Bringing Out the Best From Your Staff

Aug 04, 2003

When you do what I do you see a lot of smart people. Architects, engineers, planners, scientists … who own and run firms. Many of these smart people started their companies; others were strong enough and smart enough to take over from some other smart people. It’s one thing to meet these smart people at a meeting or conference somewhere or have a chat over the phone. It’s another to see them interacting with their own people, in their own offices, on their home turf. The problem that we see too often is these smart people absolutely cannot avoid turning off everyone else in the firm. It’s not that they don’t have the best of intentions … nor is it that whatever they might be saying may not be absolutely correct. But the effect of their statements is that everyone else shuts up and the contributions stop. And you cannot afford to have that happen. Not only do you cut yourself off from all of their observations, contributions, and ideas, you send a terrible signal out to those who work for you that your firm is not the place they will want to work. This is a topic I know something about. I confess— I have done this myself. If you are honest with yourself, the chances are you, too, have been guilty at one time or another from this same disease. So here are my thoughts on how to combat it: Admit you have this problem if you have it. This is really hard to do. Nobody wants to think of themselves as someone who has to always dominate the airwaves and who is a poor listener. So you have to face up to it. On the other hand, don’t discount the fact that there may be some darn good reasons that this problem has developed. Maybe you didn’t pick all the best horses to run with and now need to reconsider changing around some of your key players. Attend meetings and simply refrain from talking. This is hard but worth doing. It will be very uncomfortable for you if you are like me. But try going to a meeting and don’t say anything. See if there’s more interaction as a result. But be sure to give Ô your people enough rope to hang themselves and don’t let yourself get sucked into some sort of a tirade or argument where you have to play your power card. Don’t go to meetings. Allow others to run them. Maybe you don’t need to be at every meeting. Start showing some trust in the people who have particular roles in the company and let them do their jobs. This may mean that you have to tolerate some bad decisions (or should I say different decisions than you would have made on your own) every now and then. If you must talk, ask a question. Instead of saying, “Bob, that electrical engineer you have working for you, Tom, is a real jerk,” try asking, “Bob, have you ever had any thoughts that other people may not react to Tom well?” and then wait to hear what Bob has to say. It’s so much more effective. Bring some others into the inner sanctum. Invite some new people to the meetings of your top people and let them participate. They may learn that there is more unity amongst the top group than they expected and may see that others are treated with respect and everyone’s contribution is heard. Have some one-on-ones to let people know you really do appreciate them and their contributions. Having some personal friendships where you can speak honestly with people who work for you and with you and they can speak honestly to you about what’s on their mind is always a plus. You have to work on these relationships. Find the time to take these people to lunch, or to stop by their office in the morning for coffee or at the end of the day to chat. Relationships take time to flourish and all interpersonal relationships need a little BS to fertilize them. Give assignments and let others deal with problems. Learn to be an effective delegator. That means you clearly explain what is expected and when, and what the budget is, if necessary, and then let the person you delegate the task to do their job. They won’t all do a good job the first time, but hopefully each time they perform a task they will get better at it. This will be motivational for them. Avoid the temptation to get right to the answer or action. Slow down. Listen. Observe. Ask an occasional question and wait for the response. Be quiet. See what other people are thinking and how they are reacting to what is being said. Allow adequate time to build your case for change instead of just announcing it. It may be obvious to you but that doesn’t mean it is obvious to everyone else … people with a different set of life experiences. You will get better results out of your people with less pain. Originally published 08/04/2003

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.