Editorial: We’re one firm here!

Feb 17, 2014

Mark Zweig offers two examples of divisive attitudes, and how to fix them.

It kills me how some people working in our client companies forget that they are all working for one firm. These people seem hell-bent on tearing the company apart from the inside out. They don’t get it. The enemy is not inside the company. Winning work in today’s competitive market is hard enough! Making clients happy is hard enough! Making the government happy is hard enough! Making a profit and having the cash you need to pay bills is hard enough! You know who these people are. Their negativity makes instituting any change damn near impossible. They blame the other guy for their woes. They don’t sell effectively because they really don’t know or believe in the mission of the firm. So, whose fault is it? If you are the owners/managers of the enterprise, it is YOUR fault. One (or both) of two things happened. You either made these people the way they are through incompetence, selfishness, or toleration of poor performance OR you hired and/or tolerated them in spite of their toxic attitudes and behaviors. It’s your problem in both cases and you need to fix it. I was once working as a consultant at a large, multi-office E/A firm. One of their branch managers was perpetually unhappy with the firm’s corporate marketing group, and griped about his overhead allocation as the reason his office couldn’t make a profit. The truth was, he didn’t get the support he needed. The reason: He was a rude guy and the corporate marketing director got tired of the way he was treated, so he just stopped serving the guy. Since the complainer was a major firm owner, he couldn’t be ignored. The short-term solution was to encourage him to hire his own marketing support person locally, which he did. The longer-term solution was to buy down the guy’s stock and eventually take him out of his office management job, where he was an impediment to the firm’s growth. After years of muddling along, the office took off under new, more benevolent, less hostile leadership. The former office manager/principal was happier too. Like most management problems, this one didn’t get sweeter with age. The long-term solution should have been implemented sooner. In another case, I worked with a firm that had a principal who was perpetually on a witch hunt. He had the ear of the CEO and would complain and hammer on one person or group inside the company after another. The result was costly turnover and an unhappy cloud that hung over the company and really held it back. It wasn’t until a new CEO, who rose up through the ranks, decided to move out the hostile principal that the company was able to start focusing on its clients and growing again. You have to remember you’re one company. It’s OK to be introspective and self-critical, but you also have to be able to balance that with a healthy focus on keeping positive and serving clients. Don’t let those who don’t get the idea that the enemy is outside the firm get too out of control or you’ll regret it. 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 #1043, originally published 2/17/2014. 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.