Editorial: What’s REALLY keeping you up?

Aug 23, 2013

It’s your employees; Mark Zweig offers five solutions to help deal with them better.

I got a call from an old friend of mine from Boston the other day. He wanted to tell me how he liked reading my editorials in The Zweig Letter and that they made him feel like he was back in the kitchen of my old house in Dover, Mass. eating banana pancakes with me talking about business. He and I have had many similar experiences in business and to some extent lived parallel lives. He owns his own firm, which is now more than a decade old. They’ve been very successful and are now nearly a $20 million business. He told me a little story the other day on the phone. When he was starting his company, his father – a very successful, multitalented guy by any standard – asked him what he thought would be the single biggest challenge. My friend thought for a moment and said, “Getting work. You’ve got to sell enough work to keep everyone going.” His dad said, “No. You’re good at that and good at what you do. You’ll always be able to get work.” My friend then said, “Collecting the money. You’ve got to have good cash flow or you’ll go out of business.” His dad said, “No. You know what to do and you’re disciplined. You’ll always be able to collect your money.” At that point my friend pretty much told his dad he was out of guesses. The dad then gave him the answer to the question of what would really be keeping him up at night. It was, “Dealing with your employees.” It’s profound. And it is so true. While perhaps you should be focused on selling work and collecting money, dealing with people IS the single greatest challenge. “Why can’t they turn their timesheets and expense reports in on time?” “Why does so-and-so not get along with another so-and-so?” “Why doesn’t Bob answer his cell phone after 5:30 on Friday?” “Why does Sue have to go outside for a cigarette every 20 minutes?” “Why does Bill say stupid stuff in front of clients?” “Why doesn’t Lucy see if she just showed a little more commitment she’d be making twice what she is now?” I could go on and on. Then yesterday, I was sitting at a client BOD meeting with another old friend of mine. He was the CEO of one of the largest design firms in the world. He and I were talking about they managed to grow so big. He said, “I had to grow so I could have good help to deal with all of the people!” Does any of this strike a chord with you? If so, here are my thoughts:
  1. Hire good people. Stop hiring for qualifications – or technical qualifications. Hire for character and personality and train for skills.
  2. Surround yourself with better managers than you are. These people will be calm, level-headed, and know how to work with others in spite of their idiosyncrasies.
  3. Confront your problems. If people exhibit dysfunctional behaviors deal with this quickly and directly. Don’t let it fester.
  4. Stop viewing all turnover as bad. Not everyone is going to make it in your company. That’s ok. It doesn’t make them bad or you evil if they need to go.
  5. Delegate. Stop making every personnel problem your problem. The person’s immediate supervisor needs to deal with it. Coach them, advise them but force them to do it.
Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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.