Knowing what to change and what not to

Feb 12, 2023

There are steps you can take that will make it more likely your company will adapt to change successfully over time.

My many years of studying and working with company CEOs and founders of firms in the AEC business has led me to the conclusion that the most effective organizational leaders have an ability to know what to change and what not to. This is the key to long-term organizational survival and prosperity.

Every organization has to change and evolve over time. After all, the world is changing. So are the people in the organization. Sometimes the individuals in charge of an area leave and are replaced. And hopefully the people who stay in roles are evolving themselves. So not only is the external environment changing, but the internal environment is changing as well. Nothing is static.

We all can probably agree that people resist change. That’s not entirely unfounded. Not only can necessary change be difficult to deal with, the fact is, not all change is good. Sometimes there are core strategies that are enduring and that make the company successful. The job of the leader is to figure out what change is necessary and good, and what change will cost the company in a negative way. How do you do that? Here are my thoughts:

  1. You need to really know your people and understand their strengths and weaknesses and hopes for the future. This takes approachable management that is actively involved in running the business. It also takes managers who are actually interested in the people who work in the organization and don’t see them as replaceable cogs in a machine. Knowing your people and what their aspirations are is essential to knowing what can change and what needs to remain the same.
  2. You need to know your clients and the businesses they are in. Again – active management that is still involved with projects is crucial – along with the right organization structure (client- or client type-specialized standing teams). It also helps to have ongoing research efforts to keep informed with what is going on in the industries your firm serves. This aids the firm in its efforts to sensibly adapt over time.
  3. Getting honest client input and feedback on you and your performance is essential. Continuous client feedback that is uncensored and is shared with all employees goes a long way to helping a company understand what it does well and what it doesn’t do so great – this is essential to know what should change and what should not!
  4. It takes a real understanding of current events in the world and what is happening locally and regionally. We are all part of a local community, nation, and world as a whole, and managers who are curious and want to know what is going on is essential to the firm’s knowledge of what needs to change and what needs to remain the same.
  5. The strategic/business planning process is crucial to your ability to synthesize all of this information. Having a business planning process that involves all employees’, clients’, and potential clients’ input will help management determine what strategies are crucial to its success and what needs to be altered. And this plan should be communicated to all and regularly updated.
  6. The organizational design and cultural clarity is crucial to your ability to adapt appropriately. Although I already said it once, it bears saying again – an organization designed to serve specific client sectors is much more likely to adapt to necessary changes in the market than one designed around disciplines or geographies. The culture of the company as a whole and the specific line units that serve clients will be more likely to be aligned with clients needs if you do this. It impacts everything. Although more and more companies in our industry have figured this out over time, there are still holdouts.
  7. You need gauges and continuous feedback on the performance of the system so you can make good decisions. Tracking the right numbers and sharing those with everyone is important to building a company that is likely to perform well over time. If the wrong indicators are tracked and emphasized, or the firm performance metrics are only known to a small group of owners, it’s easier to go off-course.

It should be clear by now that knowing what to change and what to keep is no simple task. It’s part of the art of management. That said, there are clearly steps you can take that will make it more likely the company adapts to change successfully over time. Take them!  

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him 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.