Filling in the gap

Apr 12, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 8.32.54 AMFirm leaders often think they know what the company needs, but in reality, are looking for answers in the wrong places. I receive a lot of phone calls from firms inquiring about many of Zweig Group’s educational offerings. Oftentimes, I’m asked about a specific program, such as our project management or recruiting seminars, and after a short discussion, it becomes apparent there is a gap. You know the gap. You realize your firm needs something, but you’re not quite sure what you need. It’s that standing-in-front-of-the-refrigerator-with-a-blank-stare gap. You want something or think you want something, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is you want. Some companies try to cover their performance gaps with assumptions, such as “What we need is more training.” I hear that one quite often. A performance gap may not be caused by a lack of training, but by something less visible. What they’re really looking for is process standardization. Our survey data indicates only 26 percent of firms have a project management manual, so how would a new project manager know what a firm expects of them? In that same survey, 76% of the respondents stated their firm relies on on-the-job training and mentorship for the necessary training. It’s difficult to accelerate a firm’s project management capabilities when a project manager’s training is left to the discretion of a mentor, or worse, as one firm told me, “our project managers are left to fend for themselves.” Those are internal policy gaps that must be closed before a training program can truly be effective. Finding and closing gaps is not as difficult as it may seem, but it takes a little effort.
  • Define success for your firm. What results do you wish to achieve? Let’s say you decide you want your firm to be more entrepreneurial. If so, you need to define what the term “entrepreneurial” means to your firm. Does it mean you want to expand your client base, or does it mean you intend to transform your firm into a high-energy, high-growth titan in the industry? Those are two very different definitions on different ends of the spectrum.
  • Close the gap by clearly stating the direction in which your firm is heading and the resources required to get there. Ensure everyone on your team understands both. That will drive their decisions and close the gap between what they’re doing and what they think they should be doing.
  • Communicate with and empower your staff. Ensure everyone is aware of your goals. I speak with a lot of human resources directors who tell me what they believe their firm needs. After talking through their challenges and discussing possible solutions, they usually end the conversation by telling me they need to talk with “the Principals” before they can make any decisions. There’s another gap. Some HR directors are treated as simple information hunter-gatherers. They’re instructed to find a solution to a vague problem and then report their findings to someone higher up in the organizational structure.
  • Arming these professionals with a clear understanding of the firm’s long term goals, as well as the authority to make decisions regarding training programs (which they are usually expected to manage), will expedite the process and ensure the training is completed in a timely manner. Instead, companies waste precious time endlessly debating whether or not a program is right for the firm.
  • Identify the underlying issues, not the symptoms. When a firm says they’re having a problem retaining talented people, one assumption is that they’re simply hiring the wrong people. They lament that their internal recruiting staff had failed to find the “right” people. In an attempt to close the gap, some leaders believe that better recruiters will solve their talent-bleeding problem. The gap here is the chasm between the perception about why talented people leave and the actual cause of the brain drain.
  • Perhaps the firm has a much deeper problem. Perhaps the problem is rooted in the firm’s culture or pay and reward systems. An expert recruiter, no matter how talented she is, cannot overcome a weak firm. Who would want to stay with a firm that’s infected with passive-aggressive types or rewards longevity over performance? Of course, your best and brightest will leave; they’re miserable!
  • Spending time to uncover the underlying issues is vital to your firm’s long-term health. An unbiased assessment of your entire firm may be necessary to find that root cause. Only after you’ve uncovered it can you begin to discuss solutions. Rubbing ointment on a rash will do nothing for you if the real reason for the rash is an allergic reaction to a medication you’re taking.
We all have gaps we don’t recognize. We think we have the skills needed to perform at a higher level, but the reality is that we often have some limitations. Those gaps can be overcome by ensuring your team clearly understands your vision, by empowering them to make decisions based on your vision, and by spending time uncovering the root causes of your gaps. Like getting a new pair of eyeglasses, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing when you can see more clearly.

This article is from issue 1143 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.