For a short while during my undergraduate years, I majored in management. After a couple of courses, I decided a management focus was too nebulous and too touchy-feely for me, so I changed my major to something more practical: marketing.
In hindsight, the thing that turned me off to the management program was the academic reliance on theory, clichés, and what I call “Management by Wishful Thinking.” My favorite professor stood out because he was someone who had been-there and done-that. He took management theory and brought it to life by presenting real solutions to real issues leaders face on the job. That’s how I teach my MBA students and that’s how I present leadership courses in our seminars.
I hear from a lot of firms that are looking to train their employees in “management.” Not necessarily “project management,” but the all-encompassing “management.” Nobody has ever asked me for a primer on management theory; they all want practical solutions for their employees and their firm.
Too many firms accept management theory as the solution to their company’s challenges. They hire a great-sounding consultant to provide them with “insights” into what their company needs. What they often receive is something less.
I’ve seen the work of some of those consultants and it’s horrible. I actually feel sorry for the firms that hire those types of consultants, because they’ve typically spent a good amount of money and have gained no practical solutions.
One consultant’s presentation included several nifty looking charts and graphs. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I did some research on their research. I found that those charts and graphs were copied from the internet and pasted into the presentation with no explanation about why they were relevant to the firm. One graph looked impressive enough, but had zero relevance to the firm.
I recommend educating yourself before speaking with a potential consultant.
- Grab a cup of coffee and take a walk. Peruse the business section of your local bookstore and read the titles of the latest management books. I like to read the dust jackets to see where the authors are going with their books, but that’s usually enough information.
- Listen to the words a consultant uses. If a potential management consultant speaks in a vocabulary of those book titles, look for a better consultant. The best consultants know how to bridge the gap between your firm’s needs and practical, proven solutions without spouting hollow jibber jabber.
- Understand the end state. Ask a potential consultant what actionable items will result from the engagement. Will you receive a series of slides that you are left to interpret or will you receive a detailed list of items that will actually move your firm forward?
I prefer to move forward. For 2017, in addition to our flagship The Principals Academy program and business development, entrepreneurial firm, financial management, and project management seminars, Zweig Group will introduce two new seminars on marketing and leadership skills.
Our marketing program is the first true marketing course for AEC firms designed to help your staff understand how to market your firm and build the brand in their respective roles. Like all of Zweig Group’s training programs, you’ll walk away from it with a notepad full of ideas to immediately begin implementing in your firm. In that course, we’ll cover such areas as: the differences between business development, marketing, and selling; techniques for differentiating your firm from the competition; and marketing strategy and tactics that will drive sales and business development success.
I’m especially excited about our new leadership program, partly because I’m co-developing it, but mostly because it will be a much needed resource for firms. The program was created to ensure current and emerging leaders have the essential skills needed to lead teams in the years to come. Notice that it’s geared toward long-term skills and not faddish theory that will be forgotten in a couple of weeks.
We’ve designed the leadership program around the recognition that too many architects and engineers are leading formal and informal teams, yet have never had any education or training on how to build and foster teams that are capable of producing exceptional results. Our assessment was evidenced in Zweig Group’s 2016 Principals, Partners, and Owners Survey, where we found that 34 percent of those surveyed had completed no college-level business coursework. One out of three firms is led by someone with zero formal business education. What could go wrong?
The leadership program will help fill in many of the gaps missing from a leader’s portfolio. Specifically, we’ll cover areas such as: how to build, foster, and lead high-performing teams; techniques for becoming an influencer in your firm; reeling in, retaining, and releasing talent in your organization; and methods and strategies for becoming an effective communicator.
We actually have too much content to present in the two-day course, so we’ll have other topic areas available for customized, in-house programs.
As this year ends and the new one dawns, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to assess the current state of your firm and layout an actionable path to your future success. If you need help with your strategy, carefully vet your potential consultants to ensure they’re going to provide you with a structured plan. Also, take an honest look at your team. Are they fully prepared, trained, and educated to grow your firm? Consider leadership training programs in 2017 to ensure they’re ready to lead and grow your company. A great strategy means nothing if your team isn’t prepared to execute it.
Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from issue 1178 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 to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.