A thought occurred to me last night in relation to yesterday’s post, in which I wrote:
I went to a known supplier and asked them for a quote to conduct a site visit and prepare a full scope of work document. They would be paid for their efforts, and the document would be used for the competitive tender of the job proper.
There’s another good reason for doing this, aside from treating contractors fairly.
Earlier in my career I was involved in some rather specific work for which we needed the input of a specialist contractor. One of the managers above me contacted an American company that fit the bill and we engaged in a series of meetings or, as people in my industry like to call them, workshops (Alexei Sayle got this right).
The American company sent their sales people to the meetings and we sent our engineers. The Americans thought it was a sales pitch and so were working pro-bono. We thought it was a design meeting and believed the Americans were working for free because they wanted to please us. After a few meetings we found the Americans were getting less cooperative. Specifically, they were not producing the abundance of technical deliverables our engineers were asking for, and instead kept giving us generic information and brochures. It was not difficult for me to figure out what was going on here, but I was the only one. When I tried to point out that Americans are generally not people who work for free I was shouted down by engineers with no commercial or business experience whatsoever:
“But they have said they want to work with us!” I was told. “So they need to give us what we are asking for.”
At which point I sat back to enjoy the show. Things came to a head when a load of documents arrived from the American company and they did not meet the expectations of our engineers. We all gathered for a meeting to discuss how we would convey our disappointment, and by now I knew enough to stay silent. Had I thought anyone would listen I’d have said:
“How the fuck are we going to complain about the quality of something we’ve been given for free?”
The reason why I insist on contractors not doing things for free when I’m in charge is because it gives you no opportunity to set expectations and quality standards, and no leverage if what you are given is rubbish (which, being free, it always is). I would much rather pay somebody to do a job and set out exactly what I want than to accept freebies or favours and end up with something I don’t.
Somebody really ought to coin a phrase for this sort of thing, maybe using lunch as an analogy.