Principals must plan for the future, mentor younger staff, and genuinely care for their people to be good stewards of their firms.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of “stewardship” is the following: “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”
Responsibility, management, care – all these words lead us to the conclusion that if we are to be good stewards, we have to fervently maintain something of value and importance.
Let me ask principals: Are you truly being a good steward of your business? With 2022 behind us and the rest of 2023 on the horizon, it is critical to ask yourself this, and most importantly, address the truth objectively with humility and candor – no matter what the result may be.
So, what does it mean for principals to be good stewards of their firms?
You need to have an ownership transition plan in place. One of the most important things a principal can do is create a comprehensive transition plan. As a principal, you have paved the way and created value for yourself and your firm throughout the years, but there comes a time when preparations must be made to ensure the firm outlives its founders/owners. This is a crucial responsibility, yet it can be difficult to prioritize because of all the time, effort, dedication, and passion that goes into design professionals’ work. However, you are able to distinguish between a good and not so good steward when the time comes to plan ownership transition – the earlier the better.
The more ownership transition planning gets put off, the more painful and draining it becomes. Tasks such as carefully selecting the next tier of leadership, preparing the firm financially, introducing your clients to your new partners, etc. are all essential pieces of this emotional puzzle. A good steward thinks ahead and focuses on the positive, long-term effects that doing this work will have on their firm. Ultimately, this is one of the most essential things principals can do for their firm. After this plan is complete and in effect, I promise you will be grateful you took the time to address it. If done with proper care and consideration, your firm will reap the rewards and so will you!
You should prioritize mentorship for the next generation. Mentorship is a sign of good stewardship. Why? Because it shows you’re actively willing to preserve your firm. Whether you take part in this before, after, or during your time as principal, it is something that will greatly help the individuals of your firm. With baby boomers and Gen X retiring, and taking their decades of knowledge and experience with them, millennials and Gen Z now represent the majority of the workforce. According to Zweig Group’s recently released 2023 Salary Report of AEC Firms, roughly 65 percent of the AEC industry is under the age of 45. Mentorship allows you to effectively transfer your knowledge and that of retiring employees and, in doing so, equip and better develop your younger talent. Do you want good or great talent? You decide.
Take me for example: I graduated last spring, and I have been blessed to be the beneficiary of mentorship and am better for it. Many seasoned individuals have shaped me and given me a new perspective that I would not otherwise have had. This has saved me a lot of time and elevated my work. The purpose of mentorship is to ensure that knowledge transfer happens, through both experiences and work. Not only does this benefit the younger generation, but it helps the mentor. Why? Because you are giving back in a way you rarely have the opportunity to. Mentoring also reminds you of the beauty of your profession and how you are making an impact on upcoming generations. Why not take part in that?
You must be genuine. This is one of the pillars of being a good steward for your firm. Preparing an ownership transition plan and mentoring are dependent on this. The genuine care of your employees is what will lead your firm to be at its highest level. I am not talking about being genuinely unkind. But rather, demonstrating a thoughtful attentiveness and consideration toward your employees.
Have you ever worked for insincere individuals? My fiancé was the office manager for one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world and dreaded going to work. Why? Because just like the food they made, they were artificial, and this ultimately drove an effective, hard working woman away. Nobody likes fake people. It is human instinct to pick up on who sincerely cares about you and who does not. Some firm owners like to pride themselves in offering exceptional service to their clients, but when it comes to their employees, that is a completely different story! When you are sincere to your people, they will take care of your clients. It is essential for principals to be an outstanding example of what it means to genuinely care.
This is most certainly not the most detailed list of qualities of being a good steward, but these are the ones that have stood out to me the most in my early career. Zweig Group’s flagship training program, The Principals Academy, offers training catered specifically to principals. Learn more about how you can elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm here.
Leadership Skills for AEC Professionals With this seminar, Zweig Group’s strategy approach, previously reserved for advisory clients, is brought to the training environment for the first time ever. This course equips leaders with practical skills to identify opportunities, develop and execute strategy, and build support for initiatives within their organization. Join us March 30-31 in Austin, Texas. Click here to learn more!