Another Great Year

Dec 20, 1999

Although most of our readers are unaware, 65% of our revenues here at Zweig White & Associates come from providing consulting services. We’re much more like our readers (and clients) than many folks think. That’s why we have always used our own company as a test bed for new ideas. If they work here, there’s a good chance we will roll them out to selected A/E/P and environmental consulting firm clients. We are just wrapping up another record year here. Our revenues grew more than 30% over last year— the 11th year in a row for 30% (or better) growth. We made a record profit. Our average collection period is below 30 days. And our client satisfaction ratings continue to improve. As consultants to this industry, we didn’t get to the number-one spot just by being here. There were others here before us and there have been new firms started since. It came deliberately, as the result of a plan. That’s why I wanted to share some of our own philosophies and practices with readers of The Zweig Letter. Here are some of them, in no order of importance: A culture of brutal honesty and immediate feedback. We don’t sugar-coat feedback to employees. If you are good, you know it quickly. If you screw up, we let you know that quickly too. We don’t rely on a bureaucratic performance appraisal system. We do look at salaries for all employees four times a year. We don’t promote people through some sort of meaningless hierarchy. The result is a group of people who are quick to judge but also quick to support. They all know what’s expected here— there’s no mystery! Everyone participates in the business planning process. We have a two-day management retreat that includes every single employee (there are 55 currently). We go to a hotel, have group sessions, breakout sessions, presentations from outside speakers, and plenty of theatre and comedy (all produced by our people) to keep everyone interested. Each manager presents his or her plan for the new year, one that includes revenue goals and a list of actions to get us into something new. It also includes a list of hiring needs so we can get started early. We want people to have fun. If work is fun, people will want to stay. That theory has proved itself here. Our people are friends. If someone doesn’t fit in, you’ll know early. It’s a tightly knit group. They like to work hard but also have a good time. We have parties, social events, and off-site get-togethers of one sort or another, regularly. When people are having fun, they go out of their way to please a client or customer. They also get along well and try to help one another when there is a problem. We have a widespread group of owners (23 out of 55 employees). Our smallest shareholder owns about .4% of the stock. But every single shareholder gets a check every month if the company makes a profit. Each employee pays for his or her stock, but we’ll finance 100% of the price for those who need help. We take the money right out of their paycheck. We don’t believe in non-competes, but we will penalize shareholders that leave to join or start a competitor by giving them less than full current value for their stock. All employees feel like owners here. The reason is that everyone in the firm gets access to our financial statements monthly. And we share 25% of the cash-basis profits monthly through a separate employee bonus program. Losses roll forward into the next month. It’s rare that we don’t have a bonus! Peer pressure is used to push for ever higher levels of performance. Each new project sale is announced to all employees via e-mail. Utilization data showing individual employees and their utilization rates are shared with everyone. Collection efforts are all recorded in a shared e-mail directory. It’s not hard to see how someone is doing, but it is hard to hide out and be a parasite! There’s more, but I’m out of time. Think about how you could apply these principles in your firm. The payback is fantastic! Originally published 12/20/1999

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.