A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Games Contractors and Subs Play: Crack the Whip

When I was in grade school, we used to play “Crack the Whip” where one boy would act as an anchor and 5 or 6 other kids would form a chain, hold hands and begin to run usually counterclockwise. As the speed began to pick up the kid at the end of the line would go flying into the air usually taking a nosedive into the turf. I was a skinny kid and usually ended up flying through the air, fun until gravity played its role.

Later, as a teen at the roller rink or on the ice, we played the same game with the person at the end of the whip speeding at an incredible speed, but sometimes ending up being slammed into the boards. You get the idea I’m sure. The person at the end of the chain takes the brunt of the blow. This might be a fun game to play as a kid, but tough on the person at the end of the whip, especially when it is you. Crack! Bam! Boom!

General Contractors play this game with higher division subs when it comes to scheduling. The GC, in order to “get the job” (Phase one), negotiates a construction schedule when they know that the only way for it to be successful depends on few rain or weather days, no conflicts between subs getting on and off the job, no change orders and no accidents. You know how it goes.

Then in the “Doing the job” (Second Phase) after winning the work, delays on the front end cause the schedule to get squeezed or as the saying inspiring John Steinbeck's novel goes, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." The GC who set the schedule suddenly realizes that their scheduled completion date is two or three weeks later than it should be as the result of earlier delays and they begin to play “Crack the Whip” with the subs on the job.

How do you know when you are playing the game? You get a panicked call to start stocking floors a week before the MEP folks are even there. Or you get the call after you have begun your work that in order to meet the schedule, your team will have to work overtime. Or you get the word that you have to work your teams nights and weekends in order to make the schedule. That is known as playing “Crack the Whip.” The GC is the anchor and the subs are all in line running their teams as fast as they can to make the schedule and the subs at the end of the line not only end up in the air, they sometimes get slammed into the scheduling wall.

This adult game of “Crack the whip” is not very much fun for subs at all. How can you avoid playing the game? Sometimes you have little choice. Complex jobs with new techniques, weather days, bad sub upstream of your work can all cause you to end up at the end of the whip for certain. Experience teaches you how to work with the “reputables,” those GCs who will get you involved early and work as a team to overcome correctable delays so that “ Crack the Whip” is not a game played on your job.

I know that you have a story to tell about the games that GCs and subs play. If you want to share them with our readers, let us know.