Why do we do these things?

Dec 07, 1998

When you get to work with all of the different A/E/P and environmental firms that we do here at ZweigWhite & Associates, it is apparent that many firms are marching blindly ahead, doing things they have always done for no good reason. When you ask “why?” invariably the response is “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” These are the very activities that waste time, kill productivity, reduce profits, destroy morale, and make your best people quit. Here are some good examples of what I am talking about: Monthly marketing “reporting” meetings. If you ask me, it’s a huge waste of time to sit around and listen to everyone report on his or her respective potential projects. It’s especially interesting if the person doing the reporting simply reads a list of jobs from a written report that has already been distributed to all of the meeting attendees! I was at a firm last week where the fellow calling in his report for this meeting sounded like some kind of foreign war correspondent— there was absolutely no interaction whatsoever! Just put this stuff in writing, or better yet, do it electronically. The meeting is a complete waste of time! Reviews of timesheets by department managers. I was always perplexed by this practice yet just about everyone does it. Can’t some simple guidelines be established that accounting can monitor? Is it really the best use of a $92,000-per-year senior manager’s time to make sure Sally doesn’t use more sick leave than she has accrued? Heck no! Yet I see this all the time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not pointless. Monday morning managers meeting. Just when everyone is anxious to attack the week ahead, a nice three-hour meeting is held to take the wind out of your sails! Once again, good reports, e-mail, and a phone call or visit to the person you need to speak with would be a far better use of just about everybody’s time. Take a look out there at big companies— they aren’t having all of the meetings to deal with day-to-day trivi that little A/E/P and environmental firms have, at least not at the top management level. Company summer picnic. Attendance seems to fall off a little each year. You know why? Because most people hate these events! Unless this picnic is held during the workweek, it’s probably something your employees will dread more than going to see their in-laws! My experience is the only folks who really appreciate these are the 22-year-old surveyors who come for the free beer! 19 different non-billable activity codes. Why? What difference does it really make if my unbillable time is spent in “orientation” or on “staff development?” Better yet, why isn’t orientation part of staff development? And why isn’t staff development part of “general administration?” The bottom line is you don’t need a lot of non-billable codes beyond vacation, sick, holiday, marketing, and other non-billable. The rest of the stuff is a bunch of hair-splitting— collecting information for information’s sake. Creation of “draft” invoices. Do a draft bill then take it over to “Paula,” the principal-in-charge of the job who is supposed to bless it. Once Paula says it’s OK, we then do a final invoice and take that back to Paula for her signature. Meanwhile, three days have elapsed. Why not just do final bills, and if they are OK, send them out? Makes more sense, takes less time. Detailed expense budgets by unit or department. These are huge time wasters. Why does anyone care if Landscape Architecture will use $198 worth of flair pens next year? If they need flair pens, then buy ‘em, dammit! Yet most firms drag their people through these crazy budgeting exercises when they should instead be looking at the workload, their labor, and what they’ll be needing in the way of work and people for the coming year. That is far more important than this kind of a dumb budget, yet is often ignored blindly by those who are supposed to keep track of the numbers. Do any of these time-wasters sound familiar to you? If so, what are you going to do this year to put an end to them. Don’t just be lemmings that blindly follow the other lemmings off the cliff— use your minds to come up with new ways for handling these situations in your firm. You’ll be happier and make more money if you do! Originally published 12/7/98

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.