Editorial: Two types of necessary people

Jan 08, 2015

Your job is to instill harmony between those who thrive on change and those who prefer the status quo.

After working with A/E firms for about 35 years, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of managers/leaders working in most firms. Everyone seems to fall into two camps. It is either the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp or the “If it ain’t broke, break it” camp. Both types of managers/leaders are necessary but neither of them is right ALL of the time. Those who think things aren’t broken and should be left alone to operate as-is may very well be correct, but only under certain conditions. First, whatever area of the business you are talking about truly has to be unbroken and you can’t just be rationalizing for your laziness or complacency in not dealing with what actually is a problem. Second, the risk of changing it and screwing up what it does contribute is, in your judgment, greater than the benefits you could accrue by “fixing” it. And third, there are other areas or opportunities for improvement inside the firm that are a better use of your time and other resources. All of these conditions have to be met but there certainly are some good cases for concluding that this area is NOT where your focus needs to be at this time. Having people from this camp can be essential to keeping peace and harmony inside the firm and to keeping you focused on the highest priorities. The harshest critics will accuse these people of settling for less than they should and holding the company back, and in some cases they may very well be right. It is true that those who think things can always be done better (the “If it’s not broke, break it” camp), may be the ones who actually make some real breakthroughs that ultimately make the firm a lot more successful. There really is something to be said for being in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the way things are at present. No dissatisfaction equates to no motivation to make things better. These natural optimizers just “see” opportunities to improve everything. And the truth is, in my experience, everything in most AEC firms CAN be done better. That said, they aren’t always fun to be with and can cause quite a bit of stress and discomfort to top management at times. Both of these types of managers/leaders are needed in your firm. It’s kind of like an orchestra – you need different instruments. Pull any one of them out and the composition doesn’t sound so good. Your job as the “orchestra leader” is to decide when “good enough” really is good enough and when changes need to be made to make things better. It takes a balance, a constant reassessment of priorities and available resources, and continuous judgments about who you can make uncomfortable or potentially demotivate with too much or too little change. This is just one more aspect of the “art of leadership,” and part of what makes your job a continuous learning experience… Happy New Year, All! 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 #1086, originally published 1/12/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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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.