You Scratch My Back...

Jul 31, 2006

I have been in business long enough to know that there’s one rule everyone should follow if they’re smart— “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It always drives me mad when certain people call me ONLY when they want something from me. Otherwise, you never hear from them. You probably know people like this. One fellow— the founder of a good-sized environmental firm who built up and sold out to a mega-firm— used to call me only when he had a cause that needed a contribution from me. Otherwise, he didn’t even return my calls to him! Don’t think I ever forgot how he treated me. I know another person— an architect with a small firm— who calls me only when he wants something, whether it’s a contribution, for me to volunteer for some sort of service, or money to invest in his latest project. There’s always a nice little friendly chit-chat on the front end of his calls and then “bang,” he hits me with his request, every time! Our business— architecture, engineering, planning, design, and environmental consulting— is one that requires lots of different relationships at many levels in many organizations if one wants to successfully complete or participate in projects. These relationships, if they’re going to be enduring, require a give and take. You help me and I help you. It’s kind of like the deal I have with my father-in-law. After tearing out 2,000 pounds of old floor tile from the basement of a house we were fixing up for them with scrapers and a portable jackhammer, we made a deal: any time either of us has an ugly job to do, we can call on the other for help. It’s nice knowing you have a resource out there like this for when you need it. The people leading firms in our business— the principals and other managers— should be making similar “deals.” Deals with suppliers. Deals with subconsultants. Deals with prime consultants. Deals with contractors. Deals with influencers. I’m not talking about anything illegal or unethical, or anything that would be counter to or conflict with the client’s interests in any way, either. But simple agreements to help each other— going both ways— when in need— are fundamental in this type of business. Some people are loners. They won’t make good deal-makers. Some people just aren’t tuned-in. They don’t understand quid pro quo and will not be effective as leaders. And some people are simply too selfish to see the other guy’s needs or point-of-view. These people won’t be effective, either. I think this subject would be a darned good topic for a brown bag lunch discussion in a lot of firms. It may be one of the keys to greater effectiveness as an organization if the principals and managers were a little more tuned into it. You help me, I help you. You only GET help from me, and at some point, I’m not only going to say “no,” but I’ll probably not think too much of you. Originally published 7/31/2006

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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.