Putting Strategy Back into Your Business

May 01, 2006

Just about everyone in the A/E or environmental business thinks that they have strategies. I don’t think many really do because most people don’t even know what strategies are. “Strategies” are philosophies— your core philosophies about how you will do things. These philosophies are the guiding principles that you operate under. In life, you don’t throw away your principles easily. Likewise, in business, you don’t throw away your strategies easily, either. Strategies should stand the test of time. Firms that change their strategies from year to year end up with no strategies. Not to say you can’t ever make a strategic shift. Years ago (or should I say decades ago?) I worked for a company that changed its geographic strategy every six months it seemed. First they were going to be a mid-South firm, then they went national with a whole bunch of new offices, then retrenched to offices in just two states. The costs of these radical directional shifts left them reeling for years. Here are some other examples of where firms break down: Their strategies sound like everyone else’s strategies. There’s one thing I know about business: You’ll never achieve greatness by being just like everyone else. That means your strategies have to be based on doing something different from the next firm. For example, if all other firms have a recruitment strategy emphasizing college recruiting, perhaps yours should be not to hire anyone straight out of school unless that person co-oped or interned with you. Or, perhaps your recruitment strategy could be to hire only those who have at least two years of work experience in another A/E firm. Either way, your strategy is to be different from the masses. Their strategies don’t say anything at all. For example, one firm I reviewed a strategic plan for had a strategy listed to be “an excellent service provider to a wide ranging client base.” Now what does that mean exactly? There’s absolutely nothing defining their philosophy in that kind of drivel. Their strategies are not communicated to everyone in the firm and then regularly referred to. The majority of A/E firms and many environmental firms spend all kinds of time and money developing strategies that they then keep secret from their employees. How can this work? How can they expect their people to understand their guiding philosophies that should be directing their daily actions? It’s madness. The strategies should be known by all and frequently referred to. When a manager comes in with a request to hire a certain person, an idea for a new service, or a desire to chase a new market, the first question they should be asked is, “Is this consistent with our strategies?” If not, the next question asked should be, “Why are you bringing this to me?” Their strategies are not followed. A certain number of firms understand what strategies are, develop strategies, communicate their strategies to all, and in some cases, even refer to them frequently, yet they STILL cannot follow them! The market changes, the company’s workload goes up or down, and decisions get made that conflict with the strategies. Or, someone who is a loose cannon just goes ahead and does something that’s in direct conflict with a stated strategy, and they are never called on it. These companies must not take their strategies very seriously. Developing meaningful strategies and then seeing to it they are employed over time is one of the prime roles of leadership in your company. The principals are responsible for seeing to it that strategies are unique, clearly defined, communicated to all, and followed in their firm. You can get help with formulating these strategies from a number of outside sources. But no one else can do the rest of these things for you. Originally published 5/01/2006

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