Be a dreamer

Oct 31, 2016

Do you have a vision for the future of your firm? It’s a must, so climb out from behind the day-to-day, engage your team, and chart your course.

Any quick online search will bring up a number of references and definitions for strategic vision. As an important aspect of your long-term planning efforts, knowing the vision for your firm’s future – for its reason for being – should be something that your entire team embraces. A well-respected expert on the subject, Burt Nanus, defines a strategic vision as a realistic, credible, attractive future for an organization. And isn’t that the goal – to identify the ultimate purpose of your firm?

Remember when you started your firm? The excitement? The boundless opportunities? The “sky’s the limit” potential? Over time and through the day-to-day work of operating a firm, it’s easy to forget the vision of those early years. You may be focusing so much on the near term that looking out a year – much less five or more years – is just not happening.

More often than not, strategic visions are unidentified, or worse, forgotten. Strategic visioning should focus on where you want to be a decade or more from now, and firm leadership is responsible for identifying the path and sharing that vision with everyone within the firm. It’s all about imagining the possibilities and determining how best to achieve what may seem to be the impossible.

Risks worth taking. As companies mature, many become too cautious. They worry too much about the bureaucracy of firm operations and less about the future. Challenging the status quo is often viewed as an act of rebellion when it should be seen as a continuing process for evaluation, improvement, and growth.

As with any change, there is risk associated with creating a strategic vision for your firm when none currently exists. However, there are also risks with the status quo, especially if the status quo is not successful or fulfilling for you and your staff. Risks worth taking may feel like riding a rollercoaster with highs and lows, but if you have envisioned your success, you often are creating milestones that, in retrospect, will surprise and encourage you. And, if the saying is to be believed, with risks come rewards.

Size shouldn’t matter. Any firm regardless of size should have a strategic vision. Yet so often smaller firms may think more about what they cannot do instead of what they want to do. They don’t think they deserve a seat at the big table. Envisioning your firm’s future should happen whether you are a sole proprietor or the leader of a fully integrated multi-office firm. The implementation process may be different, but creation of a path forward is as important for a small firm as it is for a big one.

Entrepreneurial thinking is important. Periodically, I still grab a pad of paper and write down all the “what ifs.” What if we could go here? What if we could do that? What if we pursued this business? Starting with the “what ifs” is a great way to rekindle that enthusiasm upon which most firms are founded.

If used to create your firm’s vision, this same unencumbered thinking can activate the entrepreneurial yearnings within both you and your team. Many on your staff may have always had entrepreneurial thoughts that they will take to other firms if you do not allow them the freedom to express and potentially act on those desires. After investing in your staff, do you want them to work for the betterment of your firm, or for the betterment of someone else’s?

Go team! One of the important duties for any leader is to be a promoter and cheerleader providing support and excitement about your firm’s future. You have the primary responsibility to convey the strategic vision and to invigorate your team to accomplish the goals in front of them. Absent you clearly exhibiting your own enthusiasm for the strategic vision, the vision is doomed to failure before it even gets started.

Evaluate and adjust. The creation of a strategic vision may be a specific statement in the evolution of your firm, but it should be evaluated as an ongoing activity. You do not want to continually shift gears and go in ever changing directions, but you do want to evaluate your path and make adjustments as needed. Just as there are no absolutes in life, there are no absolutes in the development of your firm.

Get started. If you do not have a strategic vision, how can you ever know if you are going in the right direction? Engage your team. Enlist them to help plan and drive the future of the firm. Give your team the confidence to offer up their visions, both individually and collectively. Then facilitate the firm’s vision so that leadership, including those younger partners, can truly take the entrepreneurial risks to get you to your desired destination.

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

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.