It’s the kind of question that plagues principals: Why, if their firm has spent more than $300,000 on an all-new web-based software program that is designed to integrate every single front office function, are they still so doggoned inefficient at things like turning out proposals, finding old correspondence, or whatever? It seems like those problems should have been solved by the new system. But they weren’t.We held our 2002 Racing to the Future CEO conference in Las Vegas at the Richard Petty School a few weeks back. It sure was fun going 154 miles per hour on a banked tri-oval. Pretty easy to go that fast, to tell the truth. All we did was shift up through the gears till we got out on the track, then leave it in fourth and steer left. The faster you go, the harder the steering gets. I would have liked to have gone even faster, but they wouldn’t let us. I guess a mistake at those speeds could be pretty costly!The cars we were driving were 600-plus horsepower, purpose-built, tube chassis Winston Cup stock cars, with fiberglass bodies. They only have some slight resemblance to a “stock” car. Basically, they are caricatures of real cars. The “Dodge Intrepids,” for example, were made to look like two-door vehicles (they only come in four-doors!) with big V8s under the hood (they only come in six cylinders). They had similar “Ford Tauruses” there, too. The funny thing was that, no matter what “kind” of car you were driving, they all had Chevy motors in them! But they were all completely prepped and performed flawlessly for us. Nary a single problem. So, going through that racing school got me thinking. It’s one thing to have all the equipment you need to be successful. But it’s another to have the people— those who are trained in using the equipment and, perhaps even more important, those who understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. The whole area of training in the typical design or environmental firm is approached quite haphazardly. Sure, the environmental firms are probably a little more disciplined in their approach, due to the legal requirements associated with their workers performing certain tasks that require particular certifications. But beyond very specific types of technical training, what about the other types of training people really need? Here are some things I see:Training in how to use various Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc. No one can deny that there is a lot of efficiency to be gained right here. These are the tools everyone in the firm is using on a daily basis, and the low level of knowledge of many of the people who are using them is, in some cases, scary! Training in how to program cell phones. How can you be responsive to clients if they don’t have your cell phone number and you don’t have their numbers plugged into your cell phone? Or what if you can’t even check your cell phone’s voice mail, and people are leaving you messages? These things happen daily, and it could all be solved with some training. Training in how to store and retrieve documents. You can cook up the world’s greatest electronic filing scheme, but if no one knows what it is or how to use it— or your staff doesn’t fear the repercussions of not using it— it will fail. Some training here could have huge benefits down the road in time saved in looking for things. Training in how to write and speak. Most professionals will admit that the key to their success lies more in their ability to communicate than it does in their technical expertise. Yet we don’t train our people in how to write and speak. Huge gains in profitability, client satisfaction, and more are all there to be grabbed if every employee is at least proficient in basic business writing and speaking. Training in how to understand the finances of the business. If you don’t understand things like budgeting, overhead, mark-ups, and multipliers, how can you ever be expected to successfully run a project, department, office, or firm? What will you be able to contribute to the overall firm management if and when you become part of that? This stuff is really quite simple. The engineers, architects, planners, and scientists we have working for us can all understand it. But you need to spend some time and money to train them!There is still a lot of efficiency and profit that can be gained from training your workers. Got any ideas for us? E-mail me, and share!Originally published 3/11/2002
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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