What Do you Really Want to Do?

Sep 17, 2007

What you stand for is a little more subjective but not hard to figure out, either. Look at the heritage and culture of the firm. New ventures should be consistent with that. And again, go back to the people. If you have someone who is an avowed libertarian, for example, who believes in the very smallest government necessary to provide protection to our borders and little else, it would probably be a bad idea to put this person in charge of your highway design area, for example. Know the culture and know the characters involved. Use this knowledge to design new ventures built around their deepest values. When you start new business units or ventures for the right reasons with the right leaders, you cannot help but be successful. Look for the intersection of what you do well, what your clients will pay you Some A/E/P and environmental firms seem to constantly be locked in an internal battle over what businesses they should be in, what markets they should serve, or what services they should be providing to their clients. There’s always a new business to consider— the options are seemingly endless— and there’s never a good method to decide what to do. The older the firm is, the more owners it has; and the larger it is, the greater the probability that it is struggling with these questions. Young firms, single-owner firms, and small firms that by nature cannot chase off in too many different directions have less of a problem deciding what they really want to do. As is the case with most strategic questions in a business filled with intelligent, strong-willed people, the answer is often right before your eyes, but you just cannot see it. Being in an industry made up of organizations that strive to be rational and process-oriented, research is often the method used to decide which way to go. Research can be valuable, and it has its place, but a lot of money can be spent for very little help if it isn’t well-conceived and well-directed. The questions asked could be the wrong ones, the markets studied may not be the markets that some of the key players think should have been studied, there may not be enough time or money allocated— you get the idea. And, in the end, no research report can ultimately make any decision. People need to make it and they don’t always agree. Some companies take votes at the board or top management level when they battle too long and can’t get consensus. That’s sad, in my opinion, as consensus must be achieved for any new business venture to get the nurturing and support it will no doubt need during its infancy. You cannot take votes on these matters! You have to work until all of the critical players understand each other’s viewpoints and agree. This, of course, is one of the problems with too many owners and too many managers! In an attempt to deal with a lack of consensus, companies often turn to management consultants. They think that the consultant is going to come into the firm and tell everyone what to do. Good luck! Most consultants do not have the intestinal fortitude it takes to tell those who will write their paychecks that they are wrong about something. And, even if the consultant can make a firm recommendation on the course to pursue, who says everyone in the company will go along anyway? There are always outliers who need more information or who challenge the credentials of the outsider, often for good reason. In the context of a discussion on how to pick a new venture to get into the other day, I heard a quote by Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, that really struck a chord with me. Those of you who have read The Zweig Letter over the years know that I hate quoting “the other guy,” no matter who that might be. But I have been thinking of Collins’ method over and over as to how it could be used in an A/E/P or environmental firm and cannot get it out of my mind. The simplicity of it is amazing! In a nutshell, Collins says that the way you should figure out what businesses to go into is by looking at the intersection of three circles. Those are, “what you are good at, what someone will pay you for, and what you stand for.” What you are good at isn’t hard to determine. It’s probably what you like to do. “You” in this case is defined as what your people like to do. You cannot do it all personally. But do you really know what your employees enjoy doing the most? Now might be the time to ask them, before the strategic plan is set for 2008 and beyond. Those with the strongest desire, client following, and passion will be your natural leaders of any new business venture that your firm might spawn. What someone will pay you for is not hard to determine, either. Look at your fees by project type, service, and location, and look at the information available on fees paid in any new markets you are considering getting into. It usually isn’t hard to come up with some quick numbers on the size and profitability of various potential markets. Why work in any market you cannot make money in? New ventures should be in areas that you think will be profitable. or, and what you stand for, and I think you’ll come up with some winners. And these will be lasting ventures, not just temporary business designed to cash in on overheated markets. I think it’s fundamental to be looking toward the future now. Times are changing fast, and your companies will no doubt need to metamorphose to survive and prosper! Originally published 9/17/2007

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.