Being Really Good at Something

Apr 17, 2006

When you’ve had the benefit of more than 26 years of working with A/E/P and environmental firms like I have, some patterns about what makes one company more successful than others clearly emerge. One of those maxims is that the most profitable and exciting companies are good at something— really good at it. Being the best, or one of the best at what you do, is key. How can you do that? There are two basic steps. One, figure out what types of clients you like working with and what kinds of projects you like doing best. And, two, do a lot of those projects for those clients. The first part isn’t that hard. Your firm may be large enough to work for many different client types and do many different kinds of projects. But I would be willing to bet that not everyone who is leading your efforts in these areas— or even just working in these areas— feels that’s where their interests are. That means you may need to reshuffle your cast of characters a bit to get people into the work groups that best suit their interests. I am convinced that capability follows passion— if someone is passionate enough about what they do, they will get good at it. That said, I would also guess that your firm and your people are probably doing too many different things for too many different client types. While you can probably serve multiple markets in many different ways, trying to do too many different things keeps you from getting really good at anything. Remember my second point— you have to do a lot of those projects for those clients. Repetition is the key to success. Lots of repeat experience. Whoever serves those clients needs to stay working for those clients. And whoever works on projects of a particular type needs to keep doing those projects. If you doubt what I’m saying, take a look at the leading firms in any market you currently work in. Don’t they work this way? Why is WD Partners so good at serving clients with repeat building programs such as franchisers? Why are WATG and EDSA so good at working with resort hotel developers? Why is T.Y. Lin so strong in cable-stayed suspension bridges? Why is Figg Engineering so good at designing precast girder bridges? Why is Ellerbe Becket leaders in health care facilities? How did Carter & Burgess come to be so good at warehouse/distribution facilities? Why does CH2M HILL dominate water treatment? I could go on and on here, with one example after another. So as you continue to refine your strategic plans, I hope you will consider my advice. Get your people working in groups for clients they like to serve. Get them doing projects they enjoy doing. And, then, don’t fragment their efforts by having them try to do too many different things. This is the way they (and you) will get really good at something. And when that happens over time, your firm will achieve a new level of success. Originally published 4/17/2006

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