Walk the plank!

Feb 13, 2017

As a firm grows, new people have to come on board. But if those people threaten to damage your culture and sink the ship, you can always toss them back out to sea.

We tell our team members every day that we’ve worked very hard to be blessed by the obstacles we now have the luxury of facing. Let me share one of those obstacles that we overcame last year in hopes that our experience can translate to success in your organization.

Our firm, BIG RED DOG Engineering and Consulting (Hot Firm #22 for 2016) has grown remarkably from our humble beginnings in 2009. We started with three guys who had no clients and no money. At the conclusion of 2016, we were more than 100 team members strong, had more than $15 million in annual revenue, and were embracing the tailwinds of back-to-back Zweig Group Hot Firm awards.

For a long time, our culture was protected by a close-knit group of team members. There was little to no negativity or resistance to what we were trying to accomplish. What we’ve discovered is that as firm leaders we need to be much more intentional about protecting our culture as our firm becomes more successful and grows even larger. We’ve learned that a great culture, focusing on positivity, does not come about by happenstance.

Last summer, our company leadership visited over the course of two days for our shareholders and leaders retreat. This is an annual event for us and it’s our first chance to really dissect, affirm, question, and trash portions of the initial draft of our business plan for the following year. We had a handful of action items following our retreat to complete prior to the end of the calendar year and really get us ready for a strong 2017. I’m proud to report that we accomplished all of our action items with time to spare.

One of our first action items was to determine who’s in our boat and who needs to be thrown overboard. The objective was two-fold: We needed to eliminate a very limited number of negative people from our organization, and we needed to take care of our culture and protect our team members who are working so hard to make our clients more successful. Our outstanding team members do not need to be dragged down by negative people or people who cannot perform up to the standards of the company.

There is an apt quote from the great business philosopher Tony Gaskins: “Negative people need drama like it was oxygen.”

What happened as a result of this action item? Really great things! Huuuuge things even, in a nod to the newest leader of the free world. We intentionally parted ways with three of our senior leaders who were sapping the company of its energy and entrepreneurial spirit.

First up was an office leader who had a host of unhappy clients, neglected colleagues, and zero desire to put the effort in to address either camp. Time to walk the plank! Second up was a key member of our administrative team who appeared to not understand that every sentence should start with “yes” instead of “no.” Overboard with her! Finally, another office leader who didn’t want to share the sandbox with his colleagues and who couldn’t help but include the words “me” and “I” in every thought he shared. He now sleeps with the fishes!

Far from hurting us, these three key departures have had dramatic results for our firm. We’re as strong as we’ve ever been. Everybody is enthused about what we’re accomplishing and understands our plan to take over the world of engineering. We’re coming off of our best year in the history of the firm. And more importantly, our culture has been protected. Today, everybody knows that the surest way to be removed from our BIG RED boat is to be negative. And that makes everything more positive.

Consider this thought from Les Brown: “Don’t waste another minute dealing with a toxic, negative, energy-draining person. Some people are wired for negativity. They love being argumentative, combative, and abusive. Run for your life as quickly as possible.”

Ask yourself, who do you need to throw overboard in order to make your boat travel faster?

What are you waiting for?

Will Schnier is CEO of BIG RED DOG Engineering & Consulting. He can be reached at will.schnier@bigreddog.com.

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.