Once upon a time, we were ready to execute a project in April. Then, the winds changed and a curse fell upon our property – causing us to wade through a bureaucracy of hell (and that’s the nice way of putting it). Weeks turned into months as we continued to ask specific questions that were answered with other questions (if we were answered at all). 5 submittals later and 2 months delayed, we were told that the Village “…thinks [they] have most of what [they] need.”
All of this so that we could landscape our yard…
Okay people, I typically try to be as professional as possible despite the realities of construction. In this case, there is no other term that is a more accurate response to this mess: WTF.
There, I said it. I have communicated effectively.
So, what else can a girl do? Well, let me tell you what she can do. She can call every ********* person in the Village to find out what the **** is going on until she gets an answer that 1) makes sense; AND/OR, 2) is productive.
Chicago has 2.7 million people and can get us a permit through their standard review process for an entire gut rehab within 6-8 weeks. Oak Brook has 8,000 people and we were heading into week 9 – forcing us to face the reality that our foliage worth tens of thousands of dollars is now going to be planted in the extreme heat of summer instead of the cool springtime.
Here’s my philosophy on navigating bureaucratic nightmares:
- Class gets you nowhere. Be obnoxious – not rude, obnoxious. I don’t even pretend to care about anyone else’s time. They don’t seem to care about mine, right? Call, call, call. Walk-in. Demand immediate meetings. Does the person at the front desk tell you “so and so” handles that? Right, where is his/her office? I’ve been known to walk building department offices looking for the person who can help. You don’t have to be rude – you just have to be insistent. Will you get what you want that same day? Maybe, probably not. They will remember you though – and they will want you out of their hair. That’s an ideal situation.
- Communicate effectively. This is a sales pitch, have your elevator speech ready. Be able say what you want in one sentence. ONE SENTENCE. Perhaps something like:
“I’ve been waiting 9 weeks for a landscaping permit and I need someone to give it to me so we can get started.”
Don’t say something like: “…I’m hoping someone can give me an update.”
Uh, uh. No. Bad! That gives whoever you’re talking to a way out of actually answering you. Do you know what an update is? It’s this: “It’s in review”. Boom. They’ve appeased your request.
Be specific, aim specifically for what you want. You want a permit? Ask for your permit.
- Be factual. If you’re going to be obnoxious, you had better make 150% sure that you are 100% correct about your arguments. Do not push your way around their offices and then be wrong at the end of the day. You will never get their respect. Check, re-check, have your timeline of events ready, keep it simple, and BE FACTUAL. Facts. Not emotions – NO EMBELLISHING. Facts are extremely difficult to deny.
- Don’t be afraid of power. One time, I was in the Chicago Department of Buildings dealing with an acutely painful dilemma. Within an hour, I was sitting with an inspector, his supervisor, and his supervisor’s supervisor at a table in their cafeteria. Action Item 1: completed. I asked them to clear my permit. Action Item 2: completed. Their response? “Well, that’s a common sense argument, but that would have to be cleared by like…the Deputy Commissioner. *dramatic pause and doubting tone*”. Action Item 3: Completed.
POP QUIZ! What was my response?
“Okay, where is his office?”
“Wait, wait – you’re telling me that the Deputy Commissioner of construction in Chicago is a WOMAN?!”
“Okay, here’s her email. Copy us on your email to her and we’ll update her on our meeting.”
July 3rd, the Deputy Commissioner dropped everything she was doing the day before a holiday to meet with these inspectors for over an hour, review my drawings, and resolve my issue. 4 HOURS LATER. She called me with a go ahead while I was waiting at the Alderman’s office to plead my case there.
- Remember your constituents. If you’re the homeowner of the building, bring it up! Your taxes pay the salary of everyone that you are talking to – they owe you respect. If you’re a professional, bring up your clients! They’re the ones the government is accountable to, not you. Keep your ego in check. This isn’t about you, it’s about your clients. Your clients are the ones who are suffering.
- Be thankful. If someone gets something done for you, give credit where credit is due. If you’re moving your issue forward, you had people who helped you do that – and let’s face it, those people didn’t particularly want to help you and they did anyway, on your agenda. Thank them, and be genuine about it. No one wants to help a jerk.
- Get over it. The government is an incremental part of any construction process. No matter how ridiculous, resolve the issue and move on. Don’t hold a grudge, get over it. De-escalate the issue so you can have a working relationship with your inspectors.
Another thing to get over? These people may not like you after you get what you want. You’ve stepped on toes, you’ve been annoying, you’re obnoxious. It doesn’t matter that they caused their own problem, perception is reality. You were the problem. Get over it.
So, we met with the Village Manager at Oak Brook. He was considerate, professional, and lended us an earnest ear. Two days later: permit in hand.
Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!