Editorial: Build a high performance team

Sep 12, 2014

Mark Zweig lays out the steps you must take to create a successful organization. Also, be a real leader.

One of the most important jobs any leader has is that of building their team. Yet too often, in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm, the team is largely viewed as static. “It is what it is,” as some people like to say (too often). Our industry has a culture made up of firms that operate as if “full employment for all” – no matter how bad you are – is the norm. It’s almost akin to a university environment where professors are granted tenure. We seem to aspire to the lowest staff turnover rate possible. We just don’t move out the people who aren’t cutting it. While A/E firms may be nice places to work and bastions of civility in a hostile world, I don’t think this type of culture breeds business success. We need much more emphasis on performance and a greater willingness to change our team members to attain it. Here are some thoughts for you on building a higher performing team:
  1. Define the goals. Everyone needs to know what they are aiming for. No matter how obvious this may seem to you, odds are it isn’t to everyone who works for you.
  2. Measure results against goals. Share this information with the entire company. It reinforces those who are doing well and it puts the spotlight on everyone who isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with a little peer pressure to succeed.
  3. Confront the non-performers. Do it in a nice way and with a spirit of helpfulness. But by all means, do it.
  4. Lay out a timeline and clear expectations for what the non-performers must do to turn it around. Again, helpfulness and a spirit of optimism about their ability to turn things around are essential.
  5. Reassign or replace the non-performers as needed. Stop rationalizing as to why you cannot do it. Explain to your staff and clients how you are making a change and who will be taking this person’s place – either temporarily or for the long-haul.
Dead weight, non-performers not only drag you down and keep you from achieving your goals but they also drag down everyone else in your organization. There just isn’t any room for them because the lowest performer sets the de-facto standard for performance. You want a high performance team – then raise the standards. One more thing. Look in the mirror. Are you doing your job to the best of your ability and to an acceptable standard? If not, ignore steps 1 through 5 above and start working on yourself – FAST. You set the example. Leadership is never a game of “do what I say.” It is rather one of “do as I do.” Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1071, originally published 8/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. 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.