A sustainable future

Jan 27, 2020

Charting a sustainable future requires a willingness to critically evaluate your firm and prepare for the year ahead.

Being an accountable leader assumes that you want to create a profitable path for your firm. For leadership teams, that means evaluating your team so you can effectively start a new year.

Here are nine business steps that are “must dos” if you are to succeed.

  • Revisit your strategic plan. Your strategic plan is a living document and deserves to be reviewed regularly as it is the overarching plan that should inform and guide all of your decisions. In Zweig Group’s 2019 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey, one of the top five challenges firm leadership must address is business strategic planning. Additionally, according to M3 Planning Inc., businesses using strategic plans are 12 percent more profitable than their peers. Yet, how many firms create the plan and then put it on a shelf to be consulted only when the next plan is developed? Create, execute, evaluate, and update your strategic plan.
  • Update your SWOT. Reassessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is critical because our industry, as well as global conditions, continuously evolve. Markets change, clients change, talent is hired or leaves. Have you thoroughly discussed the impact of these changes and are you making decisions to mitigate and take advantage of the changing markets?
  • Review your staff. The number one problem facing our industry today is staffing. With continued growth, staffing demands mount, and, when the average industry turnover rate is 14 percent, the talent search is a continuous process. However, none of us just want any staff, we want the best staff and that requires assessment of your staff’s abilities. Conducting formal 360 reviews face-to-face not only helps you identify possible staffing issues but also provide important feedback to existing staff.
  • Identify future key hires. If you limit yourself to promoting from within, what opportunities are you missing out on related to talent and market presence? By being too insular, you run the risk of not being as competitive as possible. Key hires can be acquired through mergers and acquisitions or as solo hires to address new services or entry to growing specific market sectors. This practice can create greater competitive differentiation based on a key hire’s talent and reputation.
  • Review your benefits and policies. Societal and generational changes must be reflected in your benefits and policies, and recognition of those changes clearly convey to your staff that you are aware and responsive to their needs. Your risk is not about being out of compliance with the EEOC. The greater risk in today’s competitive hiring environment is about being out of sync with your staff and the labor market.
  • Reinvest in your firm. In the 40th Annual Deltek Clarity Architecture & Engineering Industry Report, conducted in collaboration with the ACEC, SMPS, and AIA, large firms and high performing firms are focused on trends involving geo location, the Internet of Things, and developing strategic firm-wide technology plans. Smaller firms? Not so much, as they struggle with prioritizing the costs of technology, the costs of training, and the lack of champions to lead technology initiatives. We must reinvest in our firms to stay relevant and up-to-date, and to meet the expectations of our clients and staff.
  • Embrace thinking outside the box. Tap into the talent that will be leading your firm in the future. Establish a group to provide unorthodox input from the bottom up. Whether you call it an innovation group or “shadow” board, value the input and insight you receive from this younger group and engage in a two-way conversation about the path forward for the firm. These groups can provide a steady flow of fresh ideas, new thinking, and beneficial disruption to your existing processes.
  • Engage your peers. You should not feel like you are on this journey alone. If you are not obtaining regular input from your peers and clients, you should reach out to them as their constructive feedback will only make your firm better. According to the Deltek Clarity Report, only 46 percent of AEC firms are engaging their clients to measure client satisfaction. The effort you make to connect often helps to bridge relationships in the future.
  • Different is better than better. You must understand the marketplace, and that requires benchmarking. However, the information gathered should just create the basis from which you evaluate your firm and establish the goals and aspirations for your future successes. To truly succeed, focus on the competitive differences between your firm and your competitors and capitalize on those differences to create new opportunities and grow your firm.

Charting a sustainable future requires a willingness to critically evaluate your firm and prepare for the year ahead. As a firm leader, it is then incumbent on you to hold yourself and your entire firm accountable. And as I said in my opening statement, being an accountable leader assumes that you want to create a profitable path for your firm. I hope that is your goal and that 2020 will be your best year yet!

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

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.