We can do better

Jan 31, 2021

In the past year, we’ve learned a great deal about how we can do better and have begun to seize opportunities created by 2020.

There is little doubt that 2020 left all of us wondering what was next. And while external factors such as the pandemic, economy, and political unease continue to be stressful, the last year has given us opportunities to gain insight into how to improve everything from client services to communications, human resources to operations, and business development to marketing. I know we learned a great deal about how we can do better and have started to seize the opportunities that the past year has presented to us, among these:

  1. Focus on staff. We all know our greatest resource is our staff and, thus, we all probably refocused on staff over the past year to determine both areas of weakness and areas of strength that we needed to nurture and protect. We could not risk having our best performers jump ship due to perceived lack of support. By focusing on retention of our key staff, we also enhanced the working environment for everyone. A win/win for both the firm and our employees. Hopefully, you also did not stop recruiting as you will eventually need new staff even if you did not in 2020. How your firm treated recruitment and especially how you responded to hiring could set the tone for your ability to recruit future staff. We not only on-boarded new interns and staff during remote work, but in the case of interns we carried them over as part-time employees when they returned to the classroom as their physical location no longer mattered.
  2. Adapting to flexible work. The idea that staff has to be in the office is now a lost proposition as the need for and benefits of flexible work policies were presented front and center. Gone is the notion that everyone has to conform to a specific work schedule in a specific location. Firms which were able to adapt proved to be successful. The key now is to continue the conversation and maintain those best-in-class work policies as we continue to migrate back to the office.
  3. Embracing technology. Absent a robust IT infrastructure, 2020 would have been a lost year. If you were unprepared, you and your staff were seriously impaired in your ability to operate and could not immediately pivot to respond to remote work. Stating the obvious, it is much easier to invest in IT infrastructure when you have steady revenue than it is to experience panic buying along with everyone else. IT systems must be regularly upgraded to meet the changing demands of our work. Clients are now requesting information about our IT infrastructure not unlike asking about the technical capabilities of our staff. The last thing they want is a consultant who may impede the entire team due to technological shortcomings.
  4. Expanding business development. The shift to remote work was a great equalizer as the importance of firm location and size were diminished as client’s desire for service and expertise were increased. We were able to bundle our specialized skills and make them more portable. New clients located outside our normal market limits were suddenly available as they too projected into new geographic markets and were open to strong regional partners. Such new opportunities will reinforce your entrepreneurial spirit if you are open to thinking beyond the status quo.
  5. Sharing time and listening better. Deepening the relationships with your clients is always important. In many ways, the past year has enabled us to get to know our clients better as we mutually shared our biggest challenges and expectations. Time became our ally as we listened better and became closer advisors. By being available and candid, our clients have reached out to us more frequently leading to stronger relationships. Similarly, enhanced two-way communication with our staff has reinforced that we are mutually reliant and in this together. The perceived “them versus us” has been more easily eliminated as we listened, had conversations, and then worked together to chart a path through the unknown.
  6. Solidifying your mission and business decisions. There is no greater test of a firm’s leadership and capabilities than working through a crisis. Every past planning decision is tested and exposed to all when rapid business decisions have to be made to preserve clients, employees, and revenue. The stress can also highlight decisions made which do not fit within the firm’s mission and goals. 2020 helped clarify our mission statement – achieving excellence in the pursuit of a better community – which is inclusive of staff, client, and societal communities. We have increased our workload, maintained our work quality, reinforced our market diversity, and emphasized treating everyone with respect while prioritizing safety and the economic, health, and mental well-being of all. We truly have all been in this together.

We all adjusted during 2020, but the opportunities that arose from being more flexible, innovative, and technology-driven will continue to provide a strong foundation for growth. So, as we put 2020 in the rearview mirror, let’s also commit to a continuous process of assessment and forward thinking improvement as none of us want to relive the past.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock, and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

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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.