Greater than project management, part 2

Jan 07, 2019

With more competition, more intensive procurement, higher costs, and increasingly lower fees, firm leaders must leverage the power of mission.

We have a mission as an organization. It is why we exist. The best ones attract, inspire, and guide our actions. We also have a mission as individuals. These are more about our “who” than our “why,” and it evolves over time.

To maintain success in a marketplace with greater competition, more intensive procurement, higher costs, and increasingly lower fees – and to better position our firms for the future – top leaders and organizations are leveraging the power of mission.

Our organization’s mission statement connects us to others. It articulates the impact we want to have through our work and beyond.

When designed well, it is a perfect “pre-game strategy” or leadership “master plan” to help establish our brand and set targets that motivate us to accomplish great things and navigate challenging times.

To do so, our mission should be focused on a positive and resilient “just cause” in service to others, and one that all of our employees – present and future – would be willing to believe in and sacrifice for.

As an industry, we have become pretty good at aligning our mission with our clients’ missions.

Our business development and client relationship management systems are advanced. They focus on building relationships and understanding issues, desires, goals, opportunities, and constraints well before we begin work on a deliverable.

We strategically identify, qualify, and develop, and then shift additional effort into the proposal, selection, and contracting processes over the course of months, and even years, to convince them we are the firm of choice. Most of us would agree that this is appropriate – and that even more is needed.

Purposely and strategically engaging with clients up-front on how best to solve their problems and advance their cause works. It also builds affinity and loyalty.

Imagine if we designed and executed our internal employee engagement, development, and management systems with the same level of care, intensity, and investment?

Would that be enough to become and remain the firm of choice for our best employees?

Throughout our industry, there is the growing chasm between “what it takes to be successful” using traditional means and metrics, and the desire employees have today to win at both work and life.

This separation is leading to burnout and exhaustion, lower profits, less engagement and retention, and an erosion of workplace culture. This needs to be leadership’s biggest priority (and mission!) – even if some on the team have not yet fully embraced the issues.

A well-designed mission is especially powerful during challenging times when talent has the choice to step away, and is doing so in increasing numbers.

We can all agree that we would like to break the cycle of burnout and disengagement and have projects with larger fees and longer schedules. How to do this in our current state is the challenge.

To progress, we need a shift in leadership mindset and new investments to engage and develop our talent in ways deeper than our clients.

On the client-side, we engage to “serve a purpose,” to design a solution to solve one or more of their problems.

On the talent-side, “serving a purpose” is more akin to having a “job,” to put food on the table or pay the mortgage. This won’t generate the drive and commitment needed to get out of our current cycle.

To advance, we need our talent to “find purpose” and build careers in the work we do. Fortunately, from a work perspective, much of what we do is pretty amazing if we take the time to think about and express it. Designing our work environments to best develop and retain our talent will take more effort.

As our talent evolves in terms of their interests and passions, we also need to co-create ways to align our work with their “life purpose,” their mission, if we hope to retain and fully engage them. Work projects will never be enough.

Five steps to take. To leverage the power of mission, we can begin with these five steps:

  1. Revisit our mission. Does it inspire and attract? Does it advance both sides of the talent-client equation? Is it able to guide us to where we want to be? Is it a brand we want to be associated with as both leaders and employees?
  2. Revisit our mindset toward talent. Have we considered the mission of our employees? Do we know the “purpose” our work serves in their lives? Do we have a specific plan to optimize and advance it?
  3. Reimagine our “employee development” and “employee relationship management” systems to maximize growth and engagement.
  4. Redesign our work, performance, and incentive systems around our mission to make it happen.
  5. Invest in and celebrate great project management and execution as the key to realizing our mission and advancing our firm and industry.

There is major change taking place in the AEC industry. Despite our great work and vital role, we need to adapt if we want to attract, inspire, and remain relevant.

Our mission can be more than website text or words on the wall. Our mission has the power to produce wins for our clients, our talent, our organizations, and beyond.

It’s not only possible, it’s essential for our future viability.

Peter Atherton, P.E. is an industry insider having spent more than 20 years as a successful professional, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for a high-achieving AEC firm. Atherton is now the president and founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout: How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. He can be reached 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.