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  • Glenn Cottrell

Is Anyone Watching? Does it Matter?

Updated: May 8

It has been said by many who knew him that Coach John Wooden was not only a great coach; he was an amazing person of true character. One of many of Wooden’s many notable quotes is the following:

“The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.”

In support of Coach Wooden’s belief, studies have shown that people behave differently when they know that they are being watched. This is known as the Hawthorne effect. Whether studying the impact of keeping a food journal on weight gain or monitoring medical staff compliance with hand-washing requirements, study after study shows that behavior is influenced when participants are aware that they are being observed.

So how might this apply to homebuilding? Specifically, how might it apply to the role of third-party inspections throughout the construction process? If nurses know that the hospital is counting how often they wash their hands and the rate of hand washing goes up, then shouldn’t we expect the number of construction quality issues identified by third-party inspectors to go down over time? After all, field managers know when the inspector is on their jobsite. Plus, they should believe that the quality of the homes under construction is, at least in part, a reflection of themselves – their own capabilities and commitment.

So why are homebuilding results mixed?

·       Is it because field managers don’t see third-party inspectors as having authority ‘over’ them and their performance?

·       Might it be that third-party inspectors don’t carry the same sense of ownership for the finished product?

·       Or is it because field managers are busy, and they see the inspector as taking work off their plate? In other words, ‘why should I look at that home tonight when I know my third-party inspector will be checking it tomorrow morning?’

In some cases, third-party inspectors are hired to simply “check the box” and meet some externally-imposed requirement for third-party oversight. Often, they are hired to provide an added layer of oversight but (unintentionally) get used to replace a job that the site supervisor should ultimately be responsible for… and be passionate about. In these instances, third-party inspections can do more harm than good, as their involvement should never relinquish responsibilities shared by both the installer and the builder. Simply put, it’s dangerous and irresponsible… and unfortunately, we see evidence of this a lot.


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