The redefinition of winning

Oct 03, 2021

Most of us have been taught to believe in projects and profits, but do we also believe in people and purpose?

Being a leader is about constantly looking for problems to solve and opportunities to realize – but which ones are the right ones, which ones have the greatest return on investment, and in what order should we pursue them?

To know for sure, we need to see both the big picture and what’s happening on the ground within our firms and the marketplace.

The big picture. I see the patterns. I see them because I look for them. And I know the stress and the tension of needing to better understand, synthesize, and act because I’ve been a principal and major owner.

As part of my work these days, I purposely look for meaningful patterns of issues and opportunities that express themselves in leadership teams throughout the industry, across the country, and in both smaller and larger firms as a means to help.

And to this end, I see eight great challenges changing our industry in real time:

  1. The post-pandemic reality. The gap between great firms and less-than-great firms in the eyes of their employees continues to widen.
  2. Use of technology and the rise of “digital natives.” We’re only scratching the surface of technology at a time when we’ve been unable (or unwilling) to truly engage those who are best positioned to lead us forward.
  3. The amped-up “war for talent.” This has taken on a much more aggressive and creative form after only a slight pause in the early months of COVID.
  4. The still distant “silver tsunami.” This should be a great thing, but in some cases it’s delaying needed transitions and adding to frustrations.
  5. Outside money. Particularly the influence of private equity and other investment fueling consolidation and changing the nature of ownership.
  6. The redefinition of winning. How success for individuals, leadership teams, and business overall has changed.
  7. The “great resignation.” More than 40 percent of employees are planning to leave their current employers for new jobs over the next six to 12 months.
  8. The decentralization of work. The continuation of a decades-long strategic shift from a geographic to a practice-centered service model, now accelerating forward and widening beyond just our office locations.

In this article, I’m going to focus on the redefinition of winning – as better understanding and succeeding with this challenge better positions us for success with most of the others.

Winning today. Your people, especially your top talent, want to win at both work and life – and they want to do so while making a difference and having an impact. The days of sacrificing all for a career and then “living” in retirement are over. The desire to live a more meaningful and balanced life while excelling at work is the new norm.

At a leadership level, winning is about more than just a better business strategy. Leaders today must also effectively develop and successfully execute strategies related to:

  • Culture. Identifying and framing the value-based behaviors needed and desired for success at all levels in our organization and rewarding, incentivizing, and holding all accountable for adherence
  • Diversity. Bringing in more insight and expertise in terms of people, ideas, and place.
  • Innovation. Getting better at both what we do and how we do it.
  • Sustainability. Ensuring our success over the long-term individually, as teams, and as an organization.

A recent statement by the Business Roundtable, a group of 181 CEOs from top companies nationwide, summarizes much of what’s changed. Their statement redefined the purpose of the corporation. In contrast to a past “paramount duty” to stockholders, the leaders committed to serving all six of their identified “stakeholders” in terms of:

  1. Delivering value to customers
  2. Investing in employees
  3. Dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers
  4. Supporting communities
  5. Protecting the environment
  6. Generating long-term shareholder value

This is a very public bar – but one that most all leaders are being asked about and held to.

Winning for you. For most of us, our focus has been on projects and profits – it’s how we were raised.

Our success moving forward, however, must be as much or more focused on people and purpose – our internal and external stakeholders and our mission, vision, values, goals, and objectives.

As a result, most of us have gaps.

How we define winning in terms of each of these, what I call the 4Ps (projects, profits, people, and purpose), is a key step to closing our gaps.

Think different to do different. As a leader and leadership team, do you look for and see all the right patterns and know how you’re being affected – both internally and externally?

Do you believe that succeeding with people and purpose is pivotal to your success with projects and profits? Belief will bring investment, engagement, discussion, understanding, alignment, trust, and new outcomes – in this order.

Investing in new era leadership, management training and development, and updating your strategic planning initiatives can begin at any time.

You can turn challenges into opportunities and create your more diverse, inclusive, innovation-focused, and success-driven culture that great talent will want to be a part of – and be more dedicated to – beginning today.

Take your next steps toward winning – and don’t let inaction become your team’s greatest challenge!

Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider with 29 years of experience, having spent more than 24 as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms. Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process.

Pete is also the host of The AEC Leadership Today Podcast and leads The AEC Leadership Mastermind.

Pete works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through modern and new era focused strategic planning, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him at

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