A competitive advantage

Mar 19, 2018

Evaluate where you are, how you can improve, rank yourself and your team, and then work through every way you want to perform better.

Between wrapping up business and preparing for family time most of us probably ended 2017 in the same mad rush. But in the haste to end the year, did you overlook how to best start 2018?

How about evaluating your firm’s operations? This may sound like a tall order when your plate is already full, but why avoid evaluating your successes and failures? You should also not just review the typical items such as finances, but focus on those experiential aspects of your firm that can create real differentiators from your peers. From my perspective, there are five key areas that should be reviewed – aspects of running a business that can deliver competitive advantages in 2018.

  1. External client experience. When you are providing services that can be replicated by 10 other firms, how can you distinguish yourself and not be seen as a commodity? One way is to provide a differentiating client experience. This does not have to be an elaborate proposition as it can be as simple as how your client is greeted when they call your office. Do they hear a helpful voice or are they put through an inquisition to determine name and purpose, a process that clearly implies they are not an important part of your business? Of course, client experience is not just about the greeting, but how everyone on your staff interacts with that client. Are calls and emails returned promptly? Do clients know that you value them? Do you show appreciation for their business? Think about all those things you don’t like that others do and then review how your team measures up. Also, ask your team for input as you may be surprised at what they say.
  2. Internal client experience. All those items that are important to an external client are just as important to an internal client. We say that our most valuable asset is our staff, but do we treat them as if that is true and as if each position is essential to the firm? That’s not to say that the CEO should be washing dishes in the break room, but all staff must recognize the contributions of others within the firm. Leadership must set the example and younger staff need to see that your leadership team is engaged. The future of your firm is probably within your existing staff, and you need to nurture and protect that value.
  3. Public relations. It is surprising to me how few companies use public relations to establish and reinforce their brand. Many firms simply rely on a brand based on the partners’ reputations. These “cult of personality” firms typically have self-limiting opportunities as you either love or hate the leader. The purpose of public relations as related to competitive advantage lies in how you express your story about your projects and your people, and how you promote your entity so that it maintains a life of its own, long after your current partners retire. That type of brand identity is essential to the health and longevity of your firm. And the cost is minimal versus the value added to the firm.
  4. Staff development. Is your existing staff what you need to achieve your future goals? Or has your firm settled into a comfort zone where everyone holds the same views or has grown stagnant? It is incumbent to evaluate your staff and determine gaps that need to be filled by additional training, acquisition of new talent or termination of underperformers. Bringing in outsiders or advancing top performing younger staff might stir things up and send the messages that creative thinking and taking greater risks are ways to succeed and grow. There is also the tremendous value of mentoring your team. Most of us can point to our past internal and external mentors who helped guide our careers, but are we providing the same opportunities to our developing leaders? Helping your rising stars connect with those mentors can lead to networking opportunities you may not have even considered.
  5. Managing expectations. Set clear expectations and goals for your team. If you don’t, they will provide their own and you and your team will never get on the same page. By establishing a known playing field for your staff, you will clearly establish both your and their expectations for the year. It is equally important to manage your clients’ expectations. Bad news? Prepare them and explain it. Promise to follow-up promptly? Do it and don’t delay. Your follow-through and that of your team should be integral to how you intend to operate and be a differentiator when it comes to competing for client loyalty.

Finally, be open to change. Be open to improvement. Evaluate where you are, how you can improve, rank yourself and your team, and then start to methodically work through every way you want to perform better. What better time to evaluate your firm than with the start of a new year?

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Lubbock, Texas. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

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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.