Editorial: Training managers to manage

Apr 10, 2014

Four pointers from Mark Zweig for firms stuck in a no-growth mode.

One thing is for sure about the A/E/P and environmental consulting business: We’re all “stuck” if we can’t train people who work for us how to manage others. Let’s face it, many A/E firm owners ARE stuck. There are a jillion small workgroups inside medium and larger size firms that just don’t grow – and even more small firms out there stuck with 10, 15 or 20 employees. One reason is the inability to train managers who can manage. If this is a problem for you, then you’ll want to read my four pointers on how to train your managers:
  1. Get the right information flowing to managers so they can see what’s really happening. Information flows from the top. You have to make sure the right info is getting out to people so they clearly have the gauges they need on every performance metric you’re trying to drive. That includes everything from incoming leads, sales, backlog, profitability, cash flow, project performance, WIP, utilization, rework, and so many other statistics. But don’t overload them. And make it easy to interpret this information through simple graphs and charts. I find it very common that firms don’t share what they need to share information-wise with their managers so they can understand the situation. Or, conversely, firms overwhelm managers with SO MUCH information the significance of any of it is lost. Neither is acceptable and both will hurt your ability to train your managers!
  2. Force them to deal with THEIR problems. Don’t do what they aren’t doing. It’s easy, and expedient, to start making decisions for your managers who won’t deal with something that needs to be done. But as soon as you do, you teach them that they don’t need to deal with their problems – you’ll gladly take care of it for them. AND, you are communicating to everyone else that the manager isn’t a decision maker and they should really be dealing with you instead of your manager. So every problem will eventually land in your lap. Not what you want!
  3. Get them over the idea that they need to hold a meeting to deal with every issue that comes up. Everyone who works in a project-centric business and is competent has way too much to do. When you load these people down with management responsibilities they often feel overwhelmed because they don’t have time to schedule a meeting to address whatever the problem is. They are going to have to get over the idea that every issue requires a meeting. Use the phone. Use email. Use a text. You don’t have time to set up a meeting to deal with something. I find this is a BIG problem with the people we have working in management jobs. They are perfectionists. They value their relationships and want to be loved by all. But you’ll never have enough time to do what has to be done if it always requires a meeting.
  4. Get them to understand that they need to stay calm at all times. Staying calm under fire is a skill you can learn. Some people are hotheads who start fights. Some get easily rattled and stressed. Some get upset and easily crushed. Some may have outbursts that hurt their relationships. None of these tendencies will help you lead and manage others. Staying calm is easier the older you get and the more perspective you acquire, but there’s no reason you have to be old to understand the benefits. Work on your people to stay calm and you’ll make them better managers AND solve many of your problems at the same time.
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 #1051, originally published 4/14/2014. 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.