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Acid Rainmakers: Short Term Dollars versus Long Term Growth

What's an acid rainmaker, you ask innocently? Come on. You know who I’m talking about. Nearly every firm has at least one: the lawyer or CPA who brings in the big dollars, or is a billing machine, but who is an absolute ogre much of the time. (These professionals come in both genders, but for purposes of this article, we'll use masculine pronouns.) He yells at team members, harrumphs around when he’s feeling moody, and seizes every resource in the office – all because he’s the big dog, the top biller, the acid rainmaker.

The question is: what do you do about him? Given all the business he brings in or all the hours he bills, can you do anything about him? Shouldn’t you just throw him some fresh meat occasionally and let him keep doing what he does? In a word, no.

Nobody likes rainmakers more than I do. Most of them represent the best things about business: they’re friendly, energetic, optimistic result-getters. However, some of them have spent so many years getting their egos stroked by clients and colleagues alike (not to mention making very big money) that they begin to believe their own press – and to behave badly. They begin to create acid rain inside their firms.

Other team members complain about Acid Rainmaker’s roughshod ways, and partners hide from him to avoid being sucked into his resource-seizing vortex. Pretty soon, people start thinking there really must be a better way to work – or maybe a better place to work.

There really is only one productive approach to the acid rainmaker: the managing partner has to have a serious talk with him. The managing partner must outline specifics of bad behavior and insist that such things not happen ever again. He can tell Acid that he has 90 days to mend his ways or he’s out the door.

Very often, this kind of meeting is all it takes to help Acid improve his obnoxious behavior. Most times, though, managing partners never find out what might happen, because they don't like conflict and won't have such a meeting. So the acid rainmaking continues.

If you're the managing partner and you do decide to rein in AR, be prepared to lose him. He may well leave your firm, either to start his own or to go to your competitor. So be it. You are better off without this guy. While he certainly represents immediate money in your firm’s collective pocket, he very likely is costing you a lot of money in employee turnover and decreased productivity. Never trade short-term gain for your firm’s long-term growth and success.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009