Some Folks Amaze Me!

Jun 28, 1999

Do you know how many times a day I think this? I can’t count that high! Some of what we see and hear in our work with A/E/P and environmental consulting firms is truly amazing. It’s mind-boggling! Here are some examples of what I’m talking about: “No one other than the owners deserves a bonus.” The principals of a firm I once worked with told me this. They paid themselves enormous bonuses, and no one else got a nickel. The next year, about half their staff quit. They were there to ask me why. You don’t need to be a managerial genius to figure that one out! These guys were just too selfish. “Are you going to try to tell me that peer pressure works?” The CEO of a firm made that comment at a seminar where I was advocating the sharing of project manager performance metrics across the firm. No, peer pressure doesn’t work. That’s why half the 16-year-olds want five earrings in each ear— because it feels good! Of course peer pressure works. It works for 16-year-olds and 46-year-olds. Use it to your advantage to guide the culture of your firm. “Everyone knows direct mail doesn’t work.” One of my friends, a stockbroker, said this to me recently. Maybe that’s true in his world, where a zillion financial advisors and investment brokers are competing for your business, and every single one of them has some sort of retirement planning seminar to promote. But that’s not the case in our business. There are very few A/E/P or environmental firms with a consistent direct mail program that gets good information into the hands of their clients and potential clients every week. It works, but it takes money, commitment, and consistent quality— and few firms are willing to make that effort. “One big raise is better than lots of little ones.” Says who? I’d like to see the evidence to support this opinion. My experience is that, especially today, we need frequent opportunities to reward our people or tell them they need to do better. Quarterly pay reviews where perhaps 50% of the staff gets something is a good formula that helps drive down turnover of the best people, especially the best younger people. “I only want people who really want to work here.” Then get used to the idea that you may not have the best people. I know that’s cruel, but you need to hear it. Most firms in this business are not all that great as a place to work. They are poorly managed, don’t have a plan, lack strong leadership, and have goofy ownership transition schemes that were set up eons ago. So if that describes your firm— when you look at it honestly— you have to ask yourself, “Why would someone want to work here so badly?” The answer is, they don’t have any better choices! “If we put down in writing what we say we are going to do and then don’t do it, we’ll look bad.” This was the response of a partner in an environmental firm to my suggestion that they do one-page progress reports on all projects. Sure, not delivering what you said you would will make you look bad. But what’s the alternative? Doing what you said you would! Everyone has expectations— ignoring them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. You need to pull those expectations out of your client, plan for how you will meet them, and inform the client every step of the way, whether you are on track or not. That’s the beauty of the one-page project progress report on every job. And that’s how you will end up with satisfied clients! “People don’t really care about ownership. All they want is to know how much they’re going to be paid.” Some sole proprietor who is rationalizing why he hasn’t sold stock to any of his key people will always say this. And most of the time, the people he is talking about aren’t getting paid any better than their counterparts at other firms who have not had the door to ownership slammed in their faces. “Everyone here is replaceable.” Good attitude! You’ll probably get your wish. Originally published 6/28/99

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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.