Make a Decision, Now

Jul 29, 1996

After I got my MBA, my first job was with a consulting firm that served the construction and real estate development industry. They worked for large and small companies of all kinds— general contractors, heavy/highway constructors, mechanical and electrical contractors, mall developers, and so on. And though they periodically had a chance to work with architects and engineers, they weren’t really interested. No matter who in the company I asked why the firm didn’t want to work with A/E firms, the response was always the same: “Those guys can’t make a decision. Every time they need to decide something, they call a meeting of 6, 8, or 12 people to talk about it. Then they still don’t do anything.” I was always interested in design and, being young and over-confident, I didn’t listen to my superiors and peers. I chased after and worked for A/E firm clients anyway. I thought they were an interesting group of people, and they were at least honest and ethical, something I can’t say about every contractor or developer I have ever been exposed to! And here I am today, still working with A/E firms. But in retrospect, there was something to the stereotype. Many architects, engineers, and environmental consultants do struggle with decision-making. As a group, we probably aren’t as entrepreneurial or decisive as construction companies or developers. There are many reasons for this. When a general contractor is out in the field, and he has 10, 20, 150, or 580 people on a project, and a decision has to be made for them to keep going, often he can’t afford the luxury of a lengthy analysis of the issues and consideration of every option. He just has to make a decision, and do it immediately. Ditto for real estate developers. They have to make quick decisions about what they’re going to invest in and what they aren’t. The best property goes fast. The best opportunities won’t be there tomorrow. They can’t always know with certainty everything they need to know, but they still have to make a decision. I’ve spent a number of years forming relationships with some of the top people in the A/E/P and environmental industry. And I’ve concluded that these people aren’t wired like everyone else in their business. They can make a decision and they aren’t afraid of the after-effects, even those who run big companies with lots of owners, and managers for everything from vehicle maintenance to strategic planning to party planning to branch office operations. Being able to make a decision and move on is essential to keeping up in a firm that operates in a dynamic and competitive business environment. But not everyone is like this elite few. When my own performance falters as the president of our firm, it usually stems from procrastination in making decisions. Here are some typical types of decisions that tend to bring out the procrastinator in us: Hiring. If you find someone you know is great, why drag out the process? There’s no rule that says five other people have to be interviewed before you can make an offer. And is it really necessary to have six other people in your firm tell you that hiring that person is the right thing? Firing. You have a bad employee. You know this person can’t do the job. You’ve had a number of discussions with this person about his or her performance. You’ve covered it all in performance appraisals. You’ve tried this person in several roles. You’ve trained this person. Yet, the employee is still failing. Why haven’t you made the decision to act? Marketing. You are trying to break into the railroad market. There is a big meeting of railroad engineers coming up in Las Vegas. Your key railroad person wants to go, and she also wants to bring her assistant. The request was made three weeks ago. Why can’t you say “yes” or “no”? Offices. The Tuscaloosa office has lost money for eight years under the same manager. You’ve given him everything he’s asked for in staff, equipment, and office space. He has one excuse after another why they can’t make a profit. On top of it, there are liability problems on jobs they did years ago. Why haven’t you decided to make a change there? New services. For the last three years, your best client has been saying you need a structural engineer on board. Yet, you have never decided to just do it. Why? Cost cutting. Your rent is too high. There’s no way you can afford $22 per square foot for 10,000 square feet of space when you downsized 2 years ago and really only need 5,000. You haven’t tried to sublease, haven’t talked to the building owner, and haven’t found anywhere else to go. Why? Banking. Your bank is jerking your chain. They’ve sent over three different lending officers in the past three years, and each time, you have to reeducate them on your company. On top of it, they won’t back off on their requirements for a certain debt-to-equity ratio, personal guarantees, and so on. You don’t even know anyone there any more at a level higher than “junior vice president.” Yet, you haven’t made one call to another bank to see what they can do for you. Why? The truth is, you know better than I do what decisions you are procrastinating on. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking more like a contractor or developer— make a decision now, then move to the next one. Making decisions, instead of just talking, is how you move ahead. Originally published 7/29/1996

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.