What do you believe?

May 06, 2019

People need something to rally behind. Identifying a mission for your firm is more than just a box to check when creating a strategic plan.

I am continually confounded that the majority of “leaders” within the organizations Zweig Group does strategic planning with find it nearly impossible to articulate their current mission and vision, either personally or for their firm.

They find it difficult to describe their passion, their purpose, why they exist, or what they believe. They then go on to explain that they don’t trust their teams, don’t have anyone who could succeed them, don’t share information, and wonder why their number one problem is recruiting and retention. Then, they enjoy complaining about how it’s the millennials’ fault. That is, of course, the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, when asked to define their mission, many want to know what other firms have done. They want to know how they compare to the industry. All of this highlights much larger systemic problems and philosophical deficiencies.

Are you trying to be number one? Are you trying to win business or are you working to achieve a larger purpose? There are no agreed upon metrics, no universal rules, and there is no way to “win.” There is no such thing as beating your competition: The challenge is to compete against yourself. Metrics should be used to uncover your firm’s weaknesses rather than to beat the competition. It’s fine to tactically evaluate your “competition,” but you should not do so strategically. What you need to find is a firm that represents an opposed ideology that you can hold up to your team as an example of what not to be.

This is certainly a much larger topic than can be covered in this article, so I will give you five things you can begin implementing in your firm. I would also encourage you to reach out to start a conversation. We need to get together and have these philosophical discussions if we are to elevate our industry.

  1. Your firm needs a just cause. What is your mission and why does your firm exist? This is the higher moral calling that will be used as a rallying cry, serving as a beacon that brings the best team members together. This cause is why people will be willing to sacrifice their self-interest in service to the cause: their blood, sweat, and tears. One of the best examples is the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You are looking to generate a thirst for the ideal you are striving for.
  2. Courageous leadership. Look for people who talk about who they are, not what they do. These people know what their values are (and the firm’s values). We do not want people in leadership positions who are only interested in money, position, or power. If you are constantly marketing how great your bonuses are, you are only going to attract people who are interested in more bonuses and other superficial things. If we are the aggregation of the five people we spend the most time with, who would you rather lead your teams? We want people who are capable of sacrificing in the short-term to achieve the long-term vision. Leadership should be willing to sacrifice their own interest or money from a client who doesn’t further propel the shared vision. This type of leader would never sacrifice their people in service to their self-interest. It shouldn’t need to be said, but title isn’t leadership.
  3. Trusting teams and trust in your team. If your people can work at their highest and best use, they will take care of the clients. It is not the responsibility of the senior leaders of the organization to take care of clients, it is to take care of their team. If the team feels they can work for someone they trust, they will produce results. In toxic cultures, where this isn’t the case, your team will feel the need to protect themselves from leadership. Build an environment where people feel safe to express their needs, concerns, and fears without worrying about repercussions or condemnation. Otherwise, you will get a group of people who come to work every day lying, hiding, and faking. Do you need to be copied on every email, especially when you’re on vacation, or do you trust your team to handle it?
  4. Find a worthy rival. This is someone whose strengths point out your weaknesses so that you can work harder to fill in the gaps within your organization. The goal is not to be number one, it is to create an organization that will outlast your leadership, to leave a legacy. Your firm exists to achieve something that could very well last beyond your lifetime.
  5. The ability to pivot. You must be able to adapt, change, innovate, and evolve given the environment, technology, resources, and resolve you have. If you are focused on your vision, you are more likely to withstand change as a result of the decisions you are making. If done right, you will create the infrastructure and lay the foundation for an organization/leadership that gets spoken about as visionaries. Others will wonder if you can see the future, but you simply adopt practices that further your belief rather than waste resources chasing fads or the whims of your “competition.”

I recommend taking your team through the exercise of setting a 100-year vision. Things will only get harder if you fail to take some time for introspection in order to find the root cause of your problems. This is a continual process that needs to be revisited frequently. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror.

Phil Keil is director of strategy services at Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.

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.