Brand Building: Who’s minding the ship?

Feb 20, 2015

January 2015 [ocs 129The manager-producer dilemma and how it can affect your course.

I am reflecting on the month of January as I write this. I was in the office for one business day and on the road for the rest of the month. A conversation about my hectic month with a friend led to a debate about the manager-producer dilemma; that struggle for senior leaders who vacillate between producing revenue and managing people and the organization. The manager-producer dilemma is common in service-related roles but tends to be enhanced in professional service firms. The manager-producer dilemma neatly illustrates a bigger problem for professional service firms: balancing short- and long-term focus. Depending on the size and make-up of your organization, it may be necessary for senior leaders to have to play both roles. Then the question of what the right balance is comes to the surface. That’s tough to answer but for most firms, having adequate resources focused on the organization is critical regardless of other factors. One of the biggest problems we observe in firms is inadequate focus on the organization and the long-term objectives. Playing the producer role has many benefits; most short term, nevertheless. The immediate gratification of money earned for effort expended is addicting. Furthermore, leaders spent most of their careers being judged on how billable they were, so it’s a hard habit to break for many. The manager-producer dilemma can be a big problem because the tradeoffs are bigger as you climb the organizational chart. Not focusing properly on the company and your managerial responsibilities allows all kinds of organizational liabilities to pile up. When you are not minding the ship, it can easily start going off course. Your people get frustrated when leadership is absent and they are not getting adequate direction or feedback. There may be market conditions coming that you are not properly preparing the organization for. You are not focused on the resources the company needs to grow and thrive. The list goes on and on. If you find yourself battling the manager producer dilemma, consider these important points:
  • The producer role is not a scalable activity. There is only so much time in the day so you can only bill so much in a month. As I hit my limit in January I realized all of the important marketing items I had not accomplished back home. Business development and billable work is important, but marketing is critical if you are in a top leadership role. Building a brand and focusing the company on profitable markets allows you to scale up your company and make more money than spending all of your time as a producer.
  • Clients are important, so is everybody else. This dilemma represents a struggle between clients and your own people. Both need attention. Spending too much time in the producer role means you may not be available to address those critical needs internally. This can really cause big problems, such as demotivation and retention issues. Being at the top of the org chart is a huge responsibility and requires your attention on everyone who depends on you. That includes your staff, your family, and yes, definitely your clients.
  • Strategic plans require execution and that is your job. Actually it is everybody’s job, but it starts with you. Assuming you have a plan, delegation and intense focus on accomplishing the plan is required. When you are in the producer role, these longer-term and seemingly non-urgent initiatives go to the bottom of the stack of to-do items. It’s a big problem in this industry. There are too many firms that call us asking for assistance with a plan that is sometimes five or 10 years old. A firm without a yearly business plan being executed daily is a rudderless ship. The producer role is demanding and creates a short-term focus, which is the enemy of the strategic plan.
Whether you are the directional leader of your company, the leader of a business unit or an up-and-coming future leader, the manager producer dilemma likely to is or will affect you. Proper attention toward the higher order long-term needs of your team and company is essential for long-term success. You must also, however, have happy clients to stay in business. It’s all about striking the right balance. I may have spent the entire month out of the office but I have been working on some really exciting projects with some great clients. I have enjoyed it! And the rewards my clients will reap from our work together will also surely pay off in the future for our business and brand. Being a producer is rewarding and provides our company with much needed revenue. But again, one must always recognize the importance of the manager role and minding the ship back home. For those of you that have stints of intense client work, make sure you have good people back home with clear accountability for steering the company. Both the manager and producer roles are critical for a healthy company. You need people rowing and steering. Consider where you spend you time today. Do you need to be spending more time in the captain’s quarters looking ahead and steering your ship? Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1092, originally published 2/23/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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.