A Tale of Two Managers

Jan 09, 1995

Let me tell you a little story about two managers. Both head divisions for the same large, international engineering and environmental company. By most any standard, one of the two, who we’ll call “Jed,” is clearly more successful than the other, who we’ll call “Ted.” Jed’s group is growing. New clients, and good ones, are coming in every week. The group is generating a 20%-plus profit, consistently. It has a low staff turnover rate. It has no pending professional liability claims. Morale is high. Ted’s group, on the other hand, is in decline. It has been for several years. Old clients are not doing as much with the firm as they used to, and new clients aren’t making up for the difference. It is not profitable, even before the corporate overhead allocation. It has a high staff turnover rate (25%-plus). It has a number of pending lawsuits. Morale is low. So why is Jed so successful and Ted not? Jed’s and Ted’s situation illustrates that there is a fine line between success and failure in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business. Certainly one necessary ingredient for success is a manager’s ability to get other people to do more. It’s this extra effort, extra care, and extra conscientiousness on the part of the workers that get you over the “success” line. And in our view, that’s the sole difference between Jed and Ted. Because they are both selling exactly the same thing. They have the same pricing structure, overhead rate, corporate support, company history, and so forth. It comes down to some basic differences in managerial style between the two. Let’s take a look at Jed and Ted, and I think you’ll clearly see why Jed is getting the results he is and Ted isn’t: Their offices. Jed sits in a 10-foot by 10-foot office with a wood-grain laminate desk and credenza, and two guest chairs— the same as everyone in his group from project manager on-up. Ted has a 600-square-foot power office, complete with antique Persian rugs and $20,000 worth of furniture. It is three times the size of his second-in-command’s office. Their cars. Jed drives a three-year-old, mid-priced European sedan. Ted drives a brand new, ultra-high-priced European luxury sedan. The way they dress. Jed wears button-down shirts, sport coats, expensive casual shoes, and good-looking, but conservative ties. His appearance isn’t threatening to his employees. Ted wears double-breasted European suits, french-cuffed shirts, Italian loafers, and $90 neck ties. His appearance is intimidating. Their secretaries/administrative assistants. Jed uses the pooled support service group for all of his administrative assistance, relying primarily on the manager of the group for his stuff. Ted has his own private secretary who is stationed right outside his door to ward off all unplanned visitors. The way they handle the telephone. Jed’s calls are put right through. He is accessible to clients and employees alike. Ted not only has all his calls pre-screened, he uses his assistant to place his outgoing calls. He is impossible to get a hold of. The way they review projects. Jed gets involved from the beginning to offer input to the project. Employees can learn from him. Ted likes to come in at the last minute and order wholesale changes that should have been made much earlier. Employees resent his critiques. Their interpersonal communication styles. Jed treats other folks the way he likes to be treated. He knows the names of all his employees. He gets out and walks around the office. Ted talks down to everyone. He doesn’t know anyone below the manager level by name. He stays in the “executive wing.” Their degree of self-centeredness. When times were tough a few years back, Jed signed himself up for a $10,000 pay cut so he’d have a few dollars to give to his star performers. Ted, on the other hand, always takes care of himself first at the expense of his staff. He lobbied his boss (the CEO) for a $20,000 raise on the basis that he had two kids in college, then froze salaries for the rest of his staff. Like most managers, I like to have a nice office, a nice car, and to dress well. I’ve even had my phone calls pre-screened before. But these things can be taken too far. Take a look at yourself. Are you more like Jed or Ted? Which of the two would you rather work for? Who would you be willing to go the extra yard for? Who would you want to spend your career with? Think about it. Originally published 1/09/1995

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