You Made Your Bed…

Oct 23, 2000

Now lie in it. I’ve been a believer in the adage that you make your own luck. But that’s not just good luck, it’s bad luck, too. Make bad decisions, do the wrong thing, and you will pay, pay, and pay. So I say, take it like a man (or woman) and quit complaining about it. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about— all from the real world of the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries— and what I would like to say to these people in response. “We just lost our best two guys for the health care market. There’s no loyalty to the firm anymore.” And why do you think that is? Could the fact that Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Junior #1, Junior #2, Daughter #2, and Grandson #1 are all employed by the firm have anything to do with it? How about the fact that no one outside the family owns any stock? Do you think that making employees pay $230 a month for their own health insurance helps to create loyalty? Wake up and look in the mirror if you can’t keep good people! “We got screwed. ABC & Associates has been doing favors for Megaclient for years, and that’s why they got the job.” So why weren’t you doing favors? Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. You can’t begrudge those that do because you choose not to. The biggest firms do small jobs and provide free advice all the time. That’s how they engender loyalty. It works. “Our newest principals think we ought to give them the stock. They just don’t want to pay for it.” And why is that? Most likely, it’s one of two things. Either they feel they deserve the stock because of past promises made or implied, or they don’t think the stock is worth anything and therefore won’t part with any of their own money to get it. Either way, you are responsible for the problem. If promises were made or implied, keep them. If the stock is worth something, show how it is. Have a valuation formula that shows growth in equity if the firm grows and makes profits. Have a clear profit distribution formula that shows how much of the money will flow to shareholders, even if it’s not the best formula from a tax avoidance point of view. Then the stock will be worth something. “Can you believe it? Sue Smith in marketing thinks she deserves some of the sale credit for the Behemothcorp Hotel Project?” Yeah, I can believe it. If Sue helped put the team together, worked on the proposal, and helped get the presentation ready, she darn sure deserves some of the credit. What is it with some design professionals? They think they’re only ones who are deserving of accolades, and everyone else is of no consequence. Bad attitude! “Our engineers don’t want management training. They want more technical training. So let’s give it to them.” The biggest complaint we hear from firm owners is that they don’t have enough folks with managerial skills, particularly those who can run projects. Obviously, the employees must not be aware of their own shortcomings, or they would seek out assistance to address them. So would someone tell me what kind of firm lets its employees decide what kind of training they need? No wonder the people don’t have what it takes— you let them decide what it takes! “Our problem is one of utilization. If we could just get everyone up to X%, we’d make money.” When I hear how enthusiastic some firm owners can get about statements like this, I want to upchuck! Poor utilization is a symptom of another problem, not a problem in and of itself. Either you don’t have the work to do and are simply overstaffed, or you have all kinds of internal barriers that are keeping folks who don’t have anything better to do from working on jobs. These barriers are imposed by the company, and they include treating individual offices as profit centers, paying people based on how their own unit performs regardless of how the firm overall performs, and having policies that penalize you for using underutilized workers elsewhere in the firm. “We don’t have anyone who is any good in Dallas.” Why is that? Did you try to hire anyone who is any good in Dallas? Were you willing to pay the price? Did you fight the notion that capable folks in Dallas earn more than their counterparts in Omaha and not offer what it takes? Or did you simply send out an associate from the main office in Omaha, someone no one else wanted to work with? And what’s the real opportunity for someone good in your Dallas office? Is it to “eat what they kill”? The bottom line is, there is no need to do that under the umbrella of an Omaha-based firm working in Texas. Good folks would be better off to work somewhere where the name is a draw and they get jobs they couldn’t get elsewhere, or if it is strictly an “eat what you kill” scenario, start their own firms. Why be taxed by a parent in a far-off land who doesn’t do anything for you? Look in the mirror. You are the problem. Originally published 10/23/2000.

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.