Business planning in an AEC firm is such a critical function. It really is one of the key roles of the CEO. Yet we seem to struggle with it. Here are some of the ways we see firms go wrong every single day:
- No legwork gets done. I never could understand how ANY company can embark on the business planning process without talking to their clients and employees first. Just seems to make sense that they have input that would be valuable to you since you’d be out of business if you didn’t have either of their support (clients and employees).
- Too many people involved. I don’t know why some firms think all the owners or all the managers need to sit down in one room and work out a business plan at the same time. But I do know this DOESN’T work! It makes it hard to confront the really tough stuff. People aren’t honest. It takes too long. The energy gets sucked out by having everyone weigh in on everything. It’s crazy inefficient.
- Bad facilitator. I am talking primarily about people who don’t understand the AEC business. They always seem to have a book list everyone is supposed to be reading from before embarking on the process. There’s a lot to know about this business. It just isn’t smart to educate someone on your nickel. I want to work with people who have tons of experience, examples and resources – you should, too! There’s also the problem of the weak and overly touchy-feely facilitator who cannot ever get anything to resolution.
- Bad facility. I have been on some terrible business planning retreats over the years. When you are virtually the only people in a 1,000-room resort, it’s going to be bad. And it was! Or when you are stuck in a basement meeting room with no windows and people who hate each other, it’s not fun. I could go on and on but you get the picture.
- Not understanding what goes in the plan. Mission, vision, strategies, goals, and action items. Each of these elements has gray area about what it is or isn’t, but they certainly are not all interchangeable. Mission is why you are in business. Vision is what you are trying to become by some point in time. Strategies are what your basic philosophies are for how you do business in every area of the company. Goals should be quantitative and measurable. Action items answer the questions of: “Who, what, when, where, and why?” Sometimes “core values” are also part of the plan and they can easily spill into strategies and mission.
- Too many things get assigned to committees. I see this all of the time. Every “action” becomes a “study” and gets assigned to a committee. Committees are where initiatives go to die.
- Buzzword and cliché mania. I will NEVER understand why some people are like junkies on this stuff. They read every book and article and jump on every new bandwagon. And then they communicate on this stuff with the assumption that you and everyone else understands their gobbledy-gook. Keep the language clear and straightforward!
- No communications to the rest of the company. When the top people go off for a business planning “retreat” or meeting, the rest of the employees are all waiting to hear what happened. It’s a big deal. Too often the participants forget that just the fact that the company is having this meeting could scare the rank and file employees who may automatically (and incorrectly) assume that this means firings or something negative is going to happen. As a result, you cannot waste a single moment in calling your staff together and telling them about the meeting and the plan.
The list goes on – and on. How do you stack up?
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.