Take a hard look at your firm. Is your operation lean and mean, or is it bloated with perks and unneeded extras?
A friend of mine, an Austin-based land use attorney, grew up listening to his grandmother telling him, in Yiddish, that, “too much is superfluous.” He understood this to mean “enough is enough.” The first time I heard him use this expression in practice – in a public hearing for a contested permitting case, no less – I knew it was a keeper, a new arrow for my personal quiver of management one-liners.
This economy we’re in, especially in Texas, is hot right now. This is the time when we should all get fearful of superfluous spending in our respective firms, what Warren Buffet may refer to as being fearful when others are greedy.
Let’s start with golf. Those within our firm know that I detest corporate golf tournaments. Personally, I don’t enjoy spending long hours with people who can’t play golf and who fail to recognize when that next drink is superfluous. Don’t get me wrong about golf. I love golf. I grew up with it and have found great personal growth by playing the game poorly on many occasions. A good round with a valued client, family member, or friend is irreplaceable.
But a corporate golf tournament is six hours of your life you’ll never have back, and that somehow gets twisted around to come out of a marketing budget. Let’s be clear here: Corporate golf tournaments are not marketing. It’s superfluous overhead spending that costs our clients and team members money. We’d be better off giving the tournament fees to our team members as bonuses so they can play on their own time and remain at the office to focus on getting results for the client during the workday.
What about professional organizations? Do you have folks in your office who participate in every organization that they can find, go to all of the events, but never translate that activity to results, or even better, to revenue? These people tend to stretch themselves so thin that no single professional organization gets their best effort, including the employer. We derisively call that a cruise director inside our shop.
They spend the hard-earned money of the firm to accomplish nothing except their personal social agenda. As the leader of the firm, I seek those people out quickly, and oftentimes the result is that they are invited to do those superfluous activities for a competing firm.
Don’t get me wrong here, either. We know that it’s critically important for our team members and our firm that we participate in professional organizations in a meaningful and impactful way. In fact, we award a one-time bonus to any team member who fills a leadership role in a professional group. However, a more intentional focus on adding value to both the professional organization and the company is imperative. The equation must be 1+1=3, not 1+1+1+1+1+1+1=0.
Lastly, how do you feel about birthday parties? I’m talking about birthday parties for grown adults in your office, not for your children. My team members tell me they’re important. The jury is very much out for me on this one. My superfluous antennae are up. Is it just another excuse to feed the face? The steady stream of free lunches, office happy hours, and well-stocked kitchens with free food seem like enough to me. I recently celebrated the seventh anniversary of my 28th birthday, and I’m pretty sure that the birthday celebration in my honor was superfluous. I don’t know for sure, though, because I was focused on getting the job done.
Grandmas are smart people. They’ve learned through experience to recognize when too much is superfluous. I hope we can all do the same as leaders of AEC firms. I’m starting to learn. Feel free to ask me how it’s going.
Will Schnier is CEO of BIG RED DOG Engineering & Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.