Editorial: Wasting time in the office

Jan 23, 2015

Five types of unnecessary practices that are making you lose big bucks, Mark Zweig writes.

I’ve always thought there was a lot of time wasted in the typical AEC firm’s office, especially for the managers. This was glaringly apparent to me when I started Mark Zweig & Associates back in ’88. I suddenly had so much time I didn’t know what to do with it. This was after years of working in A/E firms in a variety of management jobs. Wasted time is wasted money. It hurts morale, leads to job dissatisfaction, and reduces profitability – all bad things. Yet we continue to do the same time-wasting things year after year. Here are some specific examples of what I am talking about:
  1. Timesheet review. No one will convince me this is necessary at all. Key it in. If an employee charges to a job they shouldn’t, point it out after the fact. It doesn’t happen that often and can be seen more easily on a job cost report later and corrected than trying to solve it before entry into the system. Ditto for using vacation or sick leave employees don’t have accrued. Most managers don’t even know this when they review and sign the timesheet anyway; they don’t keep track of those accruals, the payroll people do. Timesheet review is just one of those habits from the olden days that is hard to break.
  2. Pointless meetings. Meetings that you don’t need to be at. Meetings without agendas. Meetings that could have been replaced by a simple email or phone call. Engineers and architects claim to loathe bureaucracy yet your response to nearly every management problem or challenge is to hold a meeting. In many cases, problems or issues that need dealing with NOW are delayed until a meeting can be held, which is really crazy! Break yourself off this bad habit.
  3. Annual performance appraisals. I learned 25 years ago that these are just a dumb waste of time. Give people feedback when they need it – good or bad – and don’t store it up. And if someone wants to talk about their career or goals, talk to them when they or you want to talk about it. Filling out a silly form at a certain time of the year does nothing for you or the employee. And by the way, to the HR folks’ claim that we need this information for times of termination due to non- or poor performance, I always point out that nine times out of 10 these performance appraisals actually support a wrongful termination claim by the employee because managers are typically not honest and don’t confront people until the end.
  4. Too many emails. Whomever invented the “reply to all” button should be drawn and quartered. We have wasted billions of dollars of time in A/E firms from people who simply reply to all every time with simple “thanks,” or “happy b-days,” or whatever. This habit has to be broken! All the time people then waste reading/deleting/filing this stuff is never accounted for. Teach your people to reply to the person they need to reply to and only that person(s).
  5. Too many interruptions. This takes many forms – calls from salespeople, emails you didn’t need, others inside the firm who just want to plop down and gossip, etc. The main thing here is you have to take control of your time. Insist people come back. Take a message for the salespeople or have your switchboard operator screen them entirely. Don’t let constant interruptions keep you from accomplishing what you must because you have too many starts, stops, and restarts.
Yep, no doubt about it. Lots of time is wasted. I think almost every company could make more money and have happier people if they honestly worked to change the situation instead of accepting it as “normal.” Don’t you? 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 #1088, originally published 1/26/2015. 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.