Clean Up Your Act

Aug 15, 1992

When Sharon T., a successful entrepreneur and owner of three European auto dealerships finally found the location of Land Design Associates Three’s (LDA3) office building one sweltering Tuesday afternoon and pulled her Volvo into the parking lot, she was surprised by what she saw. Her first impression of the firm— based on the brochure she had seen and her meeting with Ralph Rogers (an LDA3 principal)— was of a sharp, professional firm. That’s why the dirty, dented survey van blocking the building’s front entrance seemed incongruous to her. Once Sharon and parked and worked her way past the rather hot and sweaty field crew members (who were unloading their truck after a long day), she found herself in a corridor plastered with crude, homemade signs pointing out the direction of the reception desk. After several wrong turns, she reached the desk, where she was greeted by a receptionist with yellowed teeth and a polyester blouse that showed more than any right-minded person would care to see. As Sharon followed Rogers back to his office in a far corner of the building, she couldn’t help but notice that the whole place looked awful. There were big scuff marks on the walls. Boxes upon boxes of old files littered the corridor. She was led through a drafting area that looked like a pig pen, where the chief drafter was sitting cross-legged on the floor with drawings spread all around him. Parson’s office was more of the same— a little nicer furniture, but computer network cable was hanging out of a broken suspended ceiling panel above his desk, the mini-blinds were all bent, and Parson’s trash can looked like it hadn’t been emptied in weeks. The final straw came when Parson’s offered her some coffee, served in a greasy, black LDA3 corporate coffee cup, still marred from the lipstick of the last person who used it! After settling into his worn-out vinyl executive chair, Rogers was ready to talk business. “Okay, Sharon,” he said, “let’s talk about that new BMW dealership you want done by next Fall.” But Sharon wasn’t listening. She was thinking to herself, “If these guys are this sloppy where they live, I’ll bet their work is sloppy, too. On the way back to office, I’ll call Keith Smithers over at Pond, Cameron, and Smithers to see if he can’t get together with me this week.” LDA3 has an image problem, and they probably don’t even know it. Most firms like LDA3 think they’re just being business-like. “Engineers and surveyors don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy offices like architects do, anyway,” they say. However, the above story obviously isn’t about being “fancy.” Sloppiness in the office atmosphere is bound to carry over into the technical work itself at some point. And even if it doesn’t, clients will sooner or later begin to make that connection. The bottom line is that LDA3’s sloppiness has now gotten so bad it’s costing them business. Unfortunately, there are lots of firms like LDA3. These firms need to clean up their act and show some pride in their facility and themselves. Specific steps to be taken by LDA3 include: Install better signage outside the building identifying it as the location of Land Design Associates Three (within the confines of any municipal, state or developer-imposed signage restrictions, of course). Create a new entrance for the surveyors, if the existing entrance at the rear of the building can’t be used for that purpose. An alternative is to get an entirely different location for the field crew members to work from. Change the facility layout so that the first person someone entering the building (or suite) sees is the receptionist. Then, without overtly discriminating, see to it that the next receptionist hired (this job has a fairly steady turnover rate) has good personal hygiene habits and knows how to dress appropriately for a professional office. Have an office clean-up day when everyone pitches in to get their work areas cleaned up and organized. Repaint everything as necessary (paint is cheap). Route computer cables inconspicuously. Set up a new set of rules on what people can and can’t do in their work spaces. Install new signage throughout the building interior. If cost is a big factor, desktop publish your signs and put them in clear plastic picture frames. Buy throw-away coffee cups. Hold a free lunch-time seminar on “dressing for success,” and allow any employee to attend. Make it a requirement that each survey vehicle is cleaned thoroughly once per week. They are literally rolling advertisements for the firm. Taking steps like these above can’t help but improve the image of LDA3 in the eyes of clients—not to mention their self-image. Originally published 8/15/1992.

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