The millennial era

Dec 30, 2016

If you want to groom the next generation of leaders, you’ll have to make sure your firm is changing with the times.

I’m a millennial. Gasp! There, I said it. A lot has been made of my generation. The good, the bad, our desires, our beliefs. Are we in fact the “We” generation, as the Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams, postulates in his book, Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future?

I get it, there’s some baggage here, but nothing can change the fact that we are the future of the A/E industry, the future of leadership. With that being the case, firms need to think about how to best position themselves for that future. Zweig Group’s Randy Wilburn, director of executive search, wrote a great article, The Gig Economy, that recently appeared in The Zweig Letter. In his piece, Wilburn talked about a new mindset in the A/E industry. Millennials don’t really want to work at one place their entire career. And while they’re at your firm – and if you want to have an outside chance of keeping them for a meaningful amount of time – they need something to believe in.

Knowing this, firms have to learn how to attract, retain, and develop millennials as their second-tier leadership. Working in M&A, it’s surprising how underdeveloped and unprepared the second tier is. Oftentimes, this leads to a founder, hoping to leave a legacy, being required to sell the firm since there isn’t anyone on staff that is ready to take the reins. This needs to change. Even if your plan is to sell your firm, a strong set of up-and-coming leaders will make your firm much more valuable and marketable.

I’m a “why” guy, like most of my generation. Millennials want something to believe in and they want to make a difference. There has to be an authentic reason why your company exists (hint: it’s not just about profits). The firm’s “why” must permeate every facet of your organization, your vision, every marketing campaign, every action you take, and every bit of communication you share internally and with the outside world. In the millennial era, that will be the difference between the firms that succeed and the firms that don’t. Getting a ping-pong table and allowing for flextime is not going to be the difference maker in the type of talent you attract. At least not for those with the potential to be your next CEO.

Take some time to really think about your strategic plan, your mission, your values, and your vision. Can each individual in your enterprise articulate why your firm exists? What impact do you hope to have on your firm? The industry? The world? This may sound grandiose, but it’s what millennials are looking for. Principles are what drive growth, attract talent, and customers. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s why millennials would choose to work for you instead of your competitor. And it’s also why they’ll be prepared to lead your firm when you’re ready to retire.

Phil Keil is a consultant with Zweig Group’s M&A services and strategic planning. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1178 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.