Building an entrepreneurial staff

Feb 02, 2016

568E3E34AEYour employees will work harder if they’re enthusiastic about their role in your firm; here are some tips to make that happen. As firms finalize their strategic plans for 2016, we hear a consistent desire from firms of all sizes to create an environment in which employees at all levels feel responsible for the company’s financial success. Sure, this is a challenge that all businesses face, but I think it is felt more acutely within this industry than many others. Most architects and engineers have had minimal exposure to financial management and are more comfortable building bridges than interpreting balance sheets. Successful firms have vibrant, entrepreneurial cultures. Staff feel responsible for the financial well-being of the company and “that’s not my job” is removed from the firm’s vocabulary. Some of the top ways to get your staff to care as much as your CEO include:
  • Incorporate financial management training into career development for staff at all levels – not just principals. Financial fluency should not be an afterthought. It’s not fair to promote someone to the decision-maker level without arming them with the tools they need to gauge the company’s success. This means identifying key performance indicators or revenue goals, and teaching people what drives the KPIs.
  • Make every job the most important job in the company. One of my favorite anecdotes to this end is the NASA janitor who reportedly told President John F. Kennedy that his job was to help put a man on the moon. If your receptionist believes that his job is as noble as your structural engineer’s, you will see enthusiasm and ownership of individual results reflected on your bottom line. Elevating morale requires celebrating the wins of the back office staff as much as your star business developers.
  • Create an incentive plan centered around financial accountability. A Christmas bonus is great for morale, but doesn’t inherently tell staff that every hour of their day that year built up to the amount that they’ll see on the check. A good incentive plan is one that gives each employee the ability – and the mandate – to control their own destiny by performing their job functions in a way that is beneficial to the firm and responsible with client resources.
  • Share financial information widely. If you are going to follow the advice above (creating an incentive plan), make sure that the staff knows how they are being measured. What
 are the firm’s financial goals for the year? The quarter? Does everyone know the basic tenets of the firm’s five-year plan? More important than sending out results after the end of a reporting period, information sharing needs to be proactive. Disseminating revenue reports and project profitability after the quarter has ended or the project is closed is reactive. Instead, tie reports to firm-wide and project-level budgets and goals while there is still time to correct any issues. Use these reports as an opportunity to point out the cost reduction efforts of that receptionist, the above-target chargeability of your second-year architect, and the new project manager who just beat her profitability target.
The common thread linking all of the methods outlined
is communication. Staff have to know that they matter to the company. They have to know what the company wants to do, and that it is in everyone’s best interest to work together to achieve these goals. They have to be reminded that the firm’s success is their success. Staff also have to understand if they are pulling their weight on the team, and how to improve. The leaders of entrepreneurial firms take the time to build up their employees, and will reap the rewards of their investment. JAMIE CLAIRE KISER is director of M&A services at Zweig Group. Contact her at

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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.