Editorial: Entrepreneurship and reaction time

Feb 20, 2015

JellyfishFive things that differentiate entrepreneurs from the rest of the people in the world.

I was watching a show on Netflix the other night with my eight-year-old daughter. It was all about humans with superhuman powers or capabilities. One old fellow they featured on that particular episode was the “fastest gun alive.” He could draw his gun, cock it, aim it and fire so fast that he could actually shoot twice at two completely different targets – and to the human ear, it sounded like one shot. It truly was amazing how fast he could react. With the speed of business today, your ability to react to things quickly is going to be critical to your success. But this is not something engineers and many architects are wired to do. They tend to be more deliberate and studied in their responses to things. When I see those leaders who can react (and act quickly), they tend to do really well. Reaction time is especially critical when it comes to principals who aspire to be entrepreneurs (not everyone who is in business is an entrepreneur). Here are some places where speed can really make a difference:
  1. Acquiring other firms. I always like to tell the story of what it was like to work with Jerry Allen back when he was alive and growing Carter & Burgess, and buying lots of companies. I could call him with a firm I thought he’d be interested in on Tuesday. He would call the sellers the same day, get on a plane to go see them the next day, and have a deal struck a day or two after that – calling to tell me all about it during his trip home. He didn’t fool around with endless board meetings and due diligence. He was all about his gut feeling, the financial risk he perceived was part of the deal versus potential return, and the agreements themselves that would protect him. His ability to act quickly allowed him to grow the firm by about 1,400 percent in 10 years and make the C&B stockholders lots of money, all while most of C&B’s competitors were asleep.
  2. Hiring. This is another area where you can either fool around endlessly, procrastinate and not get positions filled, or act quickly and get someone working on the particular problem or opportunity you need them working on quickly. Our executive search group has had annual recruiting engagements with several firms in this business. The differences in how these individual firms can react to and make a decision on job candidates is really interesting. Firm “A” may be able to respond quickly to any candidate presented – either saying “yay” or “nay” – and then call them the same day, quickly getting them in to see them, and making offers that get accepted, all within a week or two. Firm “B” takes days or even weeks to respond to a candidate, weeks to set up a phone discussion, and then months, in some cases, to set up a committee and arrange a time for a face-to-face session. Extending an actual offer, too, could be super difficult with the layers of approvals required or just a habit of acting slowly. Time marches on... and the candidates pull themselves out of contention or turn down the offer that may eventually result from this process.
  3. Selling/business development and client service. If there was ever a place where rapid decision-making and the ability to think on your feet pays off it is in selling and business development. You may need to switch your approach mid-presentation and come up with a new idea to make the sale. Can you make that call or do you blindly stick to script like a mindless robot? And clients who have questions need answers. The person who can give the answer quickly often is the winner. Deal negotiation, dealing with scope creep, processing questions and requests – all of these are enhanced by those who can react quickly and hampered by those who can’t.
  4. Dealing with personnel problems. This is yet another area where acting swiftly and immediately can head off problems. Whether it is a sexual harassment claim or someone who isn’t giving a good client the attention they really deserve, speed of reaction is of the essence! You have to investigate and confront before these problems grow. Ignore them and your inability to act could cost your firm big bucks or, worse.
  5. Keeping the people who work for you motivated and engaged. When your people come up with an idea and bring it to you, how long does it take for you to react? Or how long does it take for you to implement whatever it is that needs doing? My experience is that no matter how busy you are, your people want a reaction. Not reacting almost immediately will destroy their motivation and morale and convince them you don’t care about fixing something or cashing in on an opportunity. This is devastating to their morale!
One thing I know. Although I am only days away from turning 57 and no longer interested in riding motorcycles 150 mph on a track, my reaction time in business today is probably faster than it ever has been. Of course I don’t bat 1,000 in all my decisions but if I make a really bad one I can act quickly and make a new decision. I really think this is a big part of what differentiates entrepreneurs from the rest of the people in the world. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.
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.