Say “strategy” to an architect, engineer, planner, or scientist and you are bound to get a negative reaction. These folks have been through all of the strategic planning meetings conducted by the management consultant of the hour or the newly hired marketing director, and they haven’t seen a lot of good come from it. “We do all this stuff then go back to what we were doing before,” is commonly heard. Or, “These strategies sound like B.S. right out of a Dilbert cartoon—could someone explain this to me?” The fact is, the critics are right more often than not. Many strategies do sound like ridiculous gobbledygook, and as a result, they aren’t implemented. But be that as it is, strategies really are important and need to be agreed upon for firms to move forward effectively. Strategies are the philosophies that you run your business by. If the partners, principals, or key managers can agree on what they are, implementation of other decisions goes much smoother. It’s a lot easier to do what you need to on a daily basis when the strategies are clear. Following are some big issues that all A/E/P and environmental firms need written strategies to address (by no means is this list all–encompassing, nor is it listed in any particular order of importance):Business planning: Will the firm do a plan? How often will it be updated? Who gets to participate in the process? Who is responsible for implementing it? Who will get to see the plan? What will the plan include? What is done first before the plan can be updated? Growth: Does the firm want to grow? How large? What growth will be internal and what growth will be external (if any)? How can the firm pay for acquisitions? What kind of acquisitions would the firm want? How will the firm react to opportunities that drop in from the sky? Marketing: How will the firm identify project opportunities? How will the firm make its name known? What market sectors will the firm focus on? Who will respond to inquiries? Who will make cold calls? What will the marketing department’s role be? What will be done in the headquarters and what will be done in the offices? How will sales data be captured? How will the firm communicate to its employees that selling is important? Who can quote fees? How are go/no-go decisions made? What will allow or encourage the employees to sell the firm’s complete range of services?Compensation: Who sets salaries? How will the budget be controlled? How often will salaries be reviewed? How will performers be recognized over non-performers? Will there be a bonus plan? Who gets to participate? How will individual bonuses be determined? How often will they be paid out? How does the bonus plan reward cooperation or encourage competition (whichever is deemed more important)? How much money goes into the staff bonus plan versus the ownership bonus plan? Do owners participate in the staff plan? Do hourly people participate in the bonus plan (since they get paid OT)? Should the firm pay straight-time overtime to exempt staff or not? Who sets owners’ salaries? How good does the firm want its benefits program to be? Ownership: What is the long-term exit plan for the current owners? Should an ESOP be considered? Will the firm eventually be sold to outside buyers? Will the firm be transitioned internally? How many owners should the firm have? Who decides who gets to become an owner? How often is that done? How is stock value determined? What should the buy-back provisions be? Should stock be given away, sold by subscription, or sold in chunks? Should the firm finance stock purchases? Should stock sales go through the treasury or from individual owner to owner? Should there be a non-compete? What is the role of the owners? What special privileges (if any) go to owners? What is the firm doing to encourage (or limit) additional stock purchases by current owners? How does the ownership program encourage long-term growth of the firm?Leadership: What is the role of the chairman, CEO, president? What is the role of the board of directors (BOD)? How often does the BOD meet? Who determines who the top leader is and how is that done? What can the firm do to develop new leaders? What qualities does the firm need in its leaders?Production: Who signs plans, specs, and reports? Should there be central filing or decentralized filing? How will work be scheduled? How will fees be estimated? Who resolves internal fee disputes? Who is responsible for quality? How can the firm be sure it is serving current clients properly? What is the firm doing to train staff in how to do their jobs? What are the measurements for productivity and quality that need to be tracked? Who will see this data?Organization: How will the firm be organized? Should there be a matrix or standing teams, or some hybrid? What is the firm doing to encourage specialization by client type? Is that a good thing? Do staff members report directly to PMs? If not, how can the PM do his or her job? What are the profit centers? Should offices be profit centers? Disciplines? Market sectors? Should there be any profit centers? What will the firm’s structure look like as the company grows?Finance and accounting: Who is responsible for billing? What is the firm doing to optimize cash flow? What numbers will be tracked and reported on? How are budgets determined? Should there be any budgets? What is decentralized and what is centralized accounting-wise? How are project budgets tracked? How are firm goals tracked? Recruiting: Should the firm have a co-op program? Should the firm hire new graduates with no experience? How does the firm feel about recruiting from competitors? Who is responsible for the hiring process, firm wide? Who decides whether or not the firm has a need to hire? Who sets offers? What is the firm’s philosophy on salaries versus signing bonuses? How can the company make sure that minimum standards are kept for all new staff? What can be done to make new people effective sooner?
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. There are many philosophies that must be addressed to get all hands pulling the rope in the same direction. The business planning process, particularly the strategic planning process, is not a waste of time. It doesn’t have to be constraining. Done properly, it has the opposite effect. People waste less time seeking approval for decisions that they should be able to make quickly!
Originally published 3/08/1999
About Zweig Group
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.
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