What is strategy anyway?

Jun 01, 2017

The word “strategy” is kicked around a lot in the A/E industry when referring to the “business” of the business. But, like many other words, I find it widely misunderstood and subject to different interpretations. That causes confusion. And confusion is bad, especially when it comes to strategy. It’s the one thing everyone must agree on.

I like to define strategy as “the way we do things around here.” It is the basic philosophy of the business. When the philosophy is known to all – and all agree on the validity of it – then everyday decision making is easy. When the philosophy isn’t known – or different owner/managers espouse widely divergent philosophies – every decision – even small ones – becomes difficult. I don’t know about you but I will pick “easy” over “difficult” every time (except, perhaps, for computerized Scrabble where “easy” is just too easy!).

Every firm needs to define its core strategies. Strategies about growth – how will it be achieved? Strategies for client satisfaction – what is the firm’s philosophy on how to make that real? Strategies for quality – how will the firm ensure the quality of its work products exceeds the standards set by clients and themselves? Strategies for hiring – do they hire raw material at entry level, train and promote, or go after rock stars who have already proved themselves at other companies? Strategies for marketing – how will the firm make itself a brand name in the sectors it works in? Who will do the selling?

You get the idea. This stuff is crucial. Philosophical alignment is a must or all that will happen is arguments will break out or paralysis will set in. And then the people who do the actual work get torn apart.

If you are the leader, it is up to you to set the strategies. You need to get input from clients, friends, and employees, as well as secondary research data. And then decide where you want to go and HOW you want to get there. Put it in writing. Share and discuss. Sell and cajole if you must. But get it done and let it be known to all. No one else can do this for you. It is your job.

And the truth is this – many different strategies can work. There is no one best way to do things. The important thing is to have A way you do things – and to stick with it long enough to bear fruit.

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Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

This article is from issue 1197 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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.