What Goes Around...

Jan 20, 1997

You’re all aware of it. The “circular theory,” otherwise known as “what goes around comes around.” It’s one of nature’s laws that seems to hold true as much as the laws of physics. If you’re in the architecture, consulting engineering, planning, or environmental business (or management consulting business for that matter), keep this “law” in mind at all times. If you don’t, you’ll probably get what you deserve in the end. Here are some common problem areas that may come back around to bite you on the hindquarters if you’re not careful. Making false promises to employees. Some people will say anything to hire someone they really want. “You could be a principal in a year,” or “Expect a bonus of 25% of your base pay,” or “You’ll be our Tallahassee office manager by January of 1997.” Then, when it comes time to deliver, they give all kinds of excuses, or worse, don’t say or do anything. The employee first gets mad, then gets even by quitting and going to work for a competitor. Then, not only do you not have this person’s skills on your team, they are working against you! Overly restrictive non-compete agreements. You can’t keep someone from making a living, yet some companies try by having the most restrictive non-competes imaginable. I saw one firm’s non-compete agreement some time back that was for 10 years after the employee left. Another company we worked with recently had non-compete agreements that automatically renewed year after year for principals of firms that they had acquired. Another has a non-compete that doesn’t specify time or geographical restrictions— the employee simply can’t work for another company even remotely related to this business. Companies that try this hard to tie down their employees usually end up with mass defections, a tarnished image as a place to work, and expensive legal bills arising from pursuing and defending employment-related lawsuits. Beating up team members during fee allocation. Some prime consultants pride themselves on getting all they can out of their subs so they have “excess budget” to burn when it’s time to do their work. I have no loyalty whatsoever to people who do this to me. When I was in the business and the prime wouldn’t pay us what we were worth— when many times they needed our company’s experience or political influence to get the job in the first place— I can assure you that I wouldn’t be in that situation a second time! Life is too short. I’d be inclined to team up with one of the prime’s toughest competitors the next time around. That’s the boomerang. Not paying subconsultants or suppliers. Nothing is worse than someone who owes but won’t pay. It’s a terrible crime. As far as I am concerned, people who clearly owe but won’t pay ought to be in jail. They’re criminals. I would go to any lengths to collect from (or punish) people who owe but won’t pay. I worked for a fellow at one time who wouldn’t pay his printer. He ended up getting a terrible D&B credit rating as a result. Later on, at another firm, we got a job where this guy’scompany and ours were the finalists. Do you know what— their atrocious D&B report turned out to be the deciding factor when the client ran checks on both of our firms! Violating exclusive agreements with prime firms. If you are a subconsultant and you have given an exclusive to a particular prime, then decide later on to cast your lot with anyone who comes along who wants to pursue the same project, you deserve to (and probably will) get dumped. And you won’t get called the next time by the prime, either. Blaming another firm for problems your firm created. Nothing’s worse than people who can’t admit they made a mistake. This one goes lots of different ways— I see prime designers blaming their subconsultants, design firms blaming contractors, contractors blaming designers, designers blaming construction managers, engineers blaming architects, electricals blaming mechanicals, civils blaming land planners, and so on. And often, those doing the blaming are the guilty ones! The bottom line is, blaming the other guy may take the heat off you for a while, but it will come back to haunt you when the other guy tells everyone else in the business what you did and it costs you business opportunities. Going after every nickel you can get from a client. People who squeeze every cent out of a client may win a battle, but they’ll certainly lose the war. No one wants to deal with a firm they feel is in their pockets every chance they get. They won’t tolerate being nickeled and dimed— it’s demeaning and insulting. The result is, they’ll be more susceptible to courting by other consultants, and the firm that never forgets to nail the client at every turn will eventually lose their client. Lying to your bank or lending institution. I wouldn’t lend money to someone who lied about his financial condition, would you? Neither will banks. If you are caught misrepresenting your accounts receivable or overstating the value of your assets, you can get in big trouble. Don’t do it. All it takes is one sharp underwriter and you could find yourself in a position of not being able to get credit anywhere. Be honest with your bank (optimistically so, of course) and they’ll work with you. Lie to them and you deserve whatever happens. I could think up more examples of what goes around comes around. It’s as certain as gravity or sunrise. So why do otherwise intelligent people forget this law of nature? Originally published 1/20/1997

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