Sep 18, 1995

Every week, I have to come up with something relevant to say to architects, engineers, and environmental consultants who own or manage A/E/P and environmental consulting firms. That’s my job. I like it— and because of that, it’s not hard to stay motivated and do it, without fail, even though there are many demands on my time on the business and home fronts. But there’s another little secret I have called self-discipline. You see, anyone who knows me knows that I always do certain things— without fail. That way, I don’t fall behind, I stay in practice, and things tend to work out. Anyone who is really going to be successful as a principal or manager in an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm uses self-discipline, too. Over time, this self-discipline is contagious. Self-disciplined people tend to congregate, and the firm that has self-disciplined leaders tends to attract self-disciplined employees. Other folks in the company start to see that it works and they, too, often begin to practice it. And before you know it, you end up with a firm that can absorb average talent and get extraordinary results from it. What are some ways that we, as firm leaders, can evidence more self-discipline? Here are 10 things that, if every principal or manager in your firm will do, will make your firm more successful: Do employee performance reviews on time. I have been critical of the type of performance appraisals and reviews we tend to use in this industry. The systems tend to be too impersonal, too rigid, and have too many forms to fill out. But in spite of the inherent weaknesses in whatever form or process your firm might use, it is unacceptable to have a policy that you don’t follow. Employees who expect a review should not have to ask for it. You should stick to the schedule. Turn around draft invoices within 24 hours. Principals and managers of A/E/P and environmental consulting firms argue with me about whether or not this is possible all the time. But most of their arguments are pretty weak. You just have to do it. Even if you are out of town, have your draft bills faxed or Fed-Ex’d to you. It’s critical to get the bills out on time. Think about it. If your firm is doing $12 million a year in gross revenue, each day’s cash flow is worth $32,876.71 to you. Let your bills sit around three days, and you may need to borrow $100,000 on your credit line that you wouldn’t have had to borrow otherwise. A little self-discipline goes a long way here. Make the collection calls on over-90-day accounts receivable at 90 days. Ninety days is not the same as 104 days, or 113 days, or 119 days. Once again, any unnecessary delay here by you or your managers just slows down cash flow. Get on the phone. Make it a priority to collect the money. Even if you have no debt whatsoever, collect your money sooner and invest it somewhere where it can create some sort of return. Give it out to your most deserving employees. Or take it out for yourself and other owners. Why be someone’s interest-free banker because you don’t have the self-discipline to pick up the phone when you need to? Confront out-of-scope requests from clients immediately. This takes self-discipline, but it avoids so many problems down the road— problems such as busted budgets, huge unbilled work-in-process amounts, and so forth. It is essential that you set a good example for everyone else by having the discipline to take care of business by appropriately confronting these situations immediately when they come up. Get to work on time every day. This may seem obvious, but as a principal or manager, if you don’t get to work on time, how can you expect your employees to think it’s important to do so themselves? Have the self-discipline to get out of bed on time so you can be there every day. If getting to work on time is a problem, don’t make excuses for why you are always late. No one cares. Everybody has their story to tell and could make excuses if they wanted to. Get meeting minutes out the same day of the meeting. Huge delays in writing up and distributing meeting minutes is a widespread practice in our business, and it wastes an incredible amount of time. All it takes is a little discipline to detail the notes immediately after the meeting, then see to it that everyone who needs them gets them right away. But you have to do it. Do your time sheet on time. Principals are the worst offenders here, no doubt. Once again, the self-discipline it takes to do your time sheets on time is well worth the reward you get. Project reports are more accurate. Bills are not tied up. Financial reports for the firm or individual units can get done sooner. The whole business revolves around time sheets, yet some people can’t (or won’t) get theirs in by the deadline because they can’t muster the self-discipline to do it. Do your expense reports on time. Late expense reports screw up invoices and cash flow forecasts, and create headaches and extra work for your accounting staff. Do yours on time. All it takes is a little self-discipline. It’s not just a function of when you’ll get a $234 check that you may not really need to pay your personal bills. Stop making excuses why you can’t do it and do it! Make your assigned client contact calls. Sure, I’m critical of marketing directors who make these assignments, because I know personally how few principals and managers have the self-discipline to make their required calls. But that shouldn’t make it OK to just blow off your responsibility. Make your calls every day or every week at a certain time— but make them. Not having the self-discipline to do so sends out a terrible message to anyone at a level below you. Return phone messages promptly. Service. Courtesy. Care. Concern. That’s what returning phone calls is all about. Have the self-discipline to return every call every day. Don’t be one of these folks who lets these build up. And if you can’t call, ask someone else in your firm to get back to the person who called. You know, it’s really not that hard to be successful in this business, if you have a little self-discipline. But no one can make you do it. You have to like the way it makes you feel to do what you are supposed to and to get things done. Originally published 9/18/ 1995.

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