We’ve all heard it before from people we work with: “I’m going to...” or “We’re going to...” or “I would have, but....” or “Some day, we’ll...” These “do-nothing” people may work for you, with you as a peer, or, in a worst-case scenario, be your boss. Personally, I have no patience for those who always plan, yet never start; those who never finish what they start; and those who have every excuse in the book for not doing something that they should be doing to get where (they say) they want to go. It’s maddening! But I’m convinced that A/E and environmental consulting firms have more than their share of these people because, as a group, architects, engineers and scientists are non-confrontational, and we don’t deal with them when they show themselves for what they are. If you have somebody working for you who is all talk but no action, at least you have a choice. You can spend as long as you want in an effort to reform him or her. Or, you can get rid of the problem by firing the person. Many top-level managers in design or environmental firms don’t really believe people’s behavior will change. I used to be one of those people myself. But experience running my own business has taught me otherwise, and I strongly suggest that you do make a serious attempt to reform the person first, as people can and do actually change if they are confronted honestly. Also important— I really believe that no company will be able to grow if it can’t build on existing employees’ strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. You just won’t be able to find enough superstars. If you are working with someone— a peer— whose job performance affects your ability to perform in your own role, you don’t have the same choices. You can’t always confront this person, and if you do, you run the risk of losing his or her cooperation forever. If you find yourself in this position, there are several other strategies available to you. The most important thing to remember is that client service should never suffer because of internal squabbles or other problems. Most clients have no patience for this, so whatever you do, don’t start pointing the finger at the person who let you down. What you can do, however, is anticipate that you may have a problem with this person keeping commitments. Call him or her frequently to check up on the status of your work. If necessary, get assistance from someone whose time you do control to back up this person and help them complete whatever it is that you are depending on. Make sure you document everything to cover your rear internally with your higher-ups. And finally, if it comes down to your hide or identifying the offender, you’ll have to point the finger. Talk to your superior. Make sure he or she knows what problems you are having. Give all the specifics. And then ask to be left out of the confrontation process if one is to occur. The really tough situation is when you find yourself working for someone who never gets anything done. In most organizations, people like this are not respected by their fellow managers, and as a result, they tend to have very little clout. The good news is that if you are working for someone like this, you still have choices. First, you can quit, and go to work at another firm. There is always risk associated with changing jobs, so I suggest that this be considered as a choice of last resort, but an option nevertheless. Just like many of our parents taught us as young children that we could be dragged down by having the wrong friends, the same thing applies to careers. You can be dragged down by having the wrong boss. On the other hand, most design and environmental professionals who get to the top levels in their firms aren’t job hoppers, but rather people who manage to make things work where they are. Another option is to talk with the person and ask if you can help accomplish whatever it is that he or she keeps talking about but doesn’t do. The important thing is that things get done, not who gets the credit for them. If you can bolster the success of your boss, you’ll improve your own lot at the same time. Finally, and this is a tricky option, you can go around your boss and form a relationship with his or her boss (unless your boss is the top dog, in which case you need to go back to the first or second options described above), or some other principal who has a higher status in the organization. Once that relationship is solid, you can start showing examples of how your own “do nothing” boss is hurting the firm and impeding your career progress. If the relationship is solid, this tactic can eventually result in one or more of the following things happening: Your boss can get fired or demoted, you can be promoted to the same level as your boss, or you can be reassigned to a new boss. It’s possible that your boss will figure out that you are the source of ill-will and fire you. That’s the risk you run when you start playing hardball corporate politics! Although it’s not something that many of us like to talk about, the fact is that knowing how to deal with the “do nothing” talkers is an important skill for anyone who wants to rise in an A/E or environmental consulting firm. Your success and that of your firm depends on it!Originally published 6/15/1993
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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.
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