Putting it All Together

Oct 15, 1992

Earlier this month, I was in Scottsdale for the Professional Services Management Association (PSMA) national convention— a worthwhile event that I encourage everyone to attend next year in New Orleans. I saw many old friends, met some new ones, and heard all about what was going on in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries. The hotel was beautiful, the food great, and the convention programming had its usual highs and lows. As one of five panel discussion leaders who were assembled on the last day of the event to “put it all together,” I reported on the conclusions from my group of three top leaders in our industry—Bob Maxman, President/CEO of T.Y. Lin International, Leerie Jenkins, President/CEO of Reynolds, Smith and Hills, and John Mahon, Sr. V.P. of Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum— who spoke on the subject of “Keeping the good guys.” Other panel discussion leaders reported on topics ranging from “Results management” to “Staying on top of the numbers.” By the time it was my turn to speak, the discussion had largely degenerated into a free-for-all between a variety of consultants and practitioners on the subject of strategic planning. One consultant stood up in front of the audience and said that when it comes to strategic planning, the process is more important than the results! The next you thing you know, others (for the most part consultants, too) jumped on the bandwagon. We ended up hearing lots of sermons on the merits of (and process for) strategic planning. The topic of strategic planning is a critical one because it “puts together” all four functions of the business— marketing, production/operations, human resources, and finance. But several things about this discussion bothered me. First, I couldn’t help but think that I’m tired of seeing mediocre consultants use professional association meetings and conventions as an opportunity to market themselves. Why don’t they stick with the topic at hand and save their commercials for those who haven’t paid to hear them? Before I hired a consultant to tell me how to run my business, I’d make sure the consultant had demonstrated success in his. The consultant’s own business plan should have worked. And, if so, and the consultant is successful, he shouldn’t need to turn a convention program into a commercial. Second, although I firmly believe in getting a wide range of input from the entire staff (including secretaries, drafters, and clerks), the business plan is ultimately the responsibility of the CEO and/or board of directors. I don’t look to the staff for my own personal vision of what the firm should be. Anyone at the top of a company who doesn’t have a clear vision for the firm should step down and make room for someone who does! Participation in the process is important for building support, but so are the personal selling skills of the CEO. He or she must constantly be selling and influencing employees (all of them) to make that vision a reality. Third, I sure hope no one ever hired my firm for business planning help because they were more interested in process than results. We wouldn’t knowingly work for anyone who was. Process is only important to the extent it affects results. And results aren’t defined as a pretty or well-detailed plan— results are what happens after the plan is put into effect. A good plan includes tangible goals. When you look back, you can tell if they were met. To “put it all together” successfully, you do need a good business plan, one that is completely consistent with your vision of the firm. If you need outside help, get someone who thinks about results instead of process. To implement your plan, you’ll need the support of the troops, so get their input. But don’t forget you have to sell!— M.Z. Originally published 10/15/1992

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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.