The Employee Who Doesn’t Believe in Responsiveness

May 30, 2005

Here’s something I have observed in many different A/E and environmental firms around the country— certain employees who act as if they don’t understand how critical it is for them to be responsive. This one really gets me because I know how much people inside and outside the firm appreciate others who respond quickly to their calls, e-mails, questions, and requests for information, and how frustrating it is when you have to deal with someone who ISN’T responsive. If it’s a dud who exhibits this kind of behavior, no problem. Shape up or ship out! But the otherwise good employee is another matter. This is someone who excels in just about all they do. This person has much more potential and is much more critical to the operation. And they would really be fantastic if NOT for the one flaw— they operate on their own schedule, aren’t responsive, and don’t realize how much others are depending on them. When I have tried to counsel people like this in the past, I have found that the core of their problem is that they simply don’t see why it’s so critical to answer their cell phones or return phone calls from the road. They think those who check their e-mail compulsively have something wrong with them. They see their “way of life” as superior somehow. They don’t want to be distracted by the constant interruptions that go along with their professions. And this lack of responsiveness is not limited to architects, engineers, planners, and environmental consultants. There are lots of people in OTHER fields with this problem, including management consultants, college professors, house painters, and IT consultants. My general contractor on my current house renovation and addition project in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Mike Pennington, is NOT one of these people. He answers his phone every time. And if he doesn’t, for some strange reason, he calls you back 10 minutes later with an apology. But he could tell you how frustrated he is with some of our subcontractors. The plumber may go AWOL for days at a time. The pool contractor NEVER answers his phone and returns all calls about a week later. The window-and-door man doesn’t answer questions promptly, ever. There’s just no excuse for this lack of responsiveness! As far as I am concerned, this attitude is totally unacceptable. First, it’s just plain rude. It’s inconsiderate not to respond to others who are depending on hearing back from you for some reason. This could be your employer, a co-worker, or an organization that is paying the bill for what you do. It’s also stupid. If you think that clients aren’t evaluating you based on how quickly you respond, you are kidding yourself. As soon as the demand slows down for whatever services you provide, you will be the first person or firm that this client decides not to use again. If you don’t care about whether you keep clients, go ahead and don’t return that call or e-mail. It’s within your control to change. If you are the offender, stop working this way! Be a decent person, be responsible, and return those calls. Better yet, try to answer the phone when it rings and deal with the problem then and there, instead of waiting ‘til later. IF you are the boss, don’t allow this stuff to go on any longer. Sit down the offenders and give them the lecture they need. IF they persist in their bad behavior, get tougher. Last, don’t forget that people WILL talk about you. If you think that all the other team members don’t notice the lack of responsiveness and sit around and talk about it with anyone who will listen, you are naive! It will cost you business from clients you don’t even know are yours to lose. Questions or comments— e-mail me. You WILL hear back from me, no matter where I might be! Originally published 5/30/2005

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.