Time for a Little Horse Sense

May 21, 2001

Both of my daughters are into horses. I mean they are into horses and have been for the last five years. We have three of ‘em right now. They ride every day. Then we have events on the weekend. Not only does it take a lot of time, it also costs a lot of money. Trailers, boarding, vet bills, shoeing, tack, lessons, training… you get the idea! But it’s worth it. We’ve all learned a great deal from the entire equestrian experience. In fact, there are many parallels between dealing with horses and dealing with the smart people who work in A/E/P and environmental firms. Here are some of the things I have learned from watching my daughters deal with their horses: There’s no such thing as a bad horse, only a bad rider. There’s actually a book by this title. A lot of riders are constantly blaming their woes on their animal when, in reality, it’s their riding that’s the problem. I see owners and managers of A/E/P and environmental firms doing the same thing with their employees. The corollary to this statement as it applies to human resources management in our world should be, “there’s no such thing as a bad employee, only a bad manager.” Too many people in leadership roles are quick to blame their staff instead of looking in the mirror. If the staff isn’t doing what you want them to, maybe you aren’t communicating clearly what that is. Or maybe they don’t want to do it because they don’t like you. Maybe you aren’t someone who engenders loyalty. Or maybe they don’t want to do it because they can’t see what’s in it for them. All of these issues are within the control of the manager (or “rider”) to fix. Try too many things, and you can really screw up a horse. If the horse goes a little lame and you immediately call in the chiropractor, change its diet, put it on a joint supplement, and get the farrier to install new shoes, you soon won’t know what you’ve got. If the horse gets better, you won’t know why. Same thing applies to people (and organizational units) with performance problems. Minimizing simultaneous changes in many variables is probably a good idea. So is giving any change enough time to see if it actually worked. Some companies are schizophrenic in the way they deal with performance problems. Usually, it’s a case of too little, too late and then too much, too fast. Horses are happiest with a clean, well-lit stall. They don’t want to stand around in their own waste. And they like natural light, just like people do. I just noticed that the owner of the barn where we board our horses was putting in windows in certain stalls. The reason? The horses are happier. Everyone likes a clean, light office environment. How does yours look? Is it clean? Is it organized? Or are you drowning in your own waste? There’s no excuse today for being a slob. Horses need to be worked out. Anyone who has ever owned a horse knows that they need to be ridden. If you don’t do it, they’ll go lame or get sick. The same thing applies to our people. They all need a workout, or they get lame and sick. You better be giving your people something meaningful to work on, so they don’t get lame and go crazy. I have seen this many times. The principals are overly worried about quality, so they don’t give some of their young thoroughbreds a chance to stretch out. No good! Horses respond differently to a rider who knows where she wants to go than they do to one who doesn’t. When you’re going over a jump, one of the keys is to look over the jump and beyond. Look directly at the jump, and the horse may freak out and stop. That’s called a “refusal,” and it’s how Christopher Reeve got hurt. Our employees do the same thing. They want to work for leaders who know where they are going, know how to get there, and don’t freak out at the slightest obstacle. You do that, and everyone stops. No good! Final thought for the week: One of the best aspects of having a lot of hobbies and outside interests is that you can learn lessons that apply to other parts of your life. That’s always been the case for me! Originally published 5/21/2001.

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.