You are the owner? So what!

Mar 27, 2022

You can’t make people do what you want, so you must get your people to realize you’re all on the same team.

It really kills me how some firm owners in this business still think they are in control. I have news for you: The only thing you control is the stage that the drama of business is conducted on.

You can’t make people do what you want. They have free will. They will only do what it is they want to do. Period. Accept it. So your goal is to help people figure out you are all on the same team. They need to want what you want. As long as those things are the same, great.

I worked with a company once where one of the principals – a former military officer and Corps of Engineers employee – thought everyone had to do what he said “because he was an owner.” Needless to say, he had a real hard time keeping people working for him. They either quit or moved to another team inside the firm to get away from the guy.

So how can you get people who work in your firm to want what you want? Here are some ideas for you:

  1. Get everyone involved in developing the business plan. That’s going to help them feel like their input is valued and help create psychological ownership. And I’m not talking about asking employees for your purpose (mission), or your ultimate vision (what you will become at some point), but rather more tactical stuff like what to do and how to do it.
  2. Be an open-book company. Sharing all information on how the firm is performing with everyone who works there builds trust because you clearly aren’t hiding anything from them. Plus, you can show your goals and how you are making progress toward achieving them.
  3. Share the spoils of success. That means getting everyone at your firm some piece of the profits when the company makes money. Of course the flip side of this is you can’t afford to carry anyone who isn’t pulling their weight or they will be benefiting from the labors of everyone else.
  4. Train your managers. I always said my goal wasn’t to motivate anyone, but rather to keep us from demotivating good people. It’s easy to do. Get too rigid or too inflexible, have too much bureaucracy, have too many meetings, allow non-productive people to stay in their jobs, or do anything that embarrasses someone, and you will be demotivating somebody. Not the way to get them wanting what you want!
  5. Watch your language. I never said anyone worked for me if I was introducing them to someone else. They worked “with me.” Or, another way to express it is to say, “We work together.” It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t.
  6. Performance appraisal systems need to allow employees to rate their managers. It has to be a two-way street (if you do these things at all). If it is just top-down versus bottom-up, you will have plenty of resentment any time you try to give anyone any negative feedback. Management does not want employees to resent them.
  7. Promote your people! Make them into the rock stars instead of just doing that for your principals. It’s essential, and will help tie their own success to that of the company.

So how would you say your firm stacks up on these seven points? Doing all of them? Or doing just a few of them? I will say right now that your ultimate success as a company will depend on full implementation of these seven items. Prove me right – or wrong! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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.