Keeping spirits bright

Aug 19, 2015

Leadership, accounting, rewards, and more contribute to an organizational culture of positivity and high morale.

​Great projects happen, and successful firms become even more so, when morale is high inside the firm. It’s one thing to say that you have good morale and your people, for the most part, enjoy their jobs. It’s another thing altogether when the people of the firm are on a sort of collective “high.” That is when everyone stops thinking selfishly and cooperates with each other, supports one another, and is willing to work hard to make the organization successful. I’ve witnessed this condition in a few firms – not many – over my 35 year career in this industry. These companies seem to be doing a number of things significantly different from the mass of other A/E/P and environmental firms. Here are some of them:
  1. They have unselfish leaders who understand that a strong company comes first, before their own needs. Ever heard this one before? It is a defining characteristic of the best leaders in any business. Unfortunately, many professionals and small business people forget this and instead are driven by their own egos and personal financial needs. This always results in alienation and demotivation of the people who are necessary to achieve the success required to meet those personal needs!
  2. They have complete transparency in both the numbers of the business and in management decision-making. Open book management – sharing the numbers with everyone and not having any secrets whatsoever – helps build trust with the employees and management. Educating all employees at ALL levels on where the money goes is helpful to getting them to see how they contribute to the firm’s success. You cannot underestimate the importance of sharing this information. Ditto for explaining all decisions made that affect people in the firm and the logic behind them. We have intelligent people in this business, and they can understand things for the most part IF you explain. Doing so is critical to their motivation.
  3. They keep it positive! It’s really easy to be a cynic and gripe and complain about problems. I have been there, myself, many times. But in the interest of your team and their morale, you are far better off to keep it positive! Make sure that you share successes on wins and give accolades to those who receive praise from clients for jobs well done. All of this will contribute to a positive culture. And positive results come from a positive culture.
  4. They have accounting and reward systems that encourage cooperation. So many companies are set up to do the opposite of this. They track each unit and then pit them against each other and, in the process, discourage work-sharing, people-sharing, credit-sharing, and, in general, helping out the other guy who’s in need. You must be extremely careful how you design your accounting and rewards and make sure they encourage whatever behavior is the best for the LONG TERM interests of the organization.
  5. They have the right mix of people in the firm. This is easier said than done, and there’s no simple formula or prescription for how to do it. But, the fact that it is difficult doesn’t mean it is any less important or necessary. You’ll know it when you see it. And cultural compatibility of everyone in the team is critical to you. It doesn’t mean you want everyone to be the same, either, because that will likely result in a lack of creativity and, in some cases, unnecessary competition and conflict. Getting the right team is a job that never ends. Management has to remain vigilant, in terms of decisively dealing with problems and capitalizing on opportunities to add good people.
There are so many things you have to do to get your machine humming and everyone pulling the rope the same way. All I know is when you do, amazing things will happen! MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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.