by Will Schner, P.E.
Change can be difficult, and sometimes it can feel punitive, but it’s crucial to the process of leaving those bad yesterdays behind.
I’m a student of Lyndon B. Johnson. Being the father of a seventh-generation Texan (through his mother’s line), has at times inspired me to embrace my adopted state more than would appear reasonable. As such, one of my personal joys over the past few years has been reading and watching everything I could find about our 36th president, despite personally aligning with a much more conservative approach.
On one memorable occasion, my wife and I had the opportunity to tour his Texas White House. Would you believe the man had a telephone sitting on every piece of furniture in every room of the place? He was a social animal before social media was a thing! He was also wise, as this quote by him amply illustrates: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
This quote has been especially comforting for me as an executive experiencing many growth-related challenges for the first time. LBJ saw a lot of change. He’d be the first to tell you that change is hard. Depending on the circumstances, he may have even told you whilst you were on the receiving end of the famous “Johnson Treatment.”
Over the past year I have shared with great transparency my thoughts about the items on which we’re working to improve. That transparency is consistent with the way that we strive to run our firm. Every step of the way I’ve focused not on punishing the wrongs, but on fixing the underlying causes to prevent the same problems from reoccurring. As a result of that, we will surely win a lot of tomorrows. The idea of winning a lot of tomorrows gets me excited to come to work every day.
In our case, we had to make institutional changes to how we operate to create growth and increased opportunities (and shareholder returns). It is one of the many responsibilities of the leaders of every A/E firm to create growth and opportunities, perhaps the most important one for a president or CEO.
There is an ideal point for creating change when it will cause minimal interruption. As humans, we rarely meet that point exactly. Practically speaking, when change actions come later than they ideally should, it feels like even greater change. Of course, we could ask LBJ about that.
For our firm, we had to make changes due to actions, or as was more likely the case, actions not taken in a timely manner, at the top of our organization chart. I want to be very clear that every undesirable issue in our organization could be reasonably identified as a symptom of something that I had done directly, failed to do quickly enough, or had knowingly allowed to occur.
That doesn’t mean that there were a lot of problems, in fact there were very few. We had, after all, grown to more than 100 people in less than eight years, won awards for fast growth, excellence in marketing, and best places to work several years running. And it starts with us being blessed by having a wonderful list of strong and supportive clients.
Some firms may call our issues gold-plated problems to have. Nevertheless, the problems we did have would surely prevent us from continuing to grow; would prevent us from creating a fortress-like balance sheet; would prevent us from growing the value of the firm and creating more opportunities for our team members and clients; would prevent the creation of shareholder value. For me, that was a big problem and it required change.
Our team members dealing day-to-day with our organization’s changes may sometimes feel like it’s because of something they did incorrectly. Or that changes being made are some sort of passive-aggressive punishment. That could not be further from the truth.
As I’ve explained, because upper management failed, the changes necessary as part of growth were made later than they should have been, so they feel much greater, and perhaps, punitive. The important thing to note is that the changes are correct, and critical to the future success of the organization. After all, those who do not embrace change oftentimes get left behind by it. And we cannot let our firms get left behind.
Thankfully, LBJ was correct. If we win tomorrow, nobody will remember yesterday. Because, the lessons we learned yesterday are the reason we’re going to win a lot of tomorrows.