Commissioning AUTHORITY: enforcer or a healer?

You've probably heard the term: the "Commissioning Police" or "Commissioning Cop" - derogatory terms describing an attitude that some commissioning providers convey. AKA, "The Enforcer" is an engineering Storm Trooper, creating an instant shudder in the minds of many contractors and designers. 

From informal surveys that I've been conducting for years, it seems like the Commissioning AUTHORITY is the dominant form. They love the second half of their title. Their flirtation with power manifests in various forms, driven by high ego, passive aggression, bullying and intimidation, or just simple ignorance. And the survey results, confirmed by lots of head nods around the table, indicate that well over 50% of commissioning people are carrying some form of this "charge."

I think everyone has a specific gravity, much like oil seeking its own level in water. So, someone who is infinitely selfish is going to gravitate toward a career that has lots of wiggle room for exploitation, and someone who is altruistic is going to gravitate in the direction of social responsibility, or the healing arts, and so on. Commissioning is a field that offers rigid, intolerant and domineering personalities a great place to flex their intimidation muscles.

But every coin has two sides, and within the commissioning field - like any other field - are people who are kind and considerate, who can be firm but who also find genuine value in consensus and team building.

Causing design and contracting teams to cringe when the CxA shows up does carry an element of power that many people apparently find useful. I just don't happen to think it is all that effective.

One passive aggressive type I knew, would insist on a zone thermostat in a school being calibrated within .1 DegF. She drove the control contractor nuts, a highly qualified and very polite gentleman who was seething inside. Some CxA's adopt the attitude that when they perform a commissioning design review that it is a peer review, and that they are fully entitled to re-design the entire project. Eventually the harried engineer fades completely from site, never responding to commissioning issues. Who can blame him/her? In other cases, CxA's humiliate contractors - in front of everyone - placing them in embarrassing positions. And while the CxA may leave the job with a profit, I sometimes wonder how many designers and contractors have suffered unnecessary financial losses due to the swagger or stubbornness of a big cheese commissioning person.

Now, I am well aware that we can find similar mixes of personalities in any profession. But the thing about commissioning is, it can act like a siphon: it draws certain personalities toward it because a CxA is ranked higher up in the construction "food chain." Consequently, it is like a drug fix: it can be a power trip for an undisciplined mind. 

Contrast that with the consensus builder who endeavors to create a spirit of good will and teamwork, while simultaneously protecting the Owner's interest. Quality control and good will don't have to be enemies. I've seen it work both ways. On the one hand, agitation and aggression create tension and inefficiency, and on the other hand, professionalism and respect can catalyze even the most difficult project into a win.

Success in this particular balancing act lies in the Commissioning Authority's understanding that everyone sitting around the Commissioning Meeting table wants to deliver a good quality product; everyone is concerned about doing the right thing for the owner. You won't stay in business long if you are not subscribing to this fundamental business rule.

It's one thing to be firm, and another thing to be judgmental and antagonistic. I know some Owner's like that their commissioning provider "fights" for them. But why fight when a peaceful approach succeeds just as well, or even better, and without all the cuts and bruises?

Some commissioning agents get so caught up in the minutiae that they can't see the forest of the owner's Greater Needs burning around them. I have been called into quite a few jobs where the owner has discreetly pulled me aside to ask if there wasn't something I could do "to get this project completed. The commissioning agent is... how do I put it... being ridiculous."

There are times when even the owner realizes that fighting for what is "good for the owner" is not always what is "Good for the owner." There are "goods," and than there are higher "Goods," and the commissioning team, along with everyone else, should have the good sense to focus on the higher good.