You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Nov 10, 1997

The headline for this week’s editorial sounds like the title of a bad country and western song, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Maybe it’s human nature, but we don’t seem to appreciate what we have until we lose it (or are threatened with losing it). Considering this fact got me thinking about the variety of ways that some of us who are principals and managers of A/E/P and environmental consulting firms take current situations for granted. Here are some examples of what I mean: Pay and benefits. Most people in our industry think they’re worth a lot more than they currently earn. It’s especially true when the subject of attorneys or physicians comes up; architects and engineers make less than these people and “it’s unfair,” (if you listen to the complainers). Well that may be true, but we don’t have to deal with sleazy clients, nor do we have to take someone’s life into our immediate hands like a heart surgeon has to (although one could certainly argue that design professionals make life and death decisions). Too often, principals and managers in our business forget some of the good things they have, in addition to their base pay. These include, but aren’t limited to, good health care coverage, 401(k) and/or profit sharing, deferred compensation (in some cases), bonus (many times this is sizable), company vehicle (a great benefit that many owners receive), special life and disability insurance, club memberships (especially down South), nice office space, and so on. Try being unemployed and see how many jobs there are that pay, in total, what principals and managers in our industry make, and then look at what the people who earn those bigger paychecks have to do for their money! We’re pretty lucky. Maybe we ought to think about what it would be like to be in the other guy’s shoes? Key employees. Everyone likes to grumble about old “So-and-So” back in the civil department, or cranky Sally in the word processing pool, because these people don’t work the same hours as their managers or what they “could” do if they just worked a little harder or were a little smarter. Yet many times, we forget what it would be like if these people just didn’t show up one day. Someone has to do their job, and often, it’s low-status or dead-end, career path-wise. We forget what these people do for us and the many years of loyal and faithful service they have given to an organization that they feel a part of. Maybe we ought to appreciate them for what they are and move on to deal with higher-order problems? The company’s overhead infrastructure. Talk to just about anyone in a satellite office of a big firm, or the key sellers in a discipline- or market-sector group, and they will inevitably complain about the firm’s overhead rate. Why is it so high? Why do we need all those people in accounting? When’s the last time the marketing department sold a job for us? Why aren’t the computer people here in two minutes every time I have a problem? What do they do in the human resources department? It’s complaints, complaints, complaints. Yet, I have seen what happens when these complainers start their own firms, and sit down in a one-person office with absolutely no support. There’s a lot to do and learn, and it’s not so easy competing with bigger firms when you don’t have all those overhead jobs taken care of for you. Many times, two or three years down the road, these same people are dying to go to work for a big firm again so they can “get back to what they do best.” Maybe you ought to really consider what some of this infrastructure allows you to do? Health. It’s always easy to pay lip service to being thankful for good health, but I don’t think most people really understand what it’s like to lose that until they have a health problem, especially when it’s life threatening. Then, “if they could only go back and do things differently,” is what preoccupies their minds. If you have decent health, why wait till you have a problem to re-evaluate your priorities, change your diet, quit smoking, quit drinking too much, start exercising, or start spending more time with your spouse and kids?? Do it now so you aren’t sitting around regretting it later. Old-line clients. Too often, we are enamored with new clients and forget the old ones. They may not be exciting, they may not make wild promises to us about how much work we could do for them, and they may not have tons of money to spend. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been there for us and given us something to keep some of our people occupied when we needed the work, or given us a check at the 11th hour right before our cash basis bonus pool closed out for the year. Too many people in this business complain about their good clients, then lament their passing when they have to go out and make up for the lost revenue when these old clients hire different consultants. Originally published11/10/1997

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