So-Called Management Experts

Sep 06, 1999

There’s a lot out there on management: books, articles, videotapes, newsletters, seminars, and more. Ditto for marketing. And negotiating. And project management. And leadership. There’s even a lot of stuff aimed exclusively at our audience— principals and managers of A/E/P and environmental consulting firms. And we’re just starting the fall annual conference frenzy that will result in just about every professional society parading a bevy of these experts in front of our employees and us. But in my opinion (and that of a solid majority of those working in our client companies), a lot of the advice that comes from these people is pure drivel. These experts should be questioned. What qualifies them to tell you how to run your business? Here’s some of what I see and my response to it: Recession proofing talks and seminars. Has the speaker lived through a recession? Was the speaker in a firm or working on his or her own and scratching out only a modest living? What does the speaker know about finance? What does the speaker know about employment-related issues? What about business planning? Or banking relationships? This experience is essential for someone to be able to educate you on how your firm should be preparing itself for a recession. It is a complex issue that involves far more than just switching your emphasis from one market to the next! In fact, in my experience, you may actually weather a recession better if you don’t switch markets! Marketing. Has the author of the article or the speaker that you are listening to demonstrated that he or she knows how to increase market share for a firm in this industry? If not, why are you listening so intently? A lot of the marketing experts I run into don’t know anything about marketing. They may know something about selling, but in most cases, they only know how to sell themselves. A demonstrable track record is what its all about, folks. If the speaker has a Ph.D. or an MBA or worked as a marketing director in a firm, that doesn’t mean anything. What happened on his or her watch? How has his or her own firm done? I will never forget the time a fellow approached me after a marketing seminar I gave in Atlanta. I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a marketing consultant for A/E/P firms. I asked him how business was, and he told me, “It’s tough getting work right now.” I’m sorry, but as far as I am concerned, that would be an immediate disqualification if I were considering hiring this guy for marketing expertise! Valuation. If I hear one more appraiser tell me that the only value to an A/E/P or environmental firm is what I can project out in a discounted future cash flow model, I’m going to upchuck! There’s a lot more to it than that. Market penetration, what’s happening in that market, growth rate, institutional knowledge, name recognition, systems and processes, and how easily replicable the firm’s success is are all important factors that cannot be ignored. Yet all too often the appraiser is some CPA with 15 years of experience in a 3-person company that has two A/E firms as clients, neither of which has created any real wealth for its owners. Probe into these appraisers’ backgrounds. It’s a voodoo science. Valuation takes a real understanding of the business and the industry. It goes beyond just knowing how to run numbers once all the assumptions are plugged in. Leadership. I love the leadership experts who offer condescending, manipulative techniques to get everyone together. Whether it’s seven habits that are supposed to make the employee more effective or giving out “employee-of-the-month” rewards, none of it is really meaningful unless the organization and the bosses stand for something. Leaders have to demonstrate that every day. If they haven’t led a company themselves, then they can’t tell me what it takes! And let me say something else— being a good manager and leader starts with a personal belief that people are basically good. If they are good, they want to do the right thing. They work hard, they are honest, and they have pride in their work. This is contrasted with believing that people are basically bad. Managers and leaders with this orientation will fail, regardless of how many books they have read or how many training sessions they have attended. Some of the best philosophers of the 20th century are those who create new bumper stickers, especially whoever it was that came up with the slogan “Question Authority.” Remember that. It will serve you well! Originally published 9/6/99

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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.