A transformative process

Jul 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.46.59 PMIf a firm is to achieve something spectacular, its leaders have to have big hearts, and they have to galvanize the entire staff. One of the most rewarding things we do as consultants is guide a client through the strategic planning and business planning process. We often spend more than 16 weeks interviewing the leadership team and the firm’s clients. Some people might have good things to say, others not so much. We conduct anonymous online surveys with the employees. We amass, review, and analyze an enormous amount of data – financial, organizational, human resources, and even past strategic plans – anything that will give us a window into the firm so we can understand it better. This effort translates into a review document that assesses, evaluates, and recommends improvements to the firm in many areas. It often is a 150-plus page document that is distributed for review prior to a two-day onsite meeting with as many as 30 people. Sometimes people approach this exercise with doubts, fears, and pre-conceived ideas on what will occur. Our role is to facilitate the process and turn the experience into a solid 10 for all involved. It's exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. The process, to be truly transformative, allows all the participants to share their thoughts and opinions, and many times, these are the very leaders that will implement the vision with the support of their studios, offices or lines of business, taking the firm into a future that requires them to stretch out of what is comfortable and achieve the extraordinary. As we move the participants through this process, and hearing many diverse and different approaches to the practice of architecture, engineering and planning, part of the transformation that occurs is to identify what many perceive as ordinary parts of the design effort. Many elements of the work effort, due to the longevity of the participants in the respective practice, are often perceived as ordinary elements of the work that they do; the plumbing detail, the culvert design, the space plan, the fenestration design, the electric load calculation, the Phase 1 study and the structural load calculation. The reality is that these are all extraordinary efforts, brought about by equally extraordinary staff members who have forgotten that attitude and approach can be transformative. If the senior leaders can rally around the concept that everything is extraordinary, there is an ability to inject new energy into their departments by transforming the attitudes of their staff. The development of a tangible, quantifiable vision is often started by the suggestion that all areas of the firm need to move from one level of revenue to a radical look forward over five years. Often this amounts to doubling, tripling, or quadrupling revenue growth. Recently, with a planning session involving both senior leaders in their late 50s and early 60s, and a mid-level leadership team ranging from their early 30s to late 40s, the collective decision took the firm from $15 million in annual gross revenue to over $50 million by 2020. This transformative plan was crafted on day one, and on day two, we asked how that $50-million goal felt after a good night’s sleep. One brave soul raised their hand and stated what many felt: “This plan was sheer terror and fear.” But they were reassured by the senior leaders that they stood behind the plan and would commit the resources required to achieve this epic vision. The new president was equally passionate in his commitment to reassure the team that there would be no obstacles standing in the way of creating a transformation. WOW! Revenue growth that is this transformative has so many components that every facet of the organization has to engage in the effort. Business development goals, management goals, production and staffing needs, potential merger and acquisition strategies, technology, and new ways of staffing and planning. The firm must commit to assess and manage the strategic vision by reviewing the monthly or quarterly goals. The only way success can be achieved is by always keeping everyone's eye on the prize. Transformation ultimately drives down to the staff level, and what will their impact be on how the firm achieves the goals that it’s established? By participating and being invited to engage in the process! Truly transformative change can often start with the third tier, the 25 to 30 year olds who should be valued for their ability to think outside the box, review processes, and create efficiencies through an unfiltered view of how work can be accomplished. And here is the true secret of transformative change. In The Truth about Leadership, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posners, the 10th point focuses on the concept that “Leadership Requires Heart.” In other words, care and concern are the foundations of great leaders. Positive leadership generates positive emotion and, in that space, teams can create amazing and extraordinary results!

Ted Maziejka is a Zweig Group financial and management consultant. Contact him at tmaziejka@zweiggroup.com.

This article is from issue 1153 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.