Proper Prior Preparation, Communication, and Expectations Versus Reality

Mediocrity is easy. You don’t have to plan for it. Everyone is doing it. You don’t need luck, good intentions, or talent to achieve it. It’s something you want to avoid, but even that isn’t our greatest evil. According to Seth Godin, “To raise someone’s expectations then not fulfill them is worse than mediocrity.” Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more.

I learned this lesson over a simple meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup. When you’re a college student who measures the complexities of cooking according to minutes in a microwave, a two-course meal of soup and sandwiches is bordering on extravagant. But that depends on your expectations…

I was dating my husband, Nick, at the time. He’s always been pretty comfortable in the kitchen and did most of the cooking and baking for both of us. So when I called and offered to have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup ready when he got home, he gladly took me up on it and seemed pretty impressed with my ambition.

Nick came home to a warm meal on the table and politely thanked me before taking his first few spoonfuls of watery tomato soup. I’d been too impatient to give it extra time in the microwave, so even I knew it was mediocre at best. He took his first few bites of sandwich before I noticed him scanning the kitchen for clues. After a quick visual assessment of the empty counter and stove tops, he asked, “Where is the skillet? How did you make these?”

Two pieces of dry, crumbly bread barely held together by thinly-sliced, half-melted of cheese wasn’t exactly the sandwich he had in mind. After finding out that I’d browned bread in the toaster before microwaving cheese in between, he exclaimed, “This is NOT grilled cheese! It’s so dry. There’s no butter. This is toaster cheese!”

Even though Nick had provided a beautifully stocked kitchen, the meal was a failure as a result of omitted cookware, ingredients, and things left unsaid. Because our assumptions were never communicated, we had completely different standards.

If unfulfilled expectations are worse than mediocrity, and it can happen with something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich; you can only imagine the types of miscommunications occurring on job sites – with much bigger consequences. That’s where the experience and expertise of Buechel Stone becomes invaluable. We know that setting expectations is more than just spec sheets, samples, and mock-ups. But when it comes to masonry, Mike Buechel says it better than I can. So these next few paragraphs are straight from him.

Setting Expectations

Being a really good natural stone mason can result in a bit of an anomaly. It forms a marriage of two opposing views – time is money, and you can’t rush art. There are true stone masons able to work both sides of this marriage, and when you watch them work it truly is awe inspiring. It’s almost like they can “feel” where the stone fits, and can trim the stones with an accuracy and consistency that just can’t be taught.

This is where setting expectations at the very beginning of a project is critical. Not every mason will be the right fit for the job. It’s amazing how many projects I’ve stopped by where there isn’t even a chisel on the project. You know those are the ones where speed of installation is the most important factor.

Direct Communication

That’s okay though. That’s the point of setting expectations, and expectations come from direct communication not just something put into a spec. All too often communication seems to be an afterthought or things are assumed to be covered. I find it interesting that the masonry contract typically is awarded based on price, whether it’s the mason or the supplier. There might be something in the spec like “must have five years similar experience,” or something along those lines. How often are these types of requirements truly followed or considered? That’s not really my point…

Once the mason is selected, they often have to do a mock-up for the project. This is an area where expectations often are not communicated well. First, who is to say the mock-up done by the selected mason is the best for the project? All too often suppliers are expected to submit materials for approval and can be competing against several different companies to get the right “look.” Even the best, most pristine stone supplied can look like complete rubbish if the mason is not familiar with the final install looks and requirements.

Important Omissions: Things Said and Unsaid

Besides the right look, what pieces of stone are used, or more importantly not being used. Here again, there have been instances where pieces are omitted from a blend. The architect or final decision maker comes by and gives the panel a yay or nay. The project can be won or lost based on that panel.

Now the project is awarded, stone is sent to the project, the mason starts laying up the stone, and all of the sudden people start wondering why the project doesn’t look right. Yet the supplier was just told his or her stone was approved without anyone pointing out the layup isn’t really the correct blend of the material shipped. In the meantime, the general contractor took the mockup down and no one took any pictures…again, communication to set expectations. A few pre-project meetings and photos can save a lot of headaches and problems before the first stone is installed.

Managing Reputations

The mason is such a key factor in a project. So many reputations rest on his or her shoulders. These professionals obviously have their own reputations, but they also carry the burden for the reputation of the stone supplier, the general contractor, the architect, and the project owner. This could be said for many of the tradespeople associated with the project, but there are few areas of the project as obviously visual to the rest of the world as masonry.

Just the Beginning

We just talked about the importance of direct communication and setting expectations with more than just samples, mock-ups, and assumptions. Because we understand that best products are just the beginning. That’s also why we share the inspirational True Stories of those who make it all possible. We’ve had the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing people, so we share stories from all around the industry. If you haven’t had a chance, check out the True Stories section of our website.

Think of it like the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever had. At first glance, everything appears ordinary. But then you get a sense of the details of the process and importance of the ingredients that contribute to the resulting success. And when all of the pieces are put together, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Before you know it, you’re telling everyone about what a great experience you had. That’s what Buechel Stone is all about.

Tracy Lisowe | Marketing Director
Mike Buechel | COO, Owner
Buechel Stone Corp.