Sounding Off

Sep 04, 1995

Management junkies There is a whole cadre of “management junkies” out there working in A/E/P and environmental consulting firms. These are smart people. But as a friend-of-a-friend of mine, Tony Pirrone (an octogenarian Cadillac salesman) used to say: “You may be book-wise, but you are not other-wise.” Folks— I am a big advocate of reading. I’m sure that I read as much or more than 99% of the adult population in this country, both for enjoyment and education. I think you can learn almost anything by reading. But “almost” is the key word. There are other ways to learn. No doubt, there’s wisdom in the old car salesman’s words. And as managers, sometimes we would be much better served by following our own instincts and common sense than by looking for some sort of panacea solution to all of our problems. I’m talking about buzzwords like “empowerment,” “total quality management (TQM),” and “corporate re-engineering.” Or how about the ideal of becoming a “learning organization” or practicing “open-book management,” after we make a “paradigm shift” in our thinking? And of course, we have to think about “value added services,” “value pricing,” and always have “win-win” negotiations. There’s a lot of good in this stuff, but there’s a lot of bad, too. The “bad” is that the routine use of these terms and all the meetings that tend to result from management attempts to implement these concepts turns off “Joe Lunchbucket” and others like him— the men and women who do the actual work in our companies. They also turn off many of the managers and professionals who have been around a while, and who remember yesteryear’s buzzwords and panaceas and how little lasting effect they had on the company. From what I know about the margins in this business, and the fine line between profitability and lack of it, we cannot afford to turn anyone off. More on Selling— I have received quite a few phone calls and letters from people on my recent article, “Beyond Cold Calls,” (TZL 121; August 7, 1995). Some readers were angry (see Feedback, page 4), some agreed with me, and some just wanted clarification on what I was saying. There is nothing wrong with a marketing director who can sell. I like people who sell. Just as is the case in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm, people who sell in our firm will get moved ahead. Somebody has to get the actual sale, and that’s always something to feel good about. What I do have a problem with, however, is the folks who think that marketing is restricted exclusively to selling. These people will not take any responsibility for doing anything other than selling, for activities that may, in the long run, make it possible for the firm to sell a lot more work, work that has much better margins. It’s an unusual person who thinks strategically and who also has the ability to implement. I don’t think implementation (selling) without strategy is the way for a firm to fulfill its ultimate growth potential. Nor do I think strategy without implementation will get you anywhere. You need both. But as an industry that is much more prone to doing than it is to thinking, we need to move down the “Acting to Thinking Continuum” a notch or two toward the “Thinking” end. I have yet to see even one of these great sellers who can turn somebody else, a person who doesn’t have their same personality or make-up, into a great seller. So my thinking is, if I can’t repeat their success any time I want, I’d better find another way to create success. And that model to me is very simply to do everything possible to position the firm as an expert service provider to a group of clients. And I can hire people— graphic designers, database experts, interviewers, writers, editors and others, who have this orientation— and manage these people a hell of a lot more easily than I can find great salesmen who are credible to our clients and who consistently produce results at a price that I can afford. I have every conviction that my philosophy will work for virtually any A/E/P or environmental firm. I hope everyone better understands my thinking on this subject now. If you still don’t, call me and we can talk about it, or E-Mail me at Employee Feedback— I’m not sure all of the behavioral experts have us on the right track when it comes to giving feedback to our employees. We are never supposed to criticize someone’s behavior in public. Instead, we are supposed to hold it in and deal with it later behind closed doors. If you are talking about someone who is still learning his or her job, perhaps I agree with that approach. But if you are talking about experienced people who should know better, maybe they should be confronted right then and there on what they did wrong. That way, not only will they know their behavior or actions were unacceptable, so will others. On the other hand, the person being criticized ought to feel free to disagree with you and defend himself, too— without fear of reprisal. Maybe you are wrong or have incomplete information. Maybe everyone else needs to hear that part of the discussion, too. Instead of more sensitivity, I think we’d all probably be better off with more honesty and openness. And it can’t be a one way street— just from management to employees. It has to go both ways. Originally published 9/04/1995

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.