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WaterShapes LogotypeBy Eric Herman

Just think about what can happen if a customer seeks compensation for some problem that has arisen in the course of installing a watershape:  Whether the complaint is justified or not, very often the customer finds the only pathway to resolution through suing the builder, who in turn sues subcontractors, who complete the circuit by suing their suppliers – all in search of someone else to take the blame and pay the damages.

Before it’s over, everyone and anyone whose received money for involvement with the project is caught in a litigious loop.  Seems crazy, doesn’t it?

And by the time the cement dust settles, sometimes only after years of conflict, the customer walks away disillusioned, resenting the watershape and poisoning the well of future business or referrals.  Attorneys have profitably plied their trade at the expense of all sides, of course, and the watershapers all leave the table poorer and angrier (but often none the wiser).

Placing this mess in the context of a recent Aqua Culture column by Brian Van Bower, isn’t our job basically one of not spoiling the customer’s good mood?  So often, it’s not the problem itself that leaves a bad impression; rather, it’s the ugly rounds of “It’s not my fault – they did it” that follow.

This sort of in-fighting is all too often the Achilles’ Heel of the watershaping industry, and I suggest it’s time to try something new.

Of course, acknowledging the problem is a good first step – but it’s also the easy part.  What can be done to stave off conflict is another question entirely – one addressed in this issue aquatic consultant and professional mediator Curt Straub.  Here, he offers a practical, sensible program designed to prevent the sorts of blame-fixing lawsuits that come to plague so many projects.  

In describing “The Power in Partnering,” Straub outlines a process that can be used in any project to define conflict-resolution procedures right from the start (click here).  His focus is clearly on the commercial side of the business, where the financial stakes are at their highest, but the principles he offers can be applied anywhere that multiple parties are involved in bringing a customer’s desires to fruition.

Through partnering, he explains, potential combatants join forces upon a foundation of their shared financial and professional interests.  Common or possible problem areas are identified ahead of time, specific needs are discussed and planned for, schedules are coordinated – and many possible problems are eliminated before they have a chance to occur.  That oversimplifies things a bit, but the genius of Straub’s suggestion comes in the fact that it accommodates the fallibility of the construction process and of the people involved.

This is not a fool’s paradise he conjures, but a direct method through which the greatest weakness of the industry can be overcome – if not ultimately turned into its strength.

Certainly, conflicts will continue to arise.  When all is said and done, there may simply be too many steps in the process and too many independent operations involved for everything to flow together seamlessly.  Straub isn’t suggesting that we must all be perfect; instead, what he’s after is a proactive stance that implements a problem-solving process that resolves issues before anyone phones an attorney.

To me, partnering is food for thought – if only because it sure beats paying attorneys’ fees and court costs!

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