Think Long Term

Aug 10, 1998

The longer I have been involved with management of A/E/P and environmental firms the more convinced I am that the whole key to success lies in thinking long term. The sooner one comes to this conclusion the better—you are now in a position to start building your future. Without this realization you will spin your wheels and find yourself going from crisis to crisis. This long-term thinking applies to every area of management. From ownership transition to marketing to hiring to file management. It’s frustrating that more firm owners don’t understand what I’m talking about. The preponderance of firms are out there doing things the way they always have and hoping that the results will get better. Here are some examples of what I would consider good long-term thinking: Ownership: Firms that are thinking long-term make sure that ownership and management are clearly separated. They don’t automatically put all owners on their Board of Directors because they may be too big to do that some day. Their employees want to become owners for good financial reasons. They have a buy-sell agreement that clearly specifies how stock value is set for all internal transactions (believe it or not, some firms don’t even spell this out in their buy-sells), and stock value is pegged to real value as opposed to book value (this gets everyone focussed on growth and profitability.) They aren’t afraid to add new owners because they realize there is a value to having multiple owners (they’re more motivated) or in the event of an external sale (the firm will be worth more). Marketing: Firms that are thinking long-term don’t view marketing as a cost to be minimized and instead see it as an investment. They are most likely committed to outspending their competitors because in the long haul that will give them greater name recognition and the ability to charge higher prices. The short-term thinkers rely on their technical and professional staff or hired business development people to make cold calls. They see no merit in investing in process marketing and PR over an extended time. The long term thinkers are hiring writers, spending money on developing/implementing/training users for marketing databases, and putting more into printing and postage and less into cold calling. Recruiting: The long-term thinking firm isn’t waiting for a hiring need to be critical before making an effort to identify some candidates. Instead, they have a good handle on what their intermediate and longer-term employment needs are going to be, and start recruiting before it’s too late to tolerate a long delay in finding someone. Determining these needs is a regular part of their business planning process. The long-term thinking firm also gets its hiring process down in writing, budgets for institutional advertising and contract recruiters, uses internet recruiting, and implements a coop/intern program to fill up the pipeline at the entry level. Electronic systems: The long-term oriented firm does what it takes to get operational with electronic timesheets and project management reports. They develop an Intranet site in addition to their Internet site. They have centralized, electronic project files where everything related to any job can be found. They have e-mail that links them with the outside world. They have Internet access from every computer. They have a fax server so anyone can send and receive faxes from their desk. They have laptops with remote access for those who need them. They have 800 numbers for each office. They have good phone systems with voicemail and direct dial capabilities. In short, the long-term thinking firm is not worrying about how each investment in its systems can be cost-justified, instead, they jump into the use of reasonable new technologies. Information sharing: Long-term thinking companies are also sharing information with all of their people, including owners, so there are many people in the company who understand the full financial picture. Sure—there is a cost to collecting and communicating this data, but it’s necessary to have a widespread understanding of how the firm operates which makes it less vulnerable. Training and development: Long-term oriented firms realize that they will not be able to hire experienced people every time they have a need. So they spend money on training and development. And the money they spend isn’t just on outside seminars—they are teaming up inexperienced staff with experienced staff who will drag the neophyte in tow and show him or her how everything is done. Benefits: There is a cost to having better benefits than your competition but the long-term oriented firm can see what the results of that kind of investment can be. It gets easier to recruit, staff turnover declines which lowers recruiting costs and improves productivity, and morale goes up (at least it doesn’t go down from having poor benefits) which makes everyone want to work harder. Other: Long-term oriented firms will think long and hard before they bring their spouses, sons, or daughters into the company, because they know how damaging this can be to morale and how hard it can be for the child to be accepted by the staff. They maintain business planning processes that get widespread involvement from the staff and keep everyone focussed on the company’s goals. They have nice facilities because it helps them recruit and sell work. They spend money on the little things that keep people happy instead of hassling them over twenty-five cent items like a cup of coffee. So there you have it. The question is are you thinking long-term, or are you always doing what’s expeditious? Time races on—before you know it, the long term will be here. What you are doing today will determine how bright that future is going to be! Originally published 8/10/1998

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