour and a half
late, I called the office to inquire when I could expect them. Inexperienced
I was aplenty. I should have known, nevertheless, that it was bad form to
tick off the scheduling guy, and I MAY have been a tad frustrated and it MAY
have shown – just a tad little bit.
“Look, dude, I have over a hundred trucks out
there - you’re not the only customer we have – understand?” was his
response. “We’ll get to you when we get to you.”
It was all
deal with it or get someone else, I don’t care.
I realized it was no use to detail (again) my
reasons for having requested a certain slot of time and, silly me, having
actually expected them to keep their appointed time, and for being
somewhat less than nonchalant when they were late. I swallowed hard and
rescheduled the appointment.
One of the regular occurrences that is
continuously frustrating to me as a now long time professional resident
manager is that a contractor will rarely show up when promised.
“Honest criticism is hard
to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance or a
– Franklin P. Jones
“Call me if your crew is
running significantly late, Mack,” I plead. “No problem,” my current
plumber’s scheduler invariably says. Each time it’s no problem, and
every time it’s me who ends up calling him to inquire, only to
be told that the crew can’t possibly arrive at my building today because
they’re taking care of a real emergency, or will be three hours later than
An hour, two hours late, I’m not making an
issue of such tardiness. I have plenty on my plate and don’t have to kill
time thinking of things to do and waiting for a contractor to make himself
I think, however, for even the most
inattentive and careless, there should be a cutoff point after which the
contractor will call if he’s running late, a point at which he will either
reschedule or cancel altogether, putting our heads together on a new
No apology or explanation needed – just call.
I shouldn’t always have to pursue him. It’s just common courtesy, no?
The stickiest problems arise when work is
scheduled to be done in a resident’s apartment, the resident and the super
are both expecting the contractor to show up at the appointed time (again,
give or take an hour or so) and it all turns into a no-show. Complications
crop up when the contractor doesn’t call to make us believe he cares.
“Fix the problem, not the
“I’ll be there at 7am on Monday,” a kitchen
installer told me last week after I promised I would get him into an empty
apartment ahead of the normal building opening time - IF he would promise to
make no noise before 9AM. At 8am he still hadn’t shown. I called him. He
picked up his cell phone on the second ring and instantaneously spilled a
story of co-workers in the hospital and how he couldn’t make it today. Fine.
All I could think of (but didn’t say for the
sake of speed, efficiency and getting on to the next item on my too-long to
do list) was “Why could you pick up the phone immediately when I called, but
could NOT pick up the phone anytime before that to call ME and let me know
you wouldn’t be showing today? What - too complicated for you?”
The fact that I didn’t bother to protest and
was little surprised demonstrates long experience, if not patience or
understanding, with contractors: it just happens, and it happens so much and
in such rapid, almost daily succession that we hardly notice it, and indeed
come to expect it. Even plan for it at times.
“Time is the coin of your
life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will
be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
We shrug our shoulders, work around it and
think little or nothing of it for the most part, except for the most
Truth be told, in the case of the kitchen guy
I was so sure it would happen based on my past experience with contractors
in general and this fellow in particular that I didn’t bother to notify the
residents of the 2nd apartment scheduled to get cabinet work done
on the same day. And, well, I was right.
“No problem, John,” says my current plumber’s
office person each time I remind him yet again to give me a quick jingle if
his plumbing crew is running late by an hour or more. He promises, and each
time I believe this will be the time he keeps his promise. Each time he
fails the simple test.
Today the plumber was 3 hours late when I
finally called to reschedule. We made a new appointment for the next day
between 10 and 11am. But not before I jokingly yanked his chain, chiding him
for forgetting me so easily.
"There ought to be so
many who are excellent, there are so few."
- Janet Erskine Stuart
Am I the only one who finds this to be
tedious, mind-numbing and unacceptable behavior for professionals? Where’s
the professionalism? The common courtesy? The consideration by one
professional for another, for which your company would like to earn further
work in the future?
Perhaps we tend to get so little respect when
we frequently expect so little. Or possibly we come to expect such
disrespect because we are so often treated with such slight care and little
Which came first, the
chicken or the egg?
like that. Sometimes you think you know something, then you don't.
it’s all relative, and occasionally it’s all relatively silly.