As I mentioned in a previous column, I’m in the middle of overseeing the construction of a new office/warehouse that will triple the size of our operation.

I’ve never overseen the construction of a building larger than a house and building a house can be painful enough. Putting up a large commercial structure can be 10 times the challenge — there’s a lot more restrictions as far as dealing with municipal agencies goes.

There are some key differences when it comes to how a private business like ours functions compared to the public bureaucracy. As this whole process plays out, I’m learning some important lessons to ensure our company avoids many of the pitfalls I see play out as I continue to deal with municipal agencies responsible for enforcing bylaws related to commercial development construction.

  • Limit the number of cooks in the kitchen. If you’ve ever dealt with a city or municipality, you know how approvals for various parts of a project have to go through so many different departments, and those departments often don’t talk to one another, or they don’t do so enough. The result is confusion, miscommunication or no communication at all. As a rule, I ensure every department of my company keeps in touch. The left hand should always know what the right hand is up to and vice-versa.
  • Ensure your policies make sense. In another previous column I mentioned the importance of having good company policies that make sense. Dealing with municipal agencies has reminded me that talking out of both sides of your mouth is never a good thing, unless both sides of your mouth are saying the same thing. Case in point: the site we’re developing on is prime commercial property next to a busy freeway, which is great for promoting one’s business. Visibility is key! However, certain municipal departments require fencing, landscaping and other things that limit the visibility of day-to-day operations of a business. It’s a classic catch-22. What good is prime property along a busy highway if you can’t be visible to people passing by? Why hide yourself in plain sight?
  • Oh, delay! In the private sector, delays are seen as a bad thing, and rightly so. Delay costs time and money. In the public sector, delay is often seen as a good thing — by putting things off, you’re simply doing your due diligence to ensure the processes are carried out. But in the meantime it’s costing other people time and money as things drag on. In the private sector, this is a sure-fire way to go out of business and must be avoided.

The private sector certainly doesn’t know everything, and I’m happy to rely on the wisdom of public agencies to ensure we get reliable services that are important to our business. But private businesses have learned important lessons over the years that I feel a lot of public agencies can learn from.

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