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These three things are important to your firm’s success, but they may require a reallocation of your time and money.
Conventional wisdom is often more “conventional” than it is wise. Many – if not most of us – who run AEC firms need to rethink some of what we take as the gospel about leadership, management, and business.
There are three things I want to go over that may seem unrelated but that I think are important to your ultimate success and each require a reallocation of your time and money. They are:
- Working on the business versus in the business. I hear this a lot – almost daily. As a Vistage chair, I’m on a listserve where all the Vistage chairs share information. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t talk about how one of their CEOs needs to work ON their business and not in it. I have even had architects and engineers whom I respect and consider friends say this to me recently. It sounds good on the surface. It makes sense to be sure you are doing your job as a manager and not just being one of the workers. But here’s my rub with that. People who get the idea they should be full-time managers, who don’t engage with clients and employees by working with them on the actual work the business does quickly become disconnected. They don’t know what their business does well and what it doesn’t. They don’t know who on their team is good and who isn’t. And they lose the respect of their people. It’s hard to lead and manage people when you don’t ever demonstrate your competence in the work itself. Plus, you don’t want to be pure overhead. In short, I don’t accept this mantra as the gospel, especially when talking about a group of mostly privately-owned small and mid-size service businesses. They need to work on their business, sure. But they also need to work in it. You may be better served to reallocate some of your time and energy to working in your business versus on it. It will help you in many ways.
- Team building versus hammering on people. It is conventional wisdom that managers are supposed to hold their people accountable. According to the various “coaches” and management “change agents” out there, holding other people accountable is supposed to be the leader’s job. Yet, my experience is that regularly hammering on people or shaming them to perform rarely works. The people who are going to be high performers don’t need to be held accountable. They are self-accountable. And those who aren’t going to be high performers won’t become high performers no matter how much you measure and bug them to do so. What works much better is to have a worthwhile mission for your organization, find really smart, motivated people, and then get them what they need, whether that’s help with doing something or additional resources of some kind, and get out of their way. As a result, it may be worth considering reallocating your time from trying to hold people accountable to recruiting and team building. Recruiting doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Sure it is a tough environment to find people, but that is precisely why you need to spend real time, energy, and attention on it. The odds that this approach will actually work are far better than holding people’s feet to the fire. It’s no fun doing that, and it’s even less fun to have your feet burned by someone doing it to you.
- Investing in brand building versus trying to get people to make sales calls. This is one I have tried to get across for many years, but one that many AEC firm owners and leaders still don’t understand. I speak from lots of personal experience here when I say you need to stop trying to get your people to make sales calls on clients you want to work with, and instead spend your time and money on marketing and positioning efforts that show you and your people as the experts in your chosen areas of specialization. We used to call it “process marketing” 25 or more years ago, but today it is called “content marketing.” Create and distribute original content that demonstrates a unique understanding and insight about the potential client’s situation – be that a common problem or opportunity to do something better. One buzzterm commonly used is “thought leadership.” My problem with that is most people just share information and content created by OTHER people (such as quotes from a book or buzzwordy terms coined by others) instead of research and opinion from themselves. That is “thought followership” and “thought redistribution” – not the same thing as thought leadership at all. If you and your top people share enough original content over time – through blog posts, social media, podcasts, videos, talks, PR, email, direct mail, and more – your clients will call you. And when that happens, your people are much more likely to respond properly. They know how to solve problems much better than make sales calls. You will get more work, better fees, and have better client relationships over time when the clients call you versus you calling them. Is it time to reallocate your marketing time and expenditures? Most firms in this business spend more on marketing labor from people who should be doing billable work than anything else they do marketing-wise. Think about it.
So is it time for you to change your thinking about some of this stuff? I never advocate anything in these pages I would not do in my own businesses. I don’t know of any other firms serving the AEC industry that provide management information and expertise that have been around as long as we have, and have been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list three times. Maybe we are onto something here!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.