{ "articles": [ { "title": "The allowlist", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-09", "url": "/blogs/news/the-allowlist", "summary": "   This cybersecurity strategy ensures you’ll never miss important emails. The digital dance of email is a choreography we’re all trying to get the groove of. Email regulations and sender guidelines have drastically changed over the last few years, and with the growing adoption of artificial intelligence, getting what you need, and nothing you don’t is a bit overwhelming. Amidst the clutter lies a simple solution that ensures you never miss important emails. Enter allowlisting – the ultimate inbox ally for all. Allowlisting is a cybersecurity strategy that works the same as blocking or reporting spam, but the opposite. You’re “allowing” specific senders to reach you, and only those. Moreover, the approved senders list streamlines email management. By cataloging trusted senders, emails from these sources sidestep spam filters, empowering recipients to discern their legitimacy. Here are the simple allowlisting steps to improve your email receivability by platform: For Gmail users: Click on the settings icon and navigate to “See all settings.”Select “Filters and Blocked Addresses” and click “Create a new filter.”In the “From” field, enter the email address or subdomain you’d like to allowlist.Click “Create filter,” then check the option “Never send it to Spam,” and finally click “Create filter” again to save the setting.On your mobile device, open your junk folder, select a message from info@zweiggroup.com, and choose “Report not spam.” For Outlook users: Click on the settings icon, select “Mail” from the left sidebar, then navigate to “Junk email.”Click “Add+” in the “Safe senders and domains” section.Add info@zweiggroup.com to your safe senders list.On mobile, open a message from info@zweiggroup.com, select the three-dot menu at the top, and choose “Move to Folder.” Select the destination folder and click “Always Move” from the pop-up window. For Yahoo users: Select any message in your spam folder and mark it as “Not Spam.” This action will add the sender to your allowlist. If you need to allowlist an address that hasn’t yet sent you a message, follow these steps: Click on the settings icon and select “More Settings,” then navigate to “Filters” and click on “Add new filters.”Add the desired email address to be allowlisted and save the filter.On mobile, select the inbox folder icon, open spam, choose an email from the desired address, click “Move,” and select “Inbox.” So, whether you’re blocking the Joker’s emails or giving Alfred VIP access, rest assured, your inbox is in good hands when you optimize your allowlists. Holy efficiency, Batman!  Katelyn Dover is senior marketing manager at Zweig Group. Contact her at kdover@zweiggroup.com. Minds & Machines Zweig Group’s T(AI)SK FORCE will be hosting a deep dive into AI integration and operations. This training provides a high-impact, hands-on learning experience that is designed to help emerging and current leaders be at the forefront of the AI technological revolution. Join us June 25-26 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Win work with your personal brand", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-09", "url": "/blogs/news/win-work-with-your-personal-brand", "summary": "   Your personal brand wins you work, builds strong relationships, and keeps clients coming back to your team. You might think winning new projects has everything to do with a portfolio of high-quality work. And that’s obviously a big part of it, don’t get me wrong. But there’s another important factor that comes into play when owners decide which architecture, engineering, and construction firms to work with – the people on the project. People make up a firm’s personal brand and what you deliver to clients. People enjoy working with and doing business with individuals they like and trust. This goes for most industries – from banking to insurance to event planning – and the AEC industry is no different. Your personal brand wins you work, builds strong relationships, and keeps clients coming back to your team. Just like a company brand, developing a personal brand takes time – years, even! It’s a reflection of your core values, beliefs, and vision. Your personal brand is not just about an image; it’s about interactions. It’s how you engage with others, from your handshake to your smile to your presence in a room. Your energy attracts similar energy. Are you emitting the kind of energy you wish to receive from others? Consistent interactions over time will define your personal brand. You can deliberately shape your personal brand by setting goals aligned with it. Keeping promises and following up are vital components of your personal brand. Establishing recognition for yourself and your company is crucial for attracting more projects and opportunities. Consistency, engagement, and visibility (through online and in-person networking) are key in building and strengthening your personal brand over time. Effective ways to enhance your brand include: Having an active presence on social platforms like LinkedIn Getting articles published and becoming a thought leader Attending industry-related and civic events Spend some time reflecting on how your current clients choose you for projects. Ask owners directly why they decided to work with you. You’ll likely find a common thread – clients prefer working with individuals they trust and who listen to them. A strong personal brand showcases the value you bring to a project. By fostering relationships, operations, and technical teams not only enhance the company’s overall brand but also develop their own personal brands. Repeat clients often request the same team because of the rapport built with them, inadvertently strengthening their personal brands.  Lindsay Young, MBA, FSMPS, CPSM is a marketing services advisor with Zweig Group and president and founder of nu marketing. She can be reached at lyoung@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Back to the office", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-09", "url": "/blogs/news/back-to-the-office", "summary": "   The benefits of getting everyone together in the office each week are simply too great to ignore. I haven’t worked in an office since 2018. But I have to say that sometimes I miss it. And I think companies in our business are missing out by not requiring their people to spend a certain amount of time there every week. People need actual contact and face-to-face interaction with other humans. When they don’t get it, they get weird, depressed, and in some cases, less productive. I could say as a business owner and manager I don’t care about the first two and only care about productivity, but that isn’t the case. “Weird and depressed” aren’t good for the business, either. Sure – office space is expensive. And every poll taken of professional workers shows that a vast preponderance of people would prefer working from home some or all of the time – but what is best for the business? I think the benefits of getting everyone together are simply too great to ignore. There is something to be said for getting up early, taking a shower, putting on some decent clothing, and heading to the office. Then when you get there you can see your work friends and have a nice, clean place to work. Lunch out with co-workers is a time to talk. And the banter and short conversations you have throughout the day keep you informed on how things are going for the people in the company. Relationships formed and sustained through constant contact are healthier and make it easier to work together. All good stuff. And while we talk about how great it is to work from home because there are fewer distractions – now that we have all experienced it during COVID – do you really think that is the case? Kids who want things from you, barking dogs who want to get let in and out, Amazon deliveries, a yard that needs to be cut, dishes in the sink that need tending to, a teenager who needs to be picked up and taken for an orthodontist appointment – do you really believe that there are no distractions working from home? Of course there are! They are just different ones than those you would encounter at the office. I think most of us who own and manage AEC firms today would agree that it would be best if we could get our people back to the office. But the question is how? The cat has been let out of the bag. It’s going to be hard to get it back in. People have been able to work from home for so long their lives have been organized around that. And many don’t want to go back. Some firms have simply mandated that their people work in the office either full-time or so many days a week. Rumor has it here in Northwest Arkansas that Walmart – which is building a new corporate headquarters here that will rival Apple’s – is telling all of its remote workers they will have to come back. Those who don’t want to do it are supposedly going to be looking for new work. Maybe that’s too draconian for our industry with the labor shortage we are facing. I don’t know what the alternative is. I guess we can ask. We can also sell the benefits. And we can make our offices as nice and as fun to be in as possible. Because the truth is, those who are there and seen, and have relationships with you and the other principals of your firm will be more likely to get ahead. Let me know if you have any creative ideas to get people back to your office. But one way or another, it’s time to get back to the office!  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Liability insurance insights", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-09", "url": "/blogs/news/liability-insurance-insights", "summary": "   AEC firms see growth opportunities amid gradual U.S. economic rebound clouded by insurer concerns over inflation, claim costs, higher risks. Even as AEC firms throughout the U.S. continue to benefit from growth opportunities brought about by the U.S. economy’s gradual recovery, their professional liability insurers have concerns about the effects of economic and social inflation on claim expenses, as well as heightened risks associated with specific project types, professional design disciplines, and evolving project delivery methods. As a result, nearly all insurers participating in the Ames & Gough 2024 survey of 17 leading insurance companies providing professional liability insurance to architects and engineers in the U.S. are planning to raise rates with only one insurer seeking to keep rates flat. Specifically, among the insurers raising rates, 75 percent are planning modest increases (up to 5 percent) while 25 percent plan rate increases of 6 percent or more. Here are a dozen key findings and insights from the survey that shed light on insurers’ concerns that may be helpful to AEC firms as they develop or refine their business strategies going forward: Construction inflation ratchets up claim expenses. Of the insurers surveyed, only 6 percent saw claim severity decrease in 2023 compared to 18 percent whose claim experience worsened in 2023 on a year-over-year basis. Four in five pointed to inflation for driving up costs, emphasizing that construction inflation exceeds headline inflation with higher costs for materials, supplies, and labor. Social inflation remains unchecked. The insurers surveyed continued to cite social inflation for wreaking havoc on claim severity, emboldening plaintiffs’ attorneys to seek higher settlements, complicating mediation, and driving up legal defense costs. Most insurers report paying multimillion-dollar claims. Of the insurers surveyed, nearly one in four paid a claim of $5 million or more in 2023, including 12 percent paying claims of $10 million or more. The largest claims often involved what insurers consider high-risk projects or disciplines, particularly structural engineering, civil engineering and architecture. Insurers wary of states with elevated risks. Some insurers surveyed identified Florida and Texas as states with concentrations of higher risk projects, such as schools, condominiums, and multifamily construction; meanwhile, New Jersey and New York raised concerns over legal environments that may lead to larger awards, higher defense costs and greater claim severity. Availability of larger professional liability limits declines. Most insurers surveyed reported consistent availability of professional liability insurance limits. However, only 40 percent indicated they can provide limits exceeding $5 million, a huge drop from two-thirds of insurers willing to offer this capacity level in the 2023 survey. AEC firms with higher limit requirements need a plan. When faced with owner requirements for higher professional insurance limits of liability, AEC firms might try negotiating with owners to check if higher limits are warranted. If so, they might explore alternative structures, such as specific additional limits endorsements/project excess or review their program structure and build layers with multiple participating insurers. Most insurers target rate increases on accounts with poor loss experience. This year, 75 percent of the insurers surveyed plan to target rate increases on accounts with adverse loss experience; 56 percent will target firms with what they consider higher risk projects, such as condominiums and other residential construction, street/road, highway, and infrastructure. The same percentage plan to target higher risk disciplines, including structural engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and architecture. And 25 percent plan increases for their entire book of business. Insurers foresee rebound in AEC firm M&A. Although M&A activity among AEC firms slowed in 2023, insurers surveyed believe a resurgence of transactions is likely should interest rates begin to stabilize. Meanwhile, they continue to apply careful underwriting to firms involved in combinations with some adding questions about such growth plans to their new policy and renewal applications. New concerns over AEC firms’ ability to address climate change. This year, insurers raised a new wrinkle on climate change with some uncertainty over whether AEC firms can adapt to designing to address more extreme and complex weather conditions not yet contemplated by existing construction codes. Watch looming risks of AI. As AEC firms begin to embrace AI opportunities, they need to navigate potential regulatory and legal compliance issues given the largely unregulated nature of AI in the workplace. Those adopting AI should reevaluate existing policies to accommodate AI deployment in the context of varied federal and state laws. They also need to address employee concerns about job security as they adopt AI. Insurers continue to balance competition with sound underwriting. Even as insurers providing professional liability coverage compete for AEC business, many are focusing on the most desirable risk segments while being relentless in applying sound underwriting discipline across their entire portfolio. AEC firms must remain diligent about risk management. In this environment, design firms need to approach their risk management with heightened diligence that encompasses all aspects of their business – from client and project selection to choosing and managing subconsultants, maintaining effective quality control, performing thorough contract reviews, ensuring proper contractual risk allocation, and providing timely documentation of communication with owners and project participants. Contact info@amesgough.com to obtain a complimentary copy of the Ames & Gough survey, PLI Market 2024: A/E Firms See Steady Growth, Evolving Risks, and Inflation-Driven Costs.  Jared Maxwell is vice president and partner at Ames & Gough, and Cady Sinks it assistant vice president and partner at Ames & Gough. Jared Maxwell can be reached at jmaxwell@amesgough.com; Cady Sinks can be reached at csinks@amesgough.com." }, { "title": "A greater value: Dan Rowe", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-09", "url": "/blogs/news/a-greater-value-dan-rowe", "summary": "   President of TreanorHL (Lawrence, KS), a full-service architectural firm with a purpose of creating places and experiences that make people’s lives better. By Liisa AndreassenCorrespondent Rowe gives a good deal of indirect credit to his mother for leading him down the architecture career path. His interest was first piqued when he was around 12 and she taught him to scale drawings from books or magazines and how to then transfer them to sewing patterns. He drew everything from T-shirt decals to yearbook photos and sold them to his classmates. “I made a good living for a sixth grader in the ‘70s,” he jokes. “The point is, my drawing skills and aptitude for math made it clear that architecture was the right fit for me.” It was that initial experience that set him up with the philosophy that architecture is much more than building design. It’s about understanding people, mapping things out, and sculpting clay into structure. “The individuals who use a building and the clients who pay for it often have different needs and interests,” he says. “Creating a place that meets all of their expectations is a wonderfully challenging puzzle and I still can’t believe I get paid to do it.” Points of pride. Having been president since 2009, Rowe says he’s very proud of the architecture work the company has accomplished that out-kicked their coverage for a firm their size – including the $350 million restoration of the Kansas Capital Building to 12 LEED Platinum buildings for student housing in Qatar. He’s also pleased to have assembled teams from diverse backgrounds across the country to function as one firm, and proud of the firm’s growth from a small company to a nationwide one of more than 150 people. In 2024, leadership is focused on achieving organic growth of about 10 percent by year end. They’re also studying some modest acquisitions to increase this number strategically in a couple geographies. “We’ve had very good luck with both areas over the years – including single-digit voluntary turnover and recruiting in key hires and new grads,” Rowe says. He adds that the energy of new graduates has always been the foundation of excitement and renewal of the overall profession and for their firm. “Young architects striving to change the world are a very powerful force,” he says. Rewarding retention. TreanorHL leaders know how important it is to not only recruit, but more importantly to retain great professionals. To meet that end, they offer competitive benefits such as student loan repayment contributions and family and daycare cost contributions. There’s also the Michael L. Treanor “Life Happens Fund,” named after the firm’s founder, which provides special financial support to any employee experiencing unexpected financial expenses from medical bills to auto issues. The company also provides flexible and hybrid work environments and supports employee performance within welcoming and inclusive office environments, as well as remote work that expands the talent footprint of this national firm. “We try to paint the expectation of being present and the value for doing so, while respecting the individual situations of each,” he says. And, professional development dollars are a valued benefit too. This is where every employee is provided with annual reimbursements on individual career-focused continuing education programs. TreanorHL leadership encourages education at all levels and it understands that people leave managers – not companies. That’s why there’s mentorship opportunities across all levels. “Learning goes both ways, so we grow managers by giving them real experience teaching and leading others, as well as learning and receiving feedback from others with diverse experience levels,” he shares. The company also prioritizes advancement opportunities. They have an internal committee dedicated to growing firm leadership. They determine opportunities for meaningful position advancements that give employees the opportunity to grow within. And, training programs are provided that are tailored to individuals who express interest in leadership opportunities. “Professional development is culturally encouraged and financially supported by the firm – including gathering with all employees and their ‘plus ones’ every year, in person, to share, connect, and celebrate.” Staff-generated “lessons learned” are shared and the company fosters an internal program giving employees a platform to share knowledge across the firm, asking for input, and solving problems together. There’s a safe space provided for constructive feedback via annual company-wide meetings where staff present to each other on various topics too. “We live by our core values which emphasize the importance of a people-focused work ethic that prioritizes being humble and laughing together – a reminder that we are all human and working toward a common goal,” Rowe says. “My main concerns have always been about the commoditization of our industry and ensuring clients see and receive a greater value than the fees paid.” " }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 6/2/24 - 6/9/24", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-06-07", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-6-2-24-6-9-24", "summary": " Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.   Domestic Transactions: 6/3/2024Civil engineering, structural, landscape architecture, surveying, and construction inspection services firm, Dunaway (Fort Worth, TX), acquired civil engineering firm PRD Land Development Services (Houston, TX). Read More.    6/3/2024Private equity firm New Mountain Capital (New York, NY), made a significant investment in CONSOR (Houston, TX) (ENR #133), a leading transportation and water infrastructure engineering firm. As part of this transaction, Keystone Capital will fully sell its stake in the business. Read More.    6/3/2024One of the leading environmental firms, Apex Companies (Rockville, MD) (ENR #58), acquired stormwater inspection and management firm Storm Water Inspection & Maintenance Services (Discovery Bay, CA). Read More.   6/4/2024Architecture and planning firm HB&A (Colorado Springs, CO), serving the federal, local government, commercial, and non-profit sectors, joined RS&H (Jacksonville, FL) (ENR #66), an employee-owned architecture, engineering, and consulting firm. Read More.   6/5/2024Leader in environmental, health, safety, sustainability, and digital consulting, ALL4 (Kimberton, PA) (ENR #177), acquired consulting firm Capaccio Environmental Engineering (Marlborough, MA), specializing in environmental, health, and safety (EHS) regulatory landscapes, compliance risks, and sustainability services. Read More.    6/5/2024Collaborative design and architecture firm, RODE Architects (Boston, MA), acquired full-service firm McMahon Architects (Boston, MA), specializing in workplace interiors, hospitality, restaurant, residential, and environmental design. Read More.    6/5/2024Leading lower middle market private equity firm Rockwood Equity Partners (Cleveland, OH), completed an investment in Energy Renewal Partners (Austin, TX), an energy consulting service provider specializing in energy development and decommissioning projects. Read More.    6/5/2024Primera Engineers (Chicago, IL) (ENR #359), an engineering design and consulting firm, acquired electrical engineering and consulting services firm Corey Electrical Engineering (Englewood, CO), serving commercial, institutional, industrial, governmental, and transportation clients. Read More.   6/6/2024Michael Baker International (Pittsburgh, PA) (ENR #28) a leading engineering, planning, and consulting firm expanded its business with four new acquisitions: Digital Data Technologies (DDTI) (Columbus, OH), a provider of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) location services; MLU Services (Athens, GA), a logistics, disaster management, and technology services firm; Infinity MEP+S Consultants (Houston, TX), an MEP, fire protection, and technology design firm; and Gavan-Graham Electrical Products (Union, NJ), an equipment manufacturer for the power distribution market. Read More.    International Transactions: 6/3/2024Colliers International (Toronto, Canada) entered into a definitive agreement to acquire multi-discipline engineering, environmental, and inspection services firm Englobe Corporation (Laval, Canada). Englobe will be rebranded as Colliers in 2025. Read More.    6/4/2024Multiconsult ASA (Oslo, Norway), a multidisciplinary consultant and design firm, entered into an agreement to purchase 100 percent of the shares of the construction and project management firm Sitepartner (Arendal, Norway). Read More.    6/4/2024Norconsult Sverige, a subsidiary of multi-disciplinary engineering and design firm Norconsult (Sandvika, Norway), acquired infrastructure consulting firm Wermlands Infrakonsult (Karlstad, Sweden), specializing in water and sewage, land, traffic, roads, and streets. Read More.    6/5/2024ENR’s #38 ranked global design firm, Aurecon (Melbourne, Australia), expanded its services in Malaysia with the acquisition of mechanical and electrical engineering firm CHT International (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). Read More.    6/5/2024Leading environmental firm, ERM (London, UK) (ENR #19), signed a deal to acquire climate risk and energy transition firm Energetics (North Sydney, Australia). Read More.    6/5/2024High-growth global environmental solutions company, Montrose Environmental Group (North Little Rock, AR) (ENR #40), acquired environmental consulting firm Paragon Soil & Environmental Consulting (Edmonton, Canada), serving the oil sands, pipeline, mining, and power sectors. Read More. " }, { "title": "Zweig Group’s 2024 Financial Performance Report of AEC Firms is now available", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-06", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-s-2024-financial-performance-report-of-aec-firms-is-now-available", "summary": "   The AEC industry’s comprehensive, data-based resource on financial performance, departments, challenges, methodology, and practices now available in Zweig Group’s online shop. Zweig Group is proud to announce the release of the 2024 Financial Performance Report of AEC Firms. This report serves as a useful resource for firms looking to benchmark their financial metrics, evaluate firm performance, and make strategic choices. The 2024 Financial Performance Report includes data such as key financial statistics, personnel costs, and trends of spending as well as additional topics such as financial and accounting software, rent and utility costs, credit, and more.  The 2024 Financial Performance Report was compiled using data gathered from participants during the 2023 fiscal year. According to this year’s report, the revenue factor remained steady at 1.87 percent, indicating a continued period of strong financial performance driven by substantial demand and effective backlog management. Despite softening in several private markets, backlog remained steady with more than nine months of work under contract. Still more, net service revenue per full-time equivalent increased by 3 percent to $171,376. Such trends indicate that efficiency in the use of labor should continue to accelerate in the coming years as automation and other technological advancements improve efficiency.  Other interesting trends in this year’s report shed light on financial performance as it pertains to ongoing questions about the labor market. According to the report, the staff turnover rate was 14.1 percent in 2024, which represents an increase from the reported 12.3 percent in 2023. Despite an increase in the turnover rate, the rate of staff growth increased from 5.3 percent in 2023 to 5.8 percent in 2024. As the labor market changes, firms are spending more in areas such vacation/holiday/sick leave as a percentage of total costs (up from 5.7 percent in 2023 to 6.5 percent in 2024) and less in other areas such as bonuses as a percent of total costs (down from 7 percent in 2022 to 4.9 percent in 2024). By offering insight into the previous fiscal year, the 2024 Financial Performance Report of AEC Firms enables financial leaders to benchmark their performance against industry standards. Data from this year’s survey can be used to help set financial performance goals and benchmarks, compare costs and financial ratios, and examine the comparison of specific firms to industry-wide norms. This allows leaders of AEC industry firms to gain a unique perspective on where they stand relative to the industry.  For more insights or questions regarding the 2024 Financial Performance Report of AEC Firms, please contact Zweig Group’s research department at research@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Zweig Group announces 2024 Hot Firm List", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-05", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-announces-2024-hot-firm-list", "summary": "   Zweig Group has announced the 2024 Hot Firm List, which honors the fastest growing architecture, engineering, environmental, planning, construction, and related professional services (AEC) firms. Firms are ranked based on three-year growth in gross revenue, by both percentage and dollar growth. “The 2024 Hot Firms have outperformed the economy and their competitors and are leading the AEC industry,” said Zweig Group CEO Chad Clinehens. “Their commitment to a strong culture, innovative marketing, and adaptability to change help set them apart as successful, growth-focused firms.” For the fourth year in a row, Universal Engineering Sciences takes the number one spot! Verdantas finished second and Salas O’Brien came in third. RMA Companies and Ardurra round out the fourth and fifth positions, respectively. Entry criteria for the 2024 Hot Firm List included: Fifty percent of the 2020 fiscal year and 2023 fiscal year revenue must have been derived from the AEC industry. Firms must have made at least $500,000 in gross service revenue in 2020. Firms must have made at least $1 million in gross service revenue by 2023. Firms must have been founded on or before December 31, 2018. Winners will be honored at a black tie gala during the 2024 Elevate AEC Conference & Awards Gala which will be taking place in Tampa Bay, Florida, September 18-19. Winners will be featured in Zweig Group’s weekly management newsletter, The Zweig Letter, and Zweig Group’s other marketing channels. See the complete list of winners here!" }, { "title": "Zweig Group announces 2024 Best Firms To Work For Award Winners", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-03", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-announces-2024-best-firms-to-work-for-award-winners", "summary": "   Zweig Group is proud to announce the winners of the 2024 Best Firms To Work For Award, which honors outstanding workplaces at architecture, engineering, environmental, planning, construction, and related professional services (AEC) firms. These companies are recognized for their investment in the employee experience. They’ve created an environment where their people feel valued, can make a difference, and can clearly see where their contribution fits into the overall mission and success of the firm. Firms were evaluated comprehensively on firm culture, workplace practices, employee benefits, employee retention rates, professional development, and more – from both management and staff perspective. Awards were given in multiple categories based on firm size and discipline. “More than just an awards program, the Best Firms To Work For Award offers a robust, industry-specific benchmarking platform that reveals what the employee experience looks like in today’s top AEC firms,” said Zweig Group CEO Chad Clinehens. “This ranking, along with the data it provides, empowers firms to develop strategies and initiatives that enhance their investment in their people. Given the continued unprecedented challenges in the AEC labor market, the 2024 winners have truly achieved something remarkable and have much to celebrate.” This year, Zweig Group has partnered with the School of PE to present the Best Firms to Work For. Since 2004, School of PE has been helping students pass their professional development exams, supporting students in their career advancement within engineering, architecture, project management, and more. The partnership with School of PE allows Zweig Group to address the industry's top priority – training. Together, the partnership aims to empower professionals with the skills they need to excel, further elevating the AEC landscape and driving innovation. Winners will be honored at a black-tie gala during Zweig Group’s 2024 ElevateAEC Conference in Tampa Bay, Florida, September 18-19. Winners will also be featured in Zweig Group’s weekly management newsletter, The Zweig Letter (subscribe here), and Zweig Group’s other marketing channels. See the complete list of Best Firms To Work For Award winners here." }, { "title": "Fee and billing trends", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-02", "url": "/blogs/news/fee-and-billing-trends", "summary": "   The latest data reveals increased billing rates, improved chargeability, and refined collections processes in AEC. Zweig Group’s 2024 Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms offers insights into fees, billing rates, chargeability/utilization rates, project contracts, and billing practices. Compiled through an extensive online survey across diverse industry firms, this year’s report encompasses analysis on more than 150 job titles and 15 market sectors. Here are some key findings from the report: Billing rate hikes. According to the 2024 report, there has been a surge in billing rates, with 100 percent of respondents reporting fee hikes averaging 10 percent over the past three years. It’s encouraging to see this figure as it’s in line with the base compensation increases Zweig Group reported earlier this year in its 2024 Salary Reports of AEC Firms. Chargeability changes. With strong backlogs and a continued strain on capacity, we saw the gap between actual and projected staff chargeability decline again this year. It has steadily declined from 6.3 percent in 2015 to 2.5 percent this year, indicating both enhanced project budgeting practices and consistent workloads. Refined collections management. A notable shift in the data suggests collections management is shifting from project managers to accounting personnel. This refinement in process and accountability can improve many aspects of the collections cycle, but it can also free up your high performers to focus on higher ROI efforts than sending collections emails! Quicker collections. The report also highlights a standard window of roughly 45 days for considering invoices as past due. Collections have sped up by around four days on average (down to 54 days) when looking at pre-COVID and post-COVID data sets. Again, this highlights improvements and continued attention from firm leadership on improving cash flow and working capital positions for their firms. Zweig Group’s Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms is the standard guideline for AEC industry firms looking to benchmark fees, billing rates, and billing practices, and evaluate productivity and utilization. This invaluable resource equips firms with the necessary benchmarks to maintain competitive bids while ensuring profitability amidst evolving industry dynamics. Click here to learn more!  Will Swearingen is vice president and director of research and advisory services at Zweig Group. He can be reached at wswearingen@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy Zweig Group’s flagship training program encompasses all aspects of managing a professional AEC service firm. Elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm with this program designed to inspire and inform existing and emerging AEC firm leaders in key areas of firm management. Join us June 27-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Building an entrepreneurial firm culture", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-02", "url": "/blogs/news/building-an-entrepreneurial-firm-culture", "summary": "   These 10 things will make a difference if you are serious about making your people more entrepreneurial. "Corporate culture” is one of those terms that is regularly bandied about by management practitioners, but I am not sure it’s really understood by those who own and manage AEC firms. “Culture” has been defined as the “way of life” inside the company. What behaviors are celebrated; what behaviors are punished. But the whole point of it is this: IF you have a strong culture that guides individual and collective behavior, you don’t need a lot of formal rules and policies on how to do everything. It just tends to happen. And a good culture can take good people and make them great versus sucking the life out them and making good people mediocre. So what if you want your people to act and behave more like entrepreneurs? You can’t do it with policies. You have to manage the culture. Here are my thoughts on some things you can do: Get and distribute more client and potential client feedback. Entrepreneurs are tuned into their clients more so than non-entrepreneurs. So that means you need to get and share more client feedback if you want your people to be more entrepreneurial than they currently are. One company in this business that we worked for years ago paid us to interview their current, past, and potential clients and then distributed the unedited feedback we got to every single employee every single month, regardless of whether it was good or bad and regardless of whose names were mentioned. That’s being serious about it. Meet weekly to discuss how you use that feedback to make changes in how you do things. It’s one thing to get client feedback, but it’s another thing to actually use it. Put this topic on your regular management meeting agenda and take action on it. This will show your people you are serious about this subject. Formally recognize employees who demonstrate speed and responsiveness. Entrepreneurs move faster than bureaucratic firms. So be sure to point out and recognize those who are extra-responsive and move quickly at everything. Make them the “heroes of the day” versus just focusing on who got registered or who has been there the longest. Institutionalize innovation initiatives in the business planning process. I have talked about this for years but the idea has seen little implementation from what I can see. And that idea is to make it a requirement for each of your revenue-generating business unit leaders to come up with new stuff every single year. New services. New ways to package services. New ways to market those services. “New” means continuous innovation versus resting on your laurels and not evolving. Get rid of your formal job descriptions and fixed pay rates, and reduce versus increase the number of job titles you have. This kind of bureaucracy kills entrepreneurial spirit. Why do more if you are an “Engineer 3” and your rewards are capped? That kind of policy and practice kills entrepreneurial spirit versus encouraging it. And by the way – the more silly titles you have that don’t really mean anything, the worse morale is going to be. Treat everyone in the firm like an owner. Share the numbers and the profits with everyone. Open-book management combined with frequent sharing of cash basis profits gets people thinking more like owners and less like alienated and exploited employees. And that’s entrepreneurial! Sell small amounts of ownership to those who want to make sacrifices to get it. Don’t just try to get everyone acting like owners. Instead, how about actually making them owners? Those who want to sacrifice some of the paychecks to invest in the company should be allowed to do so. It doesn’t mean they will all be managers or have veto power over anything but they will have a chance to build value if they defer short-term compensation. That is a big part of what being an entrepreneur is about. Emphasize revenue growth, cash flow, and firm value over short-term profitability. Value creation is what motivates the entrepreneur versus short-term profits. The real value of your firm lies in your revenue growth rate versus a multiple of historic EBIT. Just take a look at how software companies are valued and what their multiples of revenue are if you don’t believe me. So stop acting like stodgy old low growth “practice-centered” businesses, and instead act like those who build incredible value in their companies. Promote those who act like entrepreneurs versus those who are the best architects or engineers or who have been there the longest. You can’t say you want more entrepreneurial people and then act like a bureaucratic government organization in terms of who moves up in the hierarchy. And when I say “promote,” I am not only referring to job promotions. I’m also referring to whose accomplishments you talk about both inside and outside of the company. That sends signals, and your people will notice! Put successful entrepreneurs on your board of directors. Successful entrepreneurs – not just retired people from government agencies, your regular outside accountant or attorney – will help you run your firm more entrepreneurially. Get them on your board. It’s affordable. And you will get far more out of doing this than it will cost you. These 10 things WILL make a difference IF you are serious about making your people more entrepreneurial. So do them!  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Client extension – friend or foe?", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-02", "url": "/blogs/news/client-extension-friend-or-foe", "summary": "   A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal, rather than expanding or revamping it. We’ve all been there. Hustling to get a proposal submission-ready (because after all, a proposal is never really done, just due) and wishing we had just a few more days. And then, like a gift from the skies, an email arrives announcing an extension. Who wouldn’t be excited, relieved, even grateful? Me. Over the years, I have seen numerous RFP extensions, but I can count on one hand the times when the extra time was actually used effectively and resulted in a better deliverable. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, shame on you,” but hear me out. When I began my career nearly 13 years ago, the average turnaround time for proposals was four to six weeks. Most clients still required physical copies to be mailed to their office, and it was rare for me to have more than three or four collaborators helping me develop the document. Now, that seems like a lifetime ago. Instead, I’m accustomed to the two-week turnaround in a wholly digital world, where I’m coordinating among 15 or more SMEs, project managers, relationship partners, business development managers, principals, you name it. While building consensus on our winning strategy, articulating our unique value proposition, and translating our technical solution onto paper (or screen) have always presented challenges, these obstacles are amplified when you have less time and more cooks in the kitchen. And so, one might assume I’d welcome a few extra days, or even a week. Here’s why I dread extensions in four common mistakes: The team relaxes. Thinking they have all the time they need, their efficiency decreases. It’s important to remember that even though two or three days may seem like a lot, these extensions are actually quite short. I have often found myself questioning whether I should even inform the authors or contributors about the extension. The last thing I want to see is our sense of urgency dissipate. The team thinks we need to do more with the time given. Suddenly, we start considering alternative solutions and additional value-adds. We realize we may have overlooked important details like elaborating on our post-implementation support or commissioning and startup. We start questioning if there’s enough content in certain sections or if we should price multiple options. Now, I’m not saying these concerns are irrelevant, but if they were crucial to our submission, they should have been addressed earlier. Let’s not inflate our page count during the extension – all these additions may come across as exactly what they are, afterthoughts. The team gets new players involved. Recruiting another principal or executive in the last hours is counterproductive. Without prior involvement in strategy discussions, they will certainly bring different ideas and suggestions, and our precious extension is spent bringing them up to speed and reiterating previous decisions. Additionally, the new team member may feel compelled to make substantial changes or identify gaps, which can disrupt the cohesion of the final deliverable. To ensure a well-thought-out proposal, it is crucial to have the right people involved from the beginning and avoid last-minute invitations. The team rethinks our entire strategy. This is the biggest blunder of all. If you have ever managed a proposal where an extension is used to scrap what we had and start afresh, you know this pain all too well. Extensions can lead to uncertainty, questioning previous decisions, and even starting from scratch. This is detrimental. Not only does it waste previous efforts, but it’s likely an overhaul will confuse authors and contributors and muddy our solution to the client’s issues. Overthinking often results in less coherent deliverables, non-compliant proposals, and lower quality submissions. So, what is good use of a client extension on an RFP? It’s simple: A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal. It allows for a thorough document review and a mock evaluation from the client’s perspective. This time can be used to ensure that the sales message is consistently conveyed throughout the entire document, beyond just the cover letter and “Why Us?” section. It provides an opportunity for subject matter experts to review and ensure smooth flow between sections contributed by different team members. It enables us to condense repetitive information and improve clarity and conciseness. Additionally, it allows for a comprehensive copy edit to correct spelling, grammar, and mechanical errors. By using the extension wisely, we can ensure that the final deliverable reflects the quality and attention to detail the client can expect from us on a project. Effective leadership, particularly from the proposal manager and account lead/sales lead, is crucial to appropriately leverage a client extension. While the temptation to make changes may be strong, it is important to consider the implications of such actions. As leaders of the proposal development process, it is our responsibility to instill confidence in our team and focus on sharpening, rather than expanding or revamping, our proposal.  Mercedez Thompson has 11 years’ experience in professional marketing services. As a pursuit manager at PwC, Mercedez collaborates with thought leaders, marketing and sales staff, and client services personnel to develop the firm’s most strategic proposals. She was a 2022 APMP 40 Under 40 Winner. Connect with her on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Scaring the sell out of you", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-02", "url": "/blogs/news/scaring-the-sell-out-of-you", "summary": "   Sales is not the monster under the bed – it’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections. Once upon a time (that’s always a good start to a story, right?), the very thought of sales sent shivers down my spine. You’d be hard-pressed to find any person trained as an architect or engineer who dreams of selling. But there I was. Fresh into a new position. A sales position. I braced for a crash course in the art of persuasion, expecting to morph into a smooth-talking seller. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I learned something unexpected: sales wasn’t about selling at all; it was about solving. The discovery was as liberating as it was surprising. Meetings and client calls turned from battlegrounds of negotiation into bridges of genuine connection. This shift in perspective turned sales from a fear into an enjoyable, even energizing experience. Here’s the truth: Sales is just an extension of what we already do best – solving problems and building relationships. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Cool story, Tyler – but how can I shift my own perspective?” You’re right. This isn’t about me. This is about how to scare the sell right out of you. What’s so scary about sales? Sales, for many seller-doers in AEC firms, is the boogeyman. It’s seen as pushy, demanding a knack for smooth talk that engineers and architects think they lack. But much of this fear stems from misconceptions: Sales is manipulative. The stereotype that sales involves tricking clients into agreements. Sales is a talent. The myth that only people with a “sales personality” can succeed. Sales steals from technical work. The belief that time spent selling is time not designing or engineering. These fears are exacerbated by a lack of sales training in our education and an industry culture that seems hell-bent on the idea that sales is antithetical to the “purity” of technical work. (Technical work that you wouldn’t be able to do without a sales motion.) Sure, we’ve all experienced an unwanted salesperson encouraging us to pull out our wallets while embodying all the negative stereotypes. But let me be clear: that is not sales. That’s just greed. Shifting your perspective. Shifting your perspective on sales is transformative for you and your career. There are three key components that, when embraced, can turn sales into an aspect of your role that you’re genuinely excited about. Let’s dive into these components: Be empowered. When you start seeing sales as something you “get to do” rather than something you “have to do,” the whole dynamic changes. This perspective invites a more purpose-driven approach to engaging with clients.Sales is a chance to positively impact your team’s well-being and contribute to the overall success of your projects. It fosters growth, innovation, and stability for your firm and yourself. Be client-focused. Remove the pressure to “make the sale” because it overshadows the real goal: understanding the obstacles that prevent your client from reaching their ideal outcome. By removing this pressure and going into conversations with the sole aim of comprehending the client’s needs, you shift the focus away from transactions and toward building relationships.This approach not only relieves the stress associated with sales but also aligns with the natural problem-solving skills that architects and engineers possess. It’s about applying the same investigative and analytical skills you use in your projects to understand what your clients truly need. Continue asking great questions until you have a detailed understanding of their situation. Be solution-oriented. Reframing your role in sales from selling to solving fundamentally alters how you approach interactions. You’re not just offering a service or product; you’re providing solutions to real problems. And you’re genuinely interested in making their lives easier and better.This mentality puts you in the role of a consultant or advisor rather than a salesperson, making the process more fulfilling and aligned with the core values of most AEC professionals. By focusing on how your expertise can address specific challenges, you’ll find the conversations to be all about collaboration, not persuasion. Let’s go to lunch. There may be no better environment to test your new perspective than with a few lunches. “Let’s go to lunch” symbolizes the informal, relationship-building aspect of sales. It’s a casual encounter that promotes deeper connections and keeps formalities at bay. So here’s my challenge to you: Send three prospective clients a message that says “Let’s go to lunch!” so you can embrace your new perspective. Sales is not the monster under the bed. It’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections. And once you see it for what it truly is, it’s not just easier; it’s rewarding and fulfilling. Happy solving and enjoy your lunch!  Tyler Suomala is founder of Growthitect. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "AI-powered zoning tools", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-06-02", "url": "/blogs/news/ai-powered-zoning-tools", "summary": "   Can artificial intelligence offer a solution to make zoning more rational and reasonable? At one time or another, most architects and developers have found themselves frustrated by zoning regulations. Zoning is not an element of design, but a tool used to ensure that our cities are built in predictable ways so they can provide adequate services and infrastructure for their occupants, as well as protect the interests of neighboring property owners. However, as our cities and society have grown more complex (and litigious), zoning has likewise grown to be more complicated. As a result, zoning can place limiting parameters around creativity in design and development. For example, a meticulously crafted site plan can be met with contention from a plan examiner over an interpretation of zoning text, leading to either a significant redesign of the project or a costly legal appeals process. Or, a project’s viability can hinge on minor variances from zoning requirements, such as a setback dimension differing from zoning mandates by a few feet. In such instances, can artificial intelligence offer a solution to make zoning more rational and reasonable? As AI has gained popularity, many groups have developed platforms that developers and architects can use to automate zoning analysis and iterate design solutions. With these platforms, one can enter a street address and instantly receive multiple design and development options for the specific site. These tools are impressive and useful, but they currently only capture today’s zoning rules, and therefore are not fully harnessing AI’s potential to improve zoning and advance larger city planning goals. In the next generation of AI zoning tools, shifting the target market from architects and developers to cities and municipalities would allow zoning to shift dynamically in real time. With AI tools, cities could evaluate proposed buildings based on how they meet specific performance standards, expediting the variance approval process and creating a more adaptable system. Take, for example, New York City’s 15-foot setback regulation. This zoning ordinance creates a universal, city-wide rule that buildings of a certain height must be set back 15 feet from the street to preserve daylight access. Frequently, buildings function better when designed with smaller setbacks. AI tools could assess and approve or deny variance requests based on performance-based criteria, such as maintaining adequate daylight penetration to the street. Existing tools, like the Daylight Evaluation in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan zoning resolution, could provide a foundational framework for these new AI tools. As codes in cities and municipalities nationwide expand and begin to overlap, we have created a complicated regulatory environment that produces inconsistent outcomes. Despite efforts from building departments across the country that strive to interpret and enforce regulations consistently, there nevertheless remains a small, but significant level of discretion. By creating an AI powered plan examiner to evaluate code compliance for buildings, we can ensure that all rules are applied equally. This would also allow designers to iterate and check their work, expediting the design process and establishing a more predictable permitting process. Plan examiners could then spend less time reviewing drawings and more time refining the AI model or confirming that projects are built as designed. While most cities and municipalities have existing processes through which zoning can be modified to suit a project’s needs, they can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming, requiring a full suite of consultants, and therefore are typically only considered for larger projects. AI tools for minor zoning modifications could make discretionary actions more accessible to smaller projects. For larger projects, they could support the evaluation of more substantial variances, such as increased floor area or change of permitted uses. While it is important for policymakers and elected officials to have approval authority for these projects, AI can streamline the environmental review process required for zoning modifications, leading to more informed decisions. These tools can also be used in stakeholder outreach and participatory design, allowing constituents to adjust and visualize the impacts of various zoning criteria at reviews. While current AI tools offer valuable assistance in navigating existing zoning regulations, the promise of AI in zoning and city planning lies in its ability to dynamically adapt to evolving urban needs. By shifting the target users of zoning AI tools from architects and developers to cities and municipalities, AI can empower decision-makers to create more flexible and responsive regulatory frameworks, streamline the permitting process, and ensure equitable code enforcement. Ultimately, these tools can allow buildings to meet the needs of the cities they are built within.  Ben Abelman, AICP, LEED GA is senior associate and director of zoning and predevelopment at FXCollaborative. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 05/27/24 - 06/02/24", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-05-31", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-05-27-24-06-02-24", "summary": " Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.     Domestic Transactions: 5/27/2024General contracting firm Stellar Development (Sarasota, FL), acquired The CGC Group Florida (Sarasota, FL), a firm that provides pre-construction, construction management, design/build, and owner’s representative services to the commercial, healthcare, and industrial sectors. Read More.   5/28/2024Engineering firm GM2 Associates (Glastonbury, CT), serving the transportation, construction, energy, land development, rail and transit, aviation, municipal, and education markets, acquired RZ Design Associates (Rocky Hill, CT), a MEP, fire protection, and structural firm. Read More.   5/29/2024Commercial architecture, interior design, and branding firm Phase Zero Design (Hingham, MA), signed an agreement to merge with Colliers Engineering & Design (Holmdel, NJ) (ENR #50), a national multi-discipline engineering, architecture, design, and consulting firm. Read More.   5/29/2024PRIME AE Group (Baltimore, MD) (ENR #229), an engineering and architecture firm acquired Connelly & Wicker (Jacksonville, FL), a civil engineering, highway engineering and design, utility engineering, landscape architecture, and environmental permitting services firm. Read More.   5/29/2024Environmental testing and compliance services firm Alliance Technical Group (Decatur, AL), acquired environmental compliance and consulting firm RSB Environmental (Houston, TX), with expertise in Comprehensive Health, Environmental, and Safety System (C.H.E.S.S.) services. Read More.   5/30/2024Goodwyn Mills Cawood (Montgomery, AL) (ENR #151), a multidisciplined architecture and engineering firm acquired engineering, land surveying, and land planning services firm Southland Engineering (Cartersville, GA). Read More.     International Transactions: 5/21/2024ALL4 (Kimberton, PA) ENR’s #177 ranked environmental firm, acquired technology consulting firm LARAGON Sustainability Solutions (Madrid, Spain), specializing in the digital transformation of ESG, environmental management, safety and health, risk, and compliance operations. Read More.   5/27/2024Environmental, fire safety, planning, structural design, and mechanical and electrical services firm OMC – Multidisciplinary Building Consultancy (Galway, Ireland), acquired James Roche Consulting Engineers (Galway, Ireland), a consulting engineering firm. Read More.   5/28/2024Clifton Blake (Toronto, Canada) a real estate asset development and management firm and Wilkinson Construction (Toronto, Canada), a construction management firm, joined forces to form a new real estate development and management firm called CB Wilkinson. Read More.   5/29/2024Multiconsult ASA (Oslo, Norway) a multidisciplinary consultant and design firm, entered into an agreement to purchase 100 percent of the shares of Petter J. Rasmussen (Haugesund, Norway), a consulting engineering and architecture firm. Read More.  " }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 5/20/2024 – 5/26/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-05-29", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-5-20-2024-5-26-2024", "summary": " Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.   Domestic Transactions: 5/15/2024Architecture, planning, interiors, landscape architecture, and branding design firm, SDK Design Group (Irvine, CA) acquired landscape architecture and planning firm LandCreative (Costa Mesa, CA). Read More.   5/16/2024Engineering and maintenance services firm, Tower Engineering Professionals (Raleigh, NC) (ENR #147), focused on tower, mobile network, and other telecom infrastructure acquired Piedmont Utility Group (Mooresboro, NC), a wireless and wireline engineering and infrastructure services firm. Read More.   5/16/2024Barton & Loguidice (Liverpool, NY) (ENR #286), an engineering, environmental, landscape architecture, and planning firm acquired structural engineering and project management firm, Penn Central Engineering (Centre Hall, PA), serving commercial, institutional, and industrial clients. Read More.   5/20/2024Global Infrastructure Solutions Inc. (GISI) (New York, NY), a family of companies serving the built and social environments purchased substantially all the operating assets of construction management-for-fee firm Gafcon (San Diego, CA) (ENR #83). Read More.   5/20/2024NV5 (Hollywood, FL) (ENR #24), a leader in technology, conformity assessment, and consulting solutions acquired myBIMteam (Winter Haven, FL), a firm that offers building information modeling, reality capture, and digital twin solutions. Read More.   5/20/2024Thompson & Litton (Wise, VA), an architecture, civil engineering, surveying, structural, and MEP firm acquired civil engineering and surveying services firm, Tysinger, Hampton & Partners (Johnson City, TN). Read More.   5/22/2024Childs Engineering (Bellingham, MA), a firm that provides waterfront structural engineering services acquired specialized waterfront engineering firm, W.J. Castle, P.E. & Associates (Hainesport, NJ). Read More.     International Transactions:   5/12/2024Phenna Group (Nottingham, UK), a family of businesses providing testing, inspection, certification, and compliance (TICC) services acquired surveying firm Resolve Group (Applecross, Australia), serving the construction and mining sectors. Read More.   5/20/2024Populous (Kansas City, MO) (ENR #68) an architectural and design firm made a strategic investment in event site and venue planning software company, OnePlan (London, UK), who offers a GIS mapping collaboration platform and digital twin software. Read More.   5/21/2024Seureca (Aubervilliers, France), the consulting engineering and strategic and operational assistance division of Veolia (Aubervilliers, France) acquired sustainable energy consulting firm, MRC Consultants and Transaction Advisers (Madrid, Spain). Read More.   5/21/2024Building inspection services firm, ERI Holdings (Tokyo, Japan), acquired civil engineering firm, Fukuda Hydrologic Center (Sapporo, Japan), specializing in environmental and hydrogeological analysis. Read More.   5/22/2024Engineering group MAIRE (Milan, Italy), through its subsidiary KT – Kinetics Technology (Rome, Italy), signed a binding agreement to acquire 100% of APS Evolution (Rome, Italy), a group of companies that offer projects for the conversion of natural resources (downstream segment). Read More." }, { "title": "Mission command principles", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/mission-command-principles", "summary": "   How the military’s mission command principles can improve leadership and management in AEC firms. A long time ago, in places far, far away, I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy. I stay connected to the service through social media, and this quote from Admiral Lisa Franchetti, chief of naval operations, surfaced in my feed: “We will use the principles of mission command to empower leaders at all levels to operate in uncertain, complex, and rapidly changing environments, ready to take initiative and bold action with confidence.” Readers of The Zweig Letter operate in uncertain, complex, and changing environments. Who doesn’t want to take initiative and bold action with confidence? I wasn’t familiar with “mission command” or its principles, though. What are they? Is there something we can learn from the military to do our own jobs better? I dove in. According to Joint Publication 3-0, mission command is “the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based upon mission-type orders.” Check. “Mission command is a philosophy centered on the art of command. The art of command is the creative and skillful use of authority, instincts, intuition, and experience in decision-making and leadership to enhance operational effectiveness. The art of command is supported by the science of control, the systems and procedures that improve a commander’s understanding and support the execution of missions. Effective joint commanders leverage both art and science; it is not one or the other,” according to the second edition of the “Insights and Best Practices Focus Paper” on mission command. The “art of command” supported by the “science of control.” I can get my arms around this. Leadership and management. Relationships and dashboards. Doing the right things and doing things right. Mission command has seven associated principles: Competence Mutual trust Shared understanding Commander’s intent Mission orders Disciplined initiative Risk acceptance. Our firms are businesses – not sports teams, families, or military units. Concepts and frameworks that work in those domains don’t always work in ours. (My attempt at running a triangle offense in an engineering firm did not go well.) But mission command principles apply well to AEC firms. Let’s take a look: Competence and trust. Both are bedrock characteristics of healthy, effective teams. C-suites, studios, project teams, any team. There is abundant literature about trust in the business context. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni is a personal favorite. Lencioni writes about the presence and importance of vulnerability-based trust, not behavior-based trust, inside leadership teams. Vulnerability-based trust is when team members feel safe enough to be open about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. It’s about being comfortable showing vulnerability without fear of judgment, ridicule, or negative repercussions. Vulnerability-based trust is a necessary condition for robust, healthy communication; the type of communication that supports new ideas and innovation, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Shared understanding, commander’s intent, and mission orders. Leaders and their teams need to have a common, fact-based understanding of what is happening inside and outside. They need to understand their firm’s mission, vision, values, and strategy. They need to have access to the same information and a common lens through which the information is processed.In a business context, “commander’s intent” translates to providing clear, concise, and actionable objectives and expectations to the people or groups who need those things.Mission orders are clear but provide flexibility. “You know our intention and our expectations. Now go do that inside this box bounded by company policy, strategy (and your team’s role in it), and budget. How you play inside the box is up to you.” Initiative and risk. In business, taking calculated risks is essential for growth and innovation. Leaders must encourage and support prudent risk-taking. They must provide frameworks that their teams can use to evaluate risk and reward. They must tolerate the mistakes and poor outcomes that occur – infrequently, one hopes – from even good process. And they need to put in place mechanisms to learn (and adapt) from both successes and failures. Evaluating your readiness to empower your teams begins with asking and answering these four questions. If you answer “no,” then you need to stop and work to get to “yes.” Is my leadership team working productively together on a solid foundation of vulnerability-based trust? Do we have good information and is it widely shared? Have we made our intentions, our objectives, and our expectations clear? Have we torpedoed any chance of success by refusing to accept the risk that comes with our teams operating with disciplined initiative? I hid in this article three clues to the branch of the Navy I served in. Email me when you’ve got the answer. And please get in touch with me if you want to talk about how the art of command and the science of control are in play in your own firm, about your readiness to give mission orders, or if you have a sea story to share.  Tom Godin is a consultant at Zweig Group and director of the firm’s strategy group.  He can be contacted at tgodin@zweiggroup.com or 703.213.9689. The Principals Academy Zweig Group’s flagship training program encompasses all aspects of managing a professional AEC service firm. Elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm with this program designed to inspire and inform existing and emerging AEC firm leaders in key areas of firm management. Join us June 27-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Before you burn out, get some rest", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/before-you-burn-out-get-some-rest", "summary": "   Three simple but impactful strategies to shift your mindset from needing more to getting rest. Constantly feeling like you’re not good enough or don’t have enough is a hard way to live. First, professionally, our work is hard. So, you feel like you’re not good enough at your job. Then, in your personal life, social media is making you believe you’re not happy enough, or you don’t have enough money, or you don’t go on enough vacations. Living with this feeling of lack – of not being good enough or not having enough – is a recipe for burnout. But the good news is I’ve been caught in this trap before and learned that breaking out of it is actually pretty simple. You see, most of it comes down to anxiety and feeling like you need to do more. More work, more money, more skills, more stuff! But if you can break through the anxiety, and start giving your mind, body, and spirit some rest, you can change your whole perspective. So, today, I want to talk about the mindset shift from more to rest, and three simple but impactful ways you can practice it so you avoid burnout, and become healthier emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Let’s jump in. Rest is a simple concept. Rest means turning off your mind to the external anxieties that are always cropping up, and in its simplest form, rest is being totally immersed in the present moment. Once we realize that this present moment is enough (there’s that word again), we can shift from needing more, to getting rest. In my journey, I’ve found three strategies particularly helpful in shifting from needing more to getting rest: Whatever you’re doing, be in the moment. Earlier this month, I came down with a 24-hour stomach bug. Every few hours, I was filled with anxiety because I had work to do and felt like I was falling behind. Instead of letting that thought win, I kept reminding myself to be in this moment. I couldn’t do anything about the work, so what was the point of getting anxious about it? I would get to it when I got to it, but worrying certainly wasn’t going to help get it done. So, as I reminded myself to just be, I was reminding my body to get some much-needed rest. It worked exceedingly well for me mentally and physically – and spoiler alert – I ended up getting caught up on my work anyway. The anxiety wasn’t necessary! All I needed to do was be in the moment. You can practice this at any time – let the anxiety be your indicator that it’s time to settle into the present moment. Plan rest. Every week, I take Saturday as a full, guilt-free rest day. I don’t let myself do work or worry about work. I just enjoy breakfast with my wife, walking with my dog, and watching the Premier League. Until two years ago, I always had a work plan but never had a rest plan. So, make sure you are planning rest into your week in the same way you are planning work, because it makes a huge difference toward burnout and being the best version of you. Measure backward. I went to my mentor two years ago and said, “I keep reaching traditional milestones of success – promotions, winning sales, getting married – but for some reason I still don’t feel successful.” He responded right away that it’s because I was measuring forward instead of measuring backward. What does this mean? I was looking ahead to where I wanted to be – the ideal version of myself that I thought was somewhere out in the future – rather than looking back to where I came from. Of course I wasn’t feeling successful! I was constantly measuring against an ideal instead of against real progress that I had already made. If you want to shift from more to rest, make sure you are measuring your progress backward so you can actually feel the progress you’ve made, instead of forward where you’ll never be good enough. The SparkNotes. Burnout is hard. Anxiety grabs us and makes everything in our life hard, and before we know it, life is even harder and we’re not healthy emotionally, physically, or psychologically – which makes us worse people, friends, spouses, employees, bosses, and the rest. If you want to avoid burnout, focus on being in the present moment, planning rest, and measuring backward. I hope this gives you some ideas on how to break out of your burnout cycle and start loving life. Go get started right away and let me know if I can help. Good luck, friends. You got this.  Matt Verderamo, MS is a consultant at Well Built Construction Consulting. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "People can do more (if they want to)", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/people-can-do-more-if-they-want-to", "summary": "   Employees who decide to disengage and shift out completely do so at their own peril. Last week, my article in The Zweig Letter focused on those people who regularly fully disconnect from work at 5 p.m. on Friday and don’t look at anything or check in until the following Monday morning. The same applies to those who do this every night. I want engagement. I want commitment. I want to see interest in the job and the business. Those who fully disengage are not doing themselves any favors if they want to get ahead. I knew this article would draw ire from someone and sure enough, a woman on LinkedIn posted this in response: “What a privileged take. Especially given that all of the likes and supportive comments on this post are largely men in leadership positions. I’d be curious to know how much support you all have behind the scenes in order to commit this much of yourselves to work outside of family needs.” “Privileged take?” Because I was and still am fully-engaged and don’t completely disconnect? No. Sorry. I have commitment. I have intensity. I have determination to keep being better and doing things better and to make any business I am part of more successful. I don’t expect big rewards by doing the least amount I have to every day. Is that privilege, or just a different orientation that makes me more responsive to current and potential clients and customers, fellow workers, business partners, suppliers and subconsultants, readers, and students, and more productive in a highly competitive world? And as far as “support behind the scenes,” I do have that from my wife – wife number three. She owned and ran businesses herself and came from a family that did the same. Was that always the case for me? Absolutely not. My first wife of nearly 20 years had a complete meltdown from alcohol and drugs and mental illness. I was a single parent filling both roles for my two oldest daughters for years. I still stayed connected and involved with my business, and was also a decent parent, as my girls will attest. Oh yeah – one more thing. I started my business (this business nearly 36 years ago) with $1,000 when I was unemployed and had an 11-month-old and a spouse who did not work outside of the home. It wasn’t like I had a big nest egg sitting there and could do it at my leisure. I didn’t golf. I didn’t go on weekend vacations with my buddies. We had rent to pay and utility bills and needed to eat. Survival and the desire to transcend our current circumstances motivated me to do more than most people were willing to do. My point is this. Is it wrong to try to build a team of other highly motivated people who don’t shut down like factory workers punching a time clock at the end of every day, and instead show interest and enthusiasm for the business we are trying to build together? Should we be rewarding those who won’t do that the same as those who do? How does that make any sense when we are trying to build something, and if we are successful, they will be the beneficiaries of that success? There is no doubt that we live in an era of declining expectations – expectations for excellence and commitment. We want four-day workweeks. We want to be able to work from home. We want every evening and weekend completely free from work. Work is just a means to be able to do other things versus something pleasurable and rewarding in itself. We don’t mind if a client or customer has a problem we don’t respond to. We have AI doing our writing for us (I saw several student papers this semester clearly written by ChatGPT). What we are willing to ask our people to do is reducing, and what we expect from them is less and less. At the same time, it takes more than ever to have a decent standard of living when starter homes in many places cost $600,000 or more, a decent new car costs $50,000, and it costs $750 a week to put your kid in daycare. How can one expect to afford that or better with minimal effort and commitment? So my message is clear. Shift out completely if you want. Don’t participate in the phone, text, and email banter with your managers and fellow workers at night and on weekends. Don’t respond to the client who has a question or just wants to talk. But do so at your own peril. You are missing out. You know you aren’t always parenting or doing something essential every night and weekend. You know taking five minutes to check your email on your phone isn’t impossible. You are making the choice to take yourself out of the game. Meanwhile, for every business I am part of – and for every class I teach – I am going to keep looking for those people who will do more. Unapologetically. Because I hate squandering opportunity. And I hate failure even more. And I know if I am responsible for those people, I will take my responsibility seriously and reward those who are fully engaged.  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "From disgruntled client to raving fan", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/from-disgruntled-client-to-raving-fan", "summary": "   Having a service recovery mindset in your projects is essential in order to keep your organization’s sustained competitive advantage. Organizations are not immune to making design errors that could damage their reputation for a short period, or permanently if no service recovery culture is in place. Since designing our first service manager strategy, we embedded service recovery as one of the key drivers to achieve our vision. Through my experience, I have discovered that service recovery should not be treated any differently than when we are trying to solve a complex problem. As engineers and architects, we have an advantage when it comes to this because our work requires solving multilayered problems every day. A year ago, we received an email from a disgruntled client regarding building users’ complaints with temperature levels in a handful of rooms in a recently remodeled lab space. As engineers, we do not typically receive such complaints, but when we do, we can get nervous because we failed to identify an error. However, when we understand perfection doesn’t exist and we keep service recovery top of mind as part of our service delivery, we can face these calls with a game plan. In this article, I will walk you through a series of steps we follow called “Reframing” to look at tough problems from a new perspective, so we do not fall in the default trap of jumping into quick – usually ineffective – solutions. The four steps include: Frame storming. On this step, we start with a blank whiteboard, setting aside preconceptions and opening our minds to explore issues as well as their nuances. This step helps the team to identify assumptions and blind spots, lessening the risk of pursuing inadequate or biased solutions. It is also beneficial to invite outside perspectives to be part of this process to look at the issue with a cool head. In this example, we came up with a long list of ideas and potential scenarios of what could be the causes for the complaints. Peeling. On this step, we dive deep to identify the root cause of the problem from the information gathered on the previous step. This is also the stage where the team investigates issues thoroughly, peeling back the layers to understand underlying drivers and systemic contributors. In this example, we identified that rooms with a significant amount of large equipment were designed based on the initial design development equipment list which was not updated during the construction document phase. Finding this key piece of information allowed us to focus on this as the main potential issue. It also highlighted a gap in our quality assurance process. Empathizing. On this step, we put ourselves in other people’s shoes to understand how they perceive the problem. An effective way to tackle this is to create a list of stakeholders who are directly and indirectly affected by the issue. Then, compartmentalize them by departments and level of influence and interest in the issue. Finally, create an empathy strategy guided with questions like these: What do they think, how are they acting, what are they saying, and what are they feeling? In this example, we scheduled an on-site meeting with the critical stakeholders with the goal of telling them what we discovered in Step 2 and gathering the information needed to draft and execute a strategy. The common feedback we got from this conversation was around the frustration of the room’s end-users and their high sense of urgency to resolve the issue. Envisioning. With the information gathered from the previous steps, we then transitioned from framing the problem to imagining and coming up with solutions. For problems like this one where we have a clear desire vision, we use a backcasting approach, which focuses on reverse engineering the path to success from the future desired outcome to the present moment. The goal of this strategy is clearly identifying a list of the long-term, near future, and immediate actions. In this example, the goal was to get the rooms to operate at the appropriate temperature. Then, we listed everything that needed to take place to make this vision a reality and categorized them per the level of priority as the backcasting strategy requires. It took the team three weeks to design a non-invasive solution and a few more weeks for the solution to be implemented. As we were conducting Step 3, everybody in the room was appreciative of us having a structure in place to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. By the time we were sitting in the room, we had a narrow focus on what we though the root cause was which gave the stakeholder peace of mind. Having a service recovery mindset in your projects is essential in order to keep your organization’s sustained competitive advantage. From my experience on our service management culture, when we enter the recovery phase our team must tune into their soft skills and be equipped with a simple methodology that allows them to navigate the process in a consistent manner. “Turning up the soft” is our trigger phrase to focus on the intangibles of service recovery, including attentiveness, proactive communication, responsiveness, flexibility, and empathy. I would guarantee if you invested in your team to juggle these soft areas effectively, you would turn your clients into raving fans.  Leisbel Lam, PE, LC, MBA is a principal at Michaud Cooley Erickson. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Women who lead", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/women-who-lead", "summary": "   The women heading Atlanta’s Community Improvement Districts  serve as incredible examples of bold leadership – but how do they lead with the greatest impact? Croy’s Aimee Turner, PE, PTOE hosted a panel discussion featuring the women leading some of Metro Atlanta’s Community Improvement Districts, or CIDs, to discuss their journeys and advice for those women looking to advance their careers. Turner said, “Our team at Croy is honored to partner with CIDs in their mission to cultivate safe, well-connected, multi-modal transportation systems. Through our collaboration, we’ve assisted with advancing their vision by delivering innovative solutions and infrastructure projects tailored to meet the unique needs of their communities.” The panelists giving us a glimpse into how they make this mission possible include: Ann Hanlon, Executive Director, Perimeter CIDs Kim Menefee, Executive Director, Cumberland CID Kristin Winzeler, Deputy Executive Director, True North 400 Tracy Styf, Executive Director, Town Center Community While these women head up important infrastructure projects within their districts with grace and ease, making one’s way to a leadership position is never simple. Below the surface are demonstrations of pure grit and persistence that got them where they needed to be. Each of these women have played roles in making the transportation, placemaking, and quality of life improvements around Metro Atlanta’s communities a reality. They would not be where they are if not for prioritizing relationship-building, thinking innovatively, and caring for their community. Shaking hands, learning names. The initiation of each woman’s leadership journey goes all the way back to some of the first hands they ever shook, and they have kept shaking them ever since. Take Kim Menefee’s story as an example. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree, Menefee moved to Cobb County and quickly found a way to get involved in her community through a leadership program. Through networking and relationship building, Menefee landed a job at WellStar. In her words, this position provided the opportunity “to be able to expand my career, my learning, and my responsibility.” She credits this role for her success, acknowledging that, “Those are the types of skills and people I got to know who really prepared me to be able to take on a leadership role with the [Cumberland] CID.” Her story only proves that to lead, you need the right people to show you the way. The sooner you build your foundation of relationships, the better. Actively maintaining these relationships not only keeps your leadership abilities sharp, but it benefits others too. Kristin Winzeler noted that part of her love for her role comes from the relationship she has with the other women working in CIDs. She said, “We all work well together. We’re a community and we get along, and it makes going to work a lot of fun.” A solid network is just the start. You also need to see the value in maintaining that network, whether that is within your field or outside of it. Having the courage to change. While all the women may work in the same field now, their career histories could not be more different. Their backgrounds span from advanced history degrees to computer programming, yet somehow, they all ended up in the same place. Accomplishing this career feat was no simple task, but they all share similar sentiments. Their flexibility and willingness to approach the unknown led them to where they are now. Tracy Styf’s story is a prime example of this. She shared, “I was going to get my Ph.D. in neuropsychology at Vanderbilt. I walked in and the dean said, ‘Do you want to go to school for six more years?’ And I said ‘no,’ so I transitioned quickly into organizational development.” Her journey may have taken a different path, but it led her to find what her passion was and where she wanted to make a difference. She is still putting her degree to use though, adding, “I use [my degree] every day because what I – and each of us – do in our role is think strategically and work relationally.” The women’s diverse backgrounds and upbringings demonstrate that becoming a leader does not happen on a narrow path. Rather, it is about having the necessary courage to completely re-evaluate one’s potential path. Essentially, having the courage to take a different direction got these women to where they are now, honing their leadership abilities along the way. Ann Hanlon only confirms this sentiment, saying, “It’s funny that I arrived here because this is not what I thought I would be doing at all, but I’m proud that it happened.” Caring for your community. Another commonality shared by these women in leadership is their inherent desire to head each project with a sense of duty to their community. Styf put this in perspective when speaking about Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, which provides access to trails, bike paths, and greenspace. “We knew we had to find a way for people to access all the great natural resources and amenities in our backyard in a meaningful way. We also wanted to think ahead about how residents and visitors could walk to lunch or take an afternoon run – and that was before walkability was cool!” Underneath Styf’s lightheartedness is a deep understanding of what is important in her community that fosters bright ideas for the present and long-lasting impacts. This certainly presents its challenges, though. When asked how CIDs balance business wants with community needs, Hanlon responded, “It’s how you come together and give something up in order to accomplish a greater goal.” As she demonstrates, leadership is not defined by the daily tasks of a job, but instead how one enacts a plan to create something great for everyone within their reach. Community care is what allows these women to usher our neighborhoods toward shorter commutes, cleaner streets, and better views. Winzeler summarizes this perfectly: “I genuinely like making the world a better place, and I’m sure a lot of you feel that way too.” Forging the path to leadership. Hearing the thoughts and stories of these women highlight just a few of the ways to lead in your role, company, or community. While every story is different, they have all launched their success through dedicating efforts to building meaningful relationships, having the courage to switch directions or think big when it is best for their community, and constantly tending to their districts with intention. With all of that said, Hanlon leaves us with a sentimental note for women with a desire to lead, saying, “Not only are we trying to lead with other women, but we’re also trying to create stronger women.” And strong women – and communities – they are creating indeed.  Renee Richardson serves as a proposal and marketing specialist at Croy. She can be reached at rrichardson@croyeng.com." }, { "title": "Tax uncertainty hurts AEC firms", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-26", "url": "/blogs/news/tax-uncertainty-hurts-aec-firms", "summary": "If AEC firms cannot have certainty in how they operate and grow, it will be difficult to stay competitive. Congress’ failure to fix Section 174 amortization requirements, along with the impending expiration of the 2017 tax laws such as the Section 199A deduction, make it very difficult for architectural and engineering firms to plan for the future. Profitable companies will not be able to pursue growth opportunities, and some smaller innovative firms will be put out of business because of the inability to deduct wages and other expenses in the year they occurred, thus creating false paper profits. This results in an estimated 30 percent loss for every dollar of revenue that falls under Section 174. Losses of this magnitude are not sustainable for small, innovative firms. The unfair tax policy is on the verge of putting many firms out of business and the U.S. Senate must take action.   Hopes were high for the AEC industry following the Wyden Smith tax agreement. The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act (HR 7024) passed the House with overwhelming support in January of this year. HR 7024 would resolve the Section 174 issue for more than 22,000 small innovative businesses by allowing companies to deduct R&D expenses in the year they are paid. Unfortunately, the Senate has failed to bring this up for a vote to date. The dysfunction that we see in our country today, even in the most basic functions of government, is unacceptable. Both parties of Congress agree that the Section 174 amortization needs to be fixed. But sadly, politics are winning out against the best interests of America’s innovative businesses. It appears that some in the Senate are willing to sacrifice small, innovative businesses by using this issue as a bargaining chip for non-related issues, or through the pursuit of future personal leadership roles. Not all firms are impacted by these issues equally since entity type and/or ESOP ownership can skew the overall impacts. However, that does not mean the threat to innovation in the U.S. will not affect all firms.  The U.S. software industry will be devastated unless the requirement to amortize Section 174 expenses is overturned. Each and every day, our industry requires the use of software, and the development of new software has dramatically improved the industry over the years. If unfair tax policy kills our software industry, the resulting impact will be broadly felt throughout this nation’s economy.  If Americans are to remain globally competitive in technology, we need to have tax policies that are beneficial in supporting innovative and creative firms. It is unfathomable that we would have a tax policy for R&D expenses that hinders innovation by penalizing how companies can deduct these expenses.  What we have now is not only unfair, but out of step with American values, putting profitable firms out of business solely because of a bad tax policy. It is made even worse by the fact that our politicians agree that it needs to be fixed, but then sit on their hands and fail to act. ACEC, AIA, and many other business organizations are making their voices heard in Washington, D.C. It is critical to keep up the pressure in the Senate to fix the Section 174 amortization. Our future is at stake.  In addition to the challenges of the Section 174 amortization, we will soon face the expiration of the 2017 tax policy that benefits AEC firms. This means that firms, particularly pass-through entities which already pay higher taxes from the Section 174 amortization requirements, will be hit even further by higher rates on their phantom profits. It is critical for owners and management within our industry to stay informed of potential legislation that supports our professionals, and reach out to elected officials to stress the importance of providing certainty in our industry. If the AEC community works together across industries and states, legislative success is achievable. Recently in Oregon, coordinated industries were able to pass a bill that removed the duty to defend language in public contracts that provides protection for AEC firms. This was a coordinated effort between ACEC, AIA, and professional surveyor organizations. Our industry is a trusted one, and we are fully committed to the improvement of society in everything we do. But if AEC firms cannot have certainty in how they operate and grow, it will remain difficult to stay competitive. Small and medium size firms are the backbone of our industry, and it would be a huge loss to see the industry crushed with unfair taxes. Stay involved, keep up the communication, and let your U.S. representatives and senators know that we need better and more stable tax policy for all innovative firms in our great nation. Dan Houf, P.E. is senior principal and president at Harper Houf Peterson Righellis, Inc., an Oregon-owned firm that has been recognized locally and nationally as a top engineering and multidiscipline firm. Contact him at dan@hhpr.com." }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 05/13/2024 – 05/19/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-05-22", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-05-13-2024-05-19-2024", "summary": " Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.   Domestic Transactions: 4/14/2024Leading engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firm, GAI Consultants (Homestead, PA) (ENR #166), acquired engineering firm, Creighton Manning Engineering (Albany, NY), focused on the transportation and transit markets. Read More.   5/8/2024NOVA Engineering & Environmental, a multi-service engineering firm (Kennesaw, GA) (ENR #230) acquired environmental consulting, engineering, and remediation firm MAS Environmental (Tampa, FL). Read More.   5/9/2024Tetra Tech (Pasadena, CA) (ENR #3), a provider of high-end consulting and engineering services, acquired process automation and systems integration solutions firm, Convergence Controls & Engineering (Littleton, CO). Read More.   5/9/2024BMA Architecture (Gilbert, AZ) acquired architecture firm Whitneybell Perry (Phoenix, AZ), that focuses on multi-family residential design and other types of developments. Read More.   5/13/2024BM&K Engineering (Braselton, GA), a multi-disciplined engineering and construction management firm joined LJA Engineering (Houston, TX) (ENR #67), a multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firm. Read More.     5/13/2024Engineering firm, McPherson Consulting (Virginia Beach, VA), that offers traffic engineering and transportation planning services, was acquired by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) (Watertown, MA) (ENR #62). Read More.   5/15/2024MG2 (Seattle, WA) (ENR #240), a global architecture and design firm, acquired multi-family residential and affordable housing design firm, Studio C Architecture (Portland, OR). Read More.   5/15/2024Full-service architectural firm, McGranahan Architects (Tacoma, WA), specializing in educational facilities, merged with architectural planning and design firm PBK Architects (Houston, TX) (ENR #95). Read More.   5/15/2024Raymond (Conyers, GA) acquired provider of building envelope expertise, HDH Associates (Christiansburg, VA). Read More.     International Transactions:   5/11/2024Sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy firm, ACCIONA (Madrid, Spain), acquired a majority stake in the consulting firm, Freya Renewables (Makati, Philippines). Read More.   5/13/2024Global engineering, management, and development consulting firm, Mott MacDonald (Croydon, UK) (ENR #33), acquired engineering and energy consultancy business, Merz Consultancy (Perth, Australia), specializing in power distribution, transmission, and generation design and project delivery. Read More.   5/14/2024Integrated planning and design firm, SnV Architects + Planners (Toronto, Canada), merged with design firm, HOTSON Architecture (Vancouver, Canada), that focuses on retail, interiors, housing, academic and community buildings, feasibility studies, and master planning. Read More.   5/14/2024Edmond Shipway (Nottingham, UK), a construction consultancy, joined forces with project monitoring, restructuring, and building surveying firm, Naismiths (Birmingham, UK). Read More.   5/15/2024Structural and civil engineering firm, Davidson Walsh (Cheltenham, UK), that works in residential, commercial, education, healthcare, renewable energy, industrial, and government sectors, merged with O’Brien & Price (Cheltenham, UK). Read More." }, { "title": "Flash over substance", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-19", "url": "/blogs/news/flash-over-substance", "summary": "   Focus your firm’s retention strategy on offering meaningful benefits that are in alignment with core human needs. Here’s a quote to help provoke some mental stimulation: “People want to want more than they want to have, and so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting.” That provocative sentiment captures a fundamental principle of human behavior at work in all of us known as the “hedonic treadmill,” which states that people continually chase temporary happiness by seeking new things, but once those shallow things are obtained, the satisfaction they provide fades as we adapt to having them – and so we begin seeking and wanting the next thing. That’s because core human needs go much, much deeper than surface-level (dare I say, gimmicky) desires or experiences. Your core needs and my core needs are established around security, well-being, and purpose (among others) and the fulfillment of these things leads to a sense of deep intrinsic satisfaction that is far more enduring than the fleeting happiness that gimmicky “things” offer. Now, I realize you aren’t reading today’s issue of The Zweig Letter with the intent of getting a psychology lesson (nor am I remotely qualified to offer one), so let’s get to work applying this principle to the issue of employee retention. As firms engaged in a seemingly unceasing struggle to attract and keep good talent, I don’t mind saying that I think we’ve misguidedly elected to feed this monster. Hell, we’ve not only turned on the hedonic treadmill, we’re filling it with gas! We pander to it, we indulge it. We think getting and keeping top talent means giving people shallow, transient things they want rather than improving our offering of the things they actually need. Here are a few examples of the not-so-uncommon half-baked perks I’m talking about: unlimited snacks and soda, pet-friendly offices, pet insurance, nap pods (seriously?), hammocks, gaming consoles, themed office days, weekly catered lunches, happy hours, smoothie bars, adventure bonuses, onsite yoga classes, RV rental discounts (not kidding), etc. Any of those ring a bell? Who needs a better 401(k) benefit or more affordable healthcare premiums when you can have all the free kale smoothies you want (cue eye roll)? You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Let me offer some hard data to chew on. In a 2023 employee benefits survey released by the Society for Human Resources Management (a national and regarded think-tank on HR structures, trends, strategies, etc.), the top five benefits sought by candidates and employees are as follows: Healthcare related (89 percent) Retirement related (81 percent) Work/life balance, PTO, and leave (80 percent) Professional development (68 percent) Catastrophic benefits, i.e., life/disability (67 percent) Did you notice the trend in those statistics? Candidates and employees want three core fundamental human needs met. They want: Security. In other words, they want to feel assured. They want a sense of financial and physical safety in life through good healthcare, good retirement, and good insurance. Purpose. In other words, they want a meaningful and positive trajectory for their career. They want to feel like they can advance and excel at their firm. Wellness. In other words, they want better quality of life outcomes through good work/life balance so that instead of just doing and surviving they feel like they’re thriving. As employers, our intentions may be good; but at the end of the day, candidates and employees want greater investment into their security and wellness rather than having catered salads or “bring your pet to work” days. In fact, gimmicky, half-baked perks like these actually increase turnover by attracting the professionals who are seeking transient shallow “perks” over a legitimate long-term career opportunity. If you take one thing away from this article let it be this: Long runway benefits are a premium among long runway employees. Conversely, short runway perks are a premium among short runway employees The downside to the current trend of offering gimmicky, trendy benefits to employees is that, more often than not, the suggestion of it clouds what is truly worthy of human dignity and therefore truly meaningful (and for this reason they’re usually perceived as insincere anyway!). Pet insurance and kale smoothies might make for catchy hooks – they might even work for a time – but the fact is that if priority isn’t given to core issues such as security, wellness, and purpose, then all your imaginative short-term tactics will fail to be a basis for producing long-term commitment. Let me encourage you to get off the vicious treadmill and focus your firm’s strategy on offering meaningful and relevant benefits that are in alignment with core human needs. Benefits that actually bring dignity to your employees, create deep loyalty and effectively retain talent. It has been proven over and over to me that the greatest threat to loyalty is a frivolous and shallow sense of entitlement – and the surest way to enlarge one’s frivolous and shallow sense of entitlement is to appease it.  Jeremy Clarke is the director of executive search and recruiting at Zweig Group and the CEO of Emissary Recruiting Solutions. Contact him at jclarke@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy Zweig Group’s flagship training program encompasses all aspects of managing a professional AEC service firm. Elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm with this program designed to inspire and inform existing and emerging AEC firm leaders in key areas of firm management. Join us June 27-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Finding passion in your vision", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-19", "url": "/blogs/news/finding-passion-in-your-vision", "summary": "   To attract and motivate the best team, you need to be able to articulate your vision and the steps you’re taking to get there. Open any business management book and chances are you’ll find a mandate for establishing a strong vision and mission for your firm – and for good reason. It’s crazy to set off on a trip without knowing where you want to go and how you want to get there. You wouldn’t do that in a car, so why would you do it with your business? Too often, though, it seems like the terms “vision” and “mission” have been hijacked and diluted through the corporate realization process. It becomes a matter of course for companies – something you have to do instead of want to do. Something to hang on the wall and post to your website. But vision is a tricky business. Clearly defining why you exist isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds. Distilling thoughts into a succinct, cohesive statement that both delineates a vision and inspires action is a difficult task, regardless of how much you believe in your firm. It’s a hard, soul-searching effort, but when you find it, you know it. Instead of vision, I prefer a different word: passion. To explain, I have to point to the defining goal of my childhood years – the moon. Speaking before Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy outlined a goal that was unlike anything his predecessors had set. He said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Three months later, in a speech at Rice University, Kennedy elaborated: “We choose to go to the moon and other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Kennedy did more than establish a goal – he gave passion a voice. That passion was heard and felt by everyone involved with the Apollo program. Sure, all of the scientists and engineers and visionaries involved had distinct goals and missions that they executed during the process. But they were passionate about it. They had to be. And on July 20, 1969, with only 164 days left in the decade, Apollo 11 became the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon. Churchill, Gandhi, King, Kennedy – history is full of leaders who were more than simply eloquent at stating a vision; they were passionate about seeing those visions achieved. If you think about the people who have inspired you the most, I expect that it was the passion that they brought to their beliefs that defined them. But make no mistake about it, passion comes with a price: vulnerability. To truly lay out what you believe and how passionately you believe it, you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to understand that there will be criticism and apathy and even derision. You have to accept that there will be people who can’t or won’t accept it, and you have to have the will to move forward anyway. Vulnerability is an under-appreciated characteristic of leadership – in business and in life. You see it all the time with any great contest. Although it might seem counter to their usual image of toughness, sports teams are a great example of vulnerability. They plan, work hard, know what they want to accomplish, go to the field or the court, and lay it all on the line. When they win, there’s elation. When they lose, it’s crushing. And the bigger the stakes, the riskier it is to wear your heart on your sleeve. But you do it, because it’s your passion. People want to feel like they’re part of something that has meaning, something larger than themselves. To attract and motivate the best team, you need to be able to articulate your vision and the steps you’re taking to get there. It’s not something to fear. It’s something to embrace. So, dig deep, be bold and risk vulnerability.  Brad Thurman, PE, FSMPS, CPSM, is a principal and chief marketing officer at Wallace Design Collective, PC. Contact him at brad.thurman@wallace.design." }, { "title": "Getting the most out of your people", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-19", "url": "/blogs/news/getting-the-most-out-of-your-people", "summary": "   Are your expectations for your people high enough, or are you letting everyone off the hook? It’s time for brutal honesty. It has always bothered me when someone completely disconnects from work from Friday afternoon at 5 until Monday morning. They don’t respond to any emails or calls or anything on the company-wide communication/PM system. They completely shift out. Sure, a complete disconnect from work could happen every now and again (although I never do that myself), but it’s when you see the pattern – the steady diet of it with people you desperately want to be fully engaged and part of the “team” that’s a problem. I say it’s a “problem” not just because everything slows down and less gets done – maybe your business can tolerate that – but it’s really a problem for the employee who does this. Why is that, you may ask? It’s because you aren’t doing them any favors by letting them think this is OK for a professional who wants to advance in their career and make more money to support themselves and their families. Because given a choice of who I trust and will give additional responsibilities and opportunities to, it’s not going to be someone who regularly shifts completely out. I’m sure just writing this will elicit a response from someone out there who will get on their podium about the need for work-life balance and how dare I (as an employer) expect that kind of constant connection with work? And sure, I know not everyone we hire in every role will have this level of engagement. But you can call me “old school” or “out of step with today” or whatever you like, and you won’t stop me from my quest to build a highly committed and engaged team of people who don’t “shift out” every evening or weekend in any business I am a part of. Because I know that when I get enough of these people together in one organization – with a clear mission and some guiding philosophies about how we will do things and what our goals are – that’s when the magic is going to happen. You see, the opportunity in business is never to just have a company that is viable and stays in business and provides a living for the owners. In the AEC business today where demand generally exceeds supply in most market sectors, you can be mediocre and do that. I don’t find “mediocrity and survival” very fun or interesting. It’s also not that rewarding. In my businesses, I’m going to push for more. Improvements in every single thing we do. Good enough is never good enough. It can always be better. And when it’s better for the owners, it is going to be better for every employee in the company. It’s just that simple. It all starts with YOUR expectations for your people. Are they high enough? Or are you letting everyone off the hook with lower expectations for them versus yourself? You don’t need to be a jerk or rude to expect more. You don’t need to yell or scream or threaten those who don’t do it. You can be sure the expectations are known. You can drop hints. You can be disappointed when people don’t step up. You can set a positive example yourself. And you can promote those who do it to make examples out of them. Think about it! But better than that is to ACT on it. Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Resume red flags", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-19", "url": "/blogs/news/resume-red-flags", "summary": "   Five resume red flags to help AEC firm recruiters identify and set apart the best applicants from the rest. Resumes have always been important tools for recruiters to narrow down a candidate pool for further consideration. Today, the emergence of AI has changed the basic rules of recruiting. AI has raised the bar for resume writing, making typos and grammatical errors all the more unacceptable. But this equalization makes it more challenging to discern the quality of candidates, while adding an additional complexity in rooting out imposters fabricated based on your posted job requisition. Here are five red flags to look for on applicants' resumes that can help you weed out the bad ones: AI-generated resumes. Some applicants may use AI tools to create fake resumes that look impressive but are not based on real skills or experience. These resumes may have unrealistic or inconsistent details, such as mismatched dates, locations, or job titles. They may also use generic or vague language that does not reflect the specific requirements of the position. To spot an AI-generated resume, you can use online tools that check for plagiarism or authenticity, or ask the applicant to provide references or samples of their work. Multiple tenures of one year or less. Another red flag to look for on applicant’s resumes is a history of frequent job changes. If an applicant has multiple tenures of one year or less, it may indicate that they are unreliable, uncommitted, or unable to perform well. Of course, there may be valid reasons for changing jobs, such as layoffs, relocation, or career advancement. However, if the applicant does not provide any explanation for their short stints, or if they have a pattern of leaving jobs after a few months, you may want to think twice before hiring them. Gaps in service with no explanation. A gap in service is not necessarily a deal-breaker, as long as the applicant can explain what they did during that time and how it relates to their career goals. For example, some applicants may have taken a break to pursue further education, volunteer work, personal projects, or family responsibilities. However, if the applicant has a long or unexplained gap in service, it may raise some questions about their work ethic, motivation, or professionalism. You may want to ask the applicant to clarify what they did during the gap and how it affected their skills and qualifications. Credentials that look too good to be true. Some applicants may try to impress you with credentials that look too good to be true, such as prestigious degrees, awards, or publications. While these credentials may be genuine, they may also be fabricated, exaggerated, or irrelevant. To verify the credibility of the applicant’s credentials, you can check the official websites of the institutions or organizations that issued them, or contact them directly. You can also ask the applicant to provide proof of their credentials, such as transcripts, certificates, or portfolios. Poor writing and grammar. A resume is a professional document that should showcase the applicant’s communication skills and attention to detail. If the resume is poorly written, with spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors, it may indicate that the applicant is careless, lazy, or incompetent. It may also suggest that the applicant did not write the resume themselves, or that they used a poor-quality translation service. To avoid hiring someone with poor writing and grammar skills, you can use online tools that check for errors, or ask the applicant to complete a writing test or assignment.  Kevin Brown is chief people officer at AE Works. Contact him at kevin@aeworks.com." }, { "title": "Nurturing a supportive work culture", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-19", "url": "/blogs/news/nurturing-a-supportive-work-culture", "summary": "   Supportive leaders who prioritize communication and psychological safety can foster a positive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated. In our modern workplaces, the relationship between people leaders and employees is crucial not only for productivity but also for mental well-being and overall employee experience. New research is demonstrating that people leaders have a more significant impact on their employees’ mental health than doctors or even therapists. Thus a supportive, empathetic, and inclusive supervisor can foster a positive work environment, whereas a toxic or unsupportive one can have detrimental effects on employee mental health. Understanding the dynamics of this relationship is essential for creating healthier workplaces and promoting overall employee well-being and experience. Creating a supportive and inclusive work culture. People leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the culture and climate of the workplace. In an effort to create an inclusive work environment, people leaders can impact the culture positively, so all individuals feel as though they are seen, valued, and heard. A supportive manager or supervisor recognizes the individual strengths and challenges of their team members and provides them with the resources, encouragement, and feedback they need to succeed. By fostering open communication, offering recognition for achievements, and promoting work-life integration, people leaders can create an environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and psychologically safe. Managing stress and workload. One of the primary stressors in the workplace is the pressure to meet deadlines, achieve targets, and manage competing priorities. A supportive supervisor who understands the importance of managing workflows and helps employees set realistic goals, prioritize tasks, and delegate responsibilities when necessary. By fostering a culture of collaboration and flexibility, managers can reduce the risk of burnout and promote healthier work-life integration or balance among their team members. Promoting psychological safety. Psychological safety refers to the belief that one can speak up, take risks, and express opinions without fear of negative consequences. People leaders who prioritize psychological safety create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and challenges openly. By actively listening to their team members, providing constructive feedback, and addressing conflicts or issues promptly, supervisors can build trust and mutual respect within the team, ultimately fostering better mental health outcomes. Addressing toxic behavior. Unfortunately, not all people leaders prioritize the well-being of their employees, and toxic behavior in the workplace can have severe consequences for mental health. Micromanagement, favoritism, lack of communication, exclusion in the form of microaggressions related to identity, and bullying are just a few examples of behaviors that can erode employee morale and contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression. It is essential for organizations to address toxic behavior promptly through training, support, and, if necessary, disciplinary action to ensure a healthy work environment for all employees. The role of leadership training. Developing effective leadership skills is essential for bosses to support their employees’ mental health effectively. Leadership training programs can help bosses cultivate empathy, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution skills, and stress management techniques. By investing in the professional development of their leaders, organizations can empower bosses to create positive work environments that promote employee well-being and productivity. The relationship between managers and employees is a critical factor in determining overall workplace satisfaction and mental health. A supportive people leader who prioritizes communication, recognition, and psychological safety can foster a positive work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and resilient. Conversely, toxic behavior from managers can contribute to stress, anxiety, and burnout among employees, leading to decreased productivity and increased turnover. By recognizing the importance of the leader-employee relationship and investing in leadership development, organizations can create healthier workplaces and promote the well-being of their employees. Tips to have a positive impact on employees’ well-being: Provide comprehensive education for people leaders on how to supervise a diverse group of people focused on inclusive leadership. Embrace the principles of inclusive culture and commit, daily, to creating a space where folks can bring their full selves to work and not be met with resistance. Use “working with me” documents to gather information about how individuals prefer to work. Set up one-on-ones that aren’t strictly focused on business but also cultivate psychological safety so folks feel comfortable to share their experiences.  Victoria Verlezza, Ph.D. is employee experience manager at Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. Contact her at vverlezza@fando.com." }, { "title": "Qualities of a worthy successor", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-12", "url": "/blogs/news/qualities-of-a-worthy-successor", "summary": "What qualities give founders peace of mind and the necessary trust to hand over the reins of their business? There are crucial components that will allow the founder(s) of your firm to confidently sell to the next tier of leaders. Succession planning is not only a time for the owners of the business to reap the rewards of their labor, but, most importantly, it’s a time to invest in the success of the next generation of leaders. It’s not an easy process. It’s time-consuming because the next generation of leaders must prove they are able to manage, sustain, and improve the business. Would you give the keys to your Ferrari to your young children? I hope not. Why? Because it takes experience to know how to maneuver a high-performance car like that. Your business isn’t a Prius, so don’t treat it like one! So, what will give founders peace of mind and the necessary trust to hand over the reins of their business? Here are the things you must do: You have to be a leader. Being an owner requires you to be involved in all aspects of the business – and people are a major factor in each of these aspects. Leadership allows you to tackle all these multi-faceted problems and get to the right solutions. Any owner must be a leader. They must embody what it means to be an owner and the values of your firm. The caliber of individuals within your business determines its superiority or inferiority. This not only enhances credibility and trust for departing owners but also for those remaining within the firm. Ownership transition extends beyond the current owners; it also involves the perceptions of the rest of the employees regarding the successors. Therefore, it’s crucial for your successors to have a track record of proven leadership. An essential aspect of leadership lies in shaping the culture. Leaders serve as the ambassadors of their firm’s culture. They must embody the values and principles that define the essence of the company. You have to deal with the pressure. What if your competitors are consistently outperforming your firm in proposals, key personnel were departing, and there’s a significant debt burdening the business’s balance sheet? How would you take it? Above all, the livelihoods of your employees and their families hinge on the success of your decisions. It’s an immense responsibility that only a select few can shoulder. You must know how to sell. Selling is about creating deep, meaningful relationships. The person who produces the most work is a tremendous asset to the firm. Every single future owner of the firm must know how to bring in work. This will allow for the founders to ensure that constant revenue streams are coming to the business while they are transitioning off. You must know how to financially operate your firm. I have seen the issue of very talented architects and engineers who do not know anything about the financial component of their business. This is why attaining this knowledge ahead of time will give you an edge over your peers. This is the opportune moment for the student within you to grasp these essential aspects of the business. The better informed you are, the better the business will perform. You must know how to make decisions. I was talking to a CEO who was explaining how he would delegate certain tasks to the upcoming second tier group. I asked him how that process has been. He mentioned that tasks which he could complete in 30 seconds would take the second-tier leaders a couple of days to finish. How fast or slow you make decisions can have a great impact on your business. Experience, common sense, and sound judgement are what founders are looking for. So, refine your decision making process! You must be a good communicator. Communicating to everyone a clear vision of where the firm is headed is a must. Having no room for interpretation will allow everyone to row in the same direction. Being transparent with the decisions the firm makes and explaining the why is helpful for the people of your firm. Additionally, as an owner, navigating difficult conversations – such as terminating an employee or addressing subpar performance among co-owners – requires tact and diplomacy in language and approach. While this list may seem obvious at first glance, achieving its items requires significant effort. More importantly, it demands acquiring the experiences that align with what founders seek in their successors. So, are you ready to be a successor?  Ezequiel Tovar is an analyst within Zweig Group’s ownership transition team. Contact him at etovar@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy Zweig Group’s flagship training program encompasses all aspects of managing a professional AEC service firm. Elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm with this program designed to inspire and inform existing and emerging AEC firm leaders in key areas of firm management. Join us June 27-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "The transformative power of mentoring", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-12", "url": "/blogs/news/the-transformative-power-of-mentoring", "summary": "Mentoring the next generation of professionals requires care and dedication – and it will have a profound impact on your people and firm. Mentoring is one of the most important things we can do to build individuals and companies. Throughout my career, I have had and continue to have mentors who have helped guide me in my professional and personal journey. As a young engineer starting at SCS Engineers, I was fortunate to be mentored by one of the firm’s founders, Tom Conrad. In my first year at SCS, I spent a portion of every day sitting with Tom, learning everything I could from him. It wasn’t always easy to receive his feedback, but I still have a paper box filled with his handwritten red ink corrections of dozens of reports that serve as a reminder that there is always room to improve. Tom always shot straight with me. If I did a good job, I’d know it. If I needed to improve, not only would he tell me, he’d show me how. Beyond mentoring me professionally, he also took the time to invest in my personal life. When my wife and I moved to Reston, Virginia, to take the job with SCS, we unfortunately moved into a bad rental situation. When Tom discovered this, he suggested we temporarily move into his home. The short- and long-term benefits of this type of consideration, while hard to measure, are invaluable. As I look back on the beginning of my career at SCS, several things strike me about my mentoring experience: The amount of time and effort Tom poured into me and the value of that time and effort. Tom spent hundreds of hours working with me – that’s a lot of time and effort to put into any one project, let alone a human development one. Tom took the time to care, really care, about me as an individual. Not just Dave the SCSer, or Dave the Engineer, but Dave the person. How many of you would not only consider but genuinely offer to open your home to someone you were just starting to get to know? His offer to us was a true measure of Tom’s quality. Tom was tenacious. He didn’t give up on me when he still needed to bleed all over my 23rd consecutive report. He just kept commenting and taking the time to teach me why he offered the comments. If Tom did this for me, I most certainly need to do it for others, and Tom was a great example to follow. I’m happy to report that although I am in no way as proficient as Tom, I am paying it forward by mentoring several people here at SCS. I’m sure he’d be happy to hear that while I don’t bleed all over things in red pen much anymore, I do review and comment on the things my group produces. More importantly, I try to take the time to teach why I’m providing corrections and comments. Quite frankly, mentoring is probably the part of my job that I enjoy the most and where I get the most satisfaction. Tom’s motivations for mentoring me and taking a personal interest in my future were not just driven by a potential improvement in the company’s future or financial bottom line. I think Tom was just an extraordinary guy who knew that if he found someone who cared as much about their development as he did, he could mold them into the person they both wanted them to be. Unfortunately, Tom passed last year. We miss him a lot here at SCS. I would have loved to have him review this article. He’d sit there with his coffee and red pen and mark this all up. He’d do that not because this article was about him but because he cared about SCS and me. Something that I often reflect on with great appreciation is that I may have been one of the last people to receive this awesome blessing from Tom, but I was certainly not the first. He invested the same in many others over his 50 years at SCS. Several of them are leading our company today. We are all grappling with attracting and retaining the next generation of leaders to our industry and our individual companies. Mentoring is a necessary and critical part of that challenge. As Tom knew and I am learning, if you find someone who cares about their development as much as you do, you can transform them from an energetic, driven, and raw young professional into the next leader of your firm and industry. So, my challenge to each of you is to find your own young professional and start investing in them. Not just the work version of them, but all of them. Before they’ve graduated from your newly formed mentoring school, make sure to teach them how to mentor. Then start again – keep on going. If you’re doing it right, you’ll pick your head up in a few years and be looking at your next generation of leaders. Think of that impact! I came to SCS hoping to make a difference in the world through engineering and developing systems and processes that improve the environment or reduce negative impacts. SCS is a great place where, as an engineer, I can do things that truly help improve our world. I remember talking with my father about this several years ago. We realized that when I look back on my career, my true impact won’t be measured by how much methane gas I prevented from entering the atmosphere but by how many lives I’ve impacted through my investment into them as Tom invested in me. Remember Tom’s example as you move forward and build your own leaders. I also encourage you to take the time to thank all of the “Toms” who have invested in you. I’m sure they’ll thank you and tell you to pay it forward.  David Hostetter, PE, LEED AP, CEM is vice president and RMC business manager at SCS Engineers. Contact him at dhostetter@scsengineers.com." }, { "title": "Bad advice from your outside accountant", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-12", "url": "/blogs/news/bad-advice-from-your-outside-accountant", "summary": "   Keep the big picture in mind, and make sure you have the right outside accountants who understand more than the tax consequences of these kinds of decisions. I have often felt like small accountants (and occasionally those from larger firms, although far less often) give some really bad advice to their AEC firm owner clients. A lot of this advice is based on reducing personal or corporate income taxes, but at what cost? I will never forget the time about 30 years ago when our then-accountant sat my partner Fred White and myself down near the end of the year and said, “Mark and Fred – I still think you guys could have taken another $200K to $250K out of the company this year.” Being the brash young confrontationist I was at the time, my response was, “Let me ask you a question, Bob. How long have you been in business?” “Twenty years,” was his response. “And how many people do you have working for you here now?” I followed up with. “Counting myself?” he asked. “Yes, counting yourself,” I responded. “Counting family members?” he asked. “Yes, counting family members,” I said. “Four or five, depending on the time of year,” he stated. My immediate (and brutal) response was, “Twenty years and a five-person firm – then maybe you shouldn’t tell us how to manage a growing business. Stick with accounting!” This was just some of the bad advice we got and typical of what we have heard our clients get over the years from their outside accountants – advice that may be good for reducing short-term tax obligations but could hurt the business in the longer term. Here is some more of it: “Put your kid (mom, dad, etc.) on the payroll and pay them so much per year not to do anything.” Sure, this may be a way to reduce your company profits and taxes and help your family members pay some money into FICA so they will eventually get Social Security payments, but at what price? Not only does this reduce your profits so your business looks worse if you ever want to sell it, it hurts morale when your other employees find out about it. Unproductive family members on the payroll? Bad idea! “Run your boat/RV/vacation house through the company.” See my comments above – same thing. If you heard as many employees complain about how their “company” owns a boat/RV/vacation house that they have never been to, you would know how it once again kills morale and makes the firm’s numbers look worse. “When you go on vacation have the company pay for all that so it’s a write-off.” Again – kills morale and makes the company’s financial performance look worse than it should be. “Use book value for all internal stock transactions because it’s easy.” This is very common and the problem with it is twofold. First, why would any rational person leave a dollar in their company to extract a devalued dollar 10 or 20 or 30 years later versus taking it all out now and investing it elsewhere? Stripping all retained earnings every year is not the way to build a stronger company. Secondly – not tying the internal company value to the real external market value of the business does not provide a real opportunity to the other owners to grow their investment unless they eventually have an external exit. “Create a second class of non-voting stock.” Why? What difference is it going to make if 2, or 5, or 10 percent of your owners have voting rights? All you have done is devalue their ownership out of your own paranoia about loss of control, when you won’t be losing control anyway. “Own your building outside the business by yourself and overcharge the AEC firm for rent to reduce your income.” See my comments above about making the company performance look worse and demotivating your people. But the other problem comes in when you add other owners to your AEC firm who are also not owners in the building company. You set yourself up for a future conflict with your business partners about the excessive rent you are charging. Why risk that? I could keep going here but I think you get the idea. Make sure you have the right outside accountants who understand more than the tax consequences of these kinds of decisions. And then make sure you keep the big picture in mind yourself about what you are really trying to do with your business over the long haul. Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "AI’s role in writing", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-12", "url": "/blogs/news/ai-s-role-in-writing", "summary": "   How do AEC industry businesses use artificial intelligence effectively and responsibly for writing? The glitz and glam of artificial intelligence tools have hit the business world with a head-on tackle that would make even the best NFL linebacker jealous. The promise of saving money and time with automation has some flocking to the ChatGPTs, Grammarlys, and OtterAi notetakers of the market. But, if you’re like me, you may feel some hesitancy toward the “AI solves all” trend. Perhaps this uncertainty stems from being cautious about in vogue things being pricey fads with low rates of return or from concern about the unknown. How do we know that generative AI-produced writing contains accurate information free of plagiarism and problematic material? Who is ultimately responsible for the texts that go into generative AI databases and come out of AI machines? Who owns and can profit from AI-produced material? As someone who makes her living writing and teaching writing, these questions plague me, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re opening the door to I, Robot or Millennium Man becoming our realities – neither of which I’m excited to see come to fruition (although they are good movies). As a bit of background, generative AI finds information in a database, puts it together, and produces a combination of output in line with what you request of the AI. For example, I could ask ChatGPT for a technical report on acid rain’s three most harmful effects. With one click, boom! There’s my report. But therein lies the problem: Is the technical report really mine? Is the information correct? Is it something that my readers will positively respond to? Many public-facing generative AIs’ databases often consist of the entire internet. Everything that was, is, or has been posted on the internet is supposedly fair game. That’s a lot of material. But what about those authors who don’t want their copyrighted texts subject to being plagiarized in my technical report? Too bad. What about those who don’t want their information being used by someone they’ve never met for whose purposes they may not agree with? Sorry, you’re out of luck. What about the information that’s biased, hateful, or just plain wrong? Well, you better hope that’s not what the AI creates for you. Perhaps my bias is showing, but AI-produced texts can go horribly wrong. This isn’t to say that AI should be avoided at all costs in writing. AI is here to stay. I won’t pretend to be a fuddy-duddy who refuses to get on the AI train and who yells at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn. Yet, AI cannot be without human intervention if we’re to create texts that matter, are effective, speak to our readers, and don’t get us into trouble. Recently, in Thaler v. Perlmutter, a federal district court upheld the U.S. Copyright Office’s refusal to register a piece of AI-produced art because its origin wasn’t human enough. Essentially, a “natural human” must be the bedrock of a piece of art or writing for it to be considered for copyright. This legal precedent sets the tone for how America will view AI-produced texts. It shows that for something to be considered with ownership, humans must play an active role in its creation. Will texts produced mainly (or even only) by AI show up? Yes. I’ve read those one-note and boring AI articles, and they made me question the companies I saw attached to such muck. To use AI and eschew the human touch is to discredit one’s company and oneself. Businesses that wish to use AI in producing internal or external documents, in taking notes, or in data mining cannot expect to purchase the AI to ensure all will be well for their teams. Doing this will only throw team members to the robotic wolves. Organizations that handle sensitive or private information and/or wish to safeguard their intellectual property should be cautious when using AI. Once you put information into the AI’s database to be spell-checked, organized, or whatever else, it’s there. Forever. Your mother warned you about putting things on the internet, remember? So, what do we do? What’s the solution to using AI responsibly and effectively? Companies can anonymize or eliminate sensitive information when using AI. Businesses can go down the pricey path of creating their own generative AI that has access only to an internal database of information. Nothing but approved material goes into the AI and, theoretically, nothing gets loose on the Wild West of the internet. Companies must train their teams to use AI. This training includes crafting effective prompts, developing privacy and intellectual property issues, and using critical thinking and problem-solving skills to edit writing, ensure that writing meets the writer’s and the organization’s desired outcomes, and craft writing so that it speaks to the writer’s target audience. This training can then be translated into clear guidelines. Businesses and writers who use AI without understanding how to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to writing will ultimately fail in their writing and AI endeavors. Bottom line: If a team’s writing is bad now, AI won’t fix the problem. The writing will stay poor and may get worse with the added complication of reliance on AI. AI must be supervised and used in conjunction with human creation and critical thinking. We must view AI as a tool, akin to the typewriter or computer word processor. In short, AI cannot be the sole or primary creator, and it cannot replace sound human thinking and writing. Elizabeth Preston, Ph.D., is an executive consultant for Hurley Write and the producer and co-host of The Writing Docs podcast. Connect with her on LinkedIn. For more information, contact info@hurleywrite.com." }, { "title": "Finding opportunities: Leo Rubio", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-12", "url": "/blogs/news/finding-opportunities-leo-rubio", "summary": "President and CEO of Bennett Engineering Services + Y&C Transportation Consultants, a firm that provides enduring and award-winning civil engineering services. By Liisa AndreassenCorrespondent In January 2023, Bennett Engineering Services and Y&C Transportation Consultants merged – and Rubio reports things are going well. The merger has allowed both companies to cast a wider net by providing more services to each other’s existing clients. Bennett Engineering Services remains its legal name. “We understand the low success rate with mergers but, after more than one year, we have seen only exceptional growth,” Rubio says. “Our success is a result of building a solid partnership with Y&C over the years before our merger. Of course, we’re always looking at ways to improve our systems and culture, but we learn from one another to make our team better as the company continues to grow.” The strength of Bennett+Y&C’s culture plays an important role in its success, and Rubio credits all of the firm’s employees for that. Taking care of staff and creating a safe and fun place to work is a big part of this business’ culture. Rubio says they encourage team-building exercises (e.g., a solar-powered car building competition last fall); employee recognition; professional development via Bennett Academy; and external training opportunities to build skills, expertise, and value. Helping communities hits close to home. As a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Rubio shares that helping communities in need is “important to us.” That’s why the company volunteers and fundraises for charitable organizations throughout the year. They also work closely with their clients and funding agencies such as SACOG, Caltrans, USDA, SRF, and more to identify a project for a grant that fits all of the criteria to be competitive. “We help local agencies prepare preliminary designs, assist with outreach efforts, and with grant applications,” he says. To be competitive for certain grants, many applicants invest in the project and have gained community support. And, depending on the grant – equity, safety, water quality, urban greening, and/or GHG reduction may factor into the selection. “Our pride comes from seeing the impact our work has on the community,” he says. As a recent example, the firm supported the City of Sacramento in acquiring millions of dollars for the Franklin Boulevard Complete Street project. The city is taking great strides to transform Franklin Boulevard into a corridor that offers more opportunities for alternative transportation while celebrating local diversity and showcasing business establishments and amenities. The project goal is to build the identity of the business corridor, improve access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and to infuse the area with a sense of placemaking that works to ultimately strengthen the diverse community and individual businesses. City, county, and neighborhood business leaders also share the vision to transform the boulevard into a destination that celebrates local diversity and showcases its many culinary and business establishments. Together, Rubio and the Bennett+Y&C team are intent on bringing this effort to fruition and witnessing the impact it has on the community. An employee survey – conducted about a year ago – mirrors the overall firm philosophy. Employees highlighted how important contributing to a community’s services is to them – creating solid infrastructure, safer communities, and providing clean water, among other things. Prepping for the future. From hiring challenges to an evolving transportation industry, Bennett+Y&C is fielding these challenges by being proactive and working to stay one step ahead. The company participates in recruiting events, looking for qualified individuals, and also offers mentorship and training courses to its employees. Rubio says that one of the undertakings he’s most excited about is Bennett Academy – a resource extended to all employees that encourages professional development. Every individual has a growth path if they so choose – they can gain hands-on experience in a variety of projects and the potential to move into project management, technical-focused roles, and other opportunities. “We are training for consistency without losing creativity,” he says. “We are striving to strengthen the company’s foundation by improving customer service, our knowledge base, and overall – the quality of our services.” Another venture that has him excited has to do with the company’s direction – a direct result of their merger with Y&C. Prior to the merger, Bennett Engineering Services mostly served the Northern California area, but with Y&C’s presence in the market, they’re now providing more services to Bay Area clients. What keeps Rubio and the company busy these days is the transportation and water resources industries – roadway systems that support new and autonomous vehicles, improvements to aging infrastructure, and traffic management. Aging infrastructure above and below ground is also having trouble keeping up with climate change that causes flooding and there’s a need for more stormwater management. To combat the issues regarding infrastructure and traffic management, the company uses the latest technology such as roller-compacted concrete, and it’s looking to transform core systems and implementing AI in Intelligent Transportation Systems. These ITS include surveillance cameras, vehicle detection systems, traffic signal coordination systems, electronic toll collection and toll pricing systems, and other traffic management systems. Overall, Rubio sees opportunities where there are challenges and will continue to keep the company flexible for whatever comes its way. “We have great clients and an incredible team. Together, we can accomplish great things,” he says. " }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 05/06/2024 – 05/12/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-05-10", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-05-06-2024-05-12-2024", "summary": "Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.   Domestic Transactions: 5/1/2024Sustainability, carbon accounting, and energy management firm, Foresight (Grand Rapids, MI), merged with environmental, health, and safety solutions firm, Cornerstone (Zionsville, IN). Read More.   5/2/2024TÜV SÜD (Munich, Germany), a testing, Inspection, and Certification (TIC) services firm, acquired Sustainable Investment Group (Atlanta, GA), a firm that offers sustainability solutions to the real estate industry. Read More.   5/3/2024RESPEC (Rapid City, SD) a geoscience, engineering, and technology firm, acquired environmental geochemistry and microbiology firm, Enviromin (Bozeman, MT). Read More.   5/6/2024LaBella Associates (Rochester, NY) (ENR #127), an AE, environmental, and planning firm, acquired MEP firm ENGR3 (Alpharetta, GA). ENGR3’s expertise includes multi-family, mixed-use, and commercial development projects. Read More.   5/6/2024Transportation planning and traffic engineering firm, Traffic & Mobility Consultants (Orlando, FL), serving commercial, residential, and municipal clients, acquired Lincks & Associates (Tampa, FL), a transportation and traffic engineering services firm. Read More.   5/7/2024Round Table Capital Partners (Miami, FL) sold a majority stake in its portfolio company, Verdantas (Tampa, FL) (ENR #114), to Sterling Investment Partners (Westport, CT). Read More.   5/9/2024STV (New York, NY) (ENR #35), an industry-leading EA firm, acquired engineering and construction engineering inspection firm, MEHTA and Associates (Winter Park, FL), specializing in civil works and transportation infrastructure projects. Read More.     International Transactions:   5/3/2024Family of businesses providing testing, inspection, certification, and compliance (TICC) services, Phenna Group (Nottingham, UK), acquired ecological services firm, NLG Ecology (Bollington, UK), with experience in preliminary ecological assessments, protected and notable species survey, and habitat management plans. Read More.   5/3/2024Environmental firm, Environmental Essentials (Newcastle-Under-Lyme, UK), focused on asbestos risk management services, acquired Callidus Health & Safety (Leeds, UK), a health and safety and asset management firm. Read More." }, { "title": "AEC firm leadership insights", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-05", "url": "/blogs/news/aec-firm-leaership-insights", "summary": "Explore the latest data on compensation, perks, and key challenges shaping the industry’s ownership landscape. Zweig Group’s 2024 Principals, Partners & Owners Report of AEC Firms is a comprehensive study of owners and top managers of U.S. AEC firms. This eye-opening report covers ownership, stock appreciation rights, buy/sell agreements, non-compete agreements, voting rights, roles, responsibilities, perks, compensation, and more. In addition to this hard data, the 2024 Principals, Partners & Owners Report contains survey responses about the attitudes, responsibilities, and difficulties associated with these roles. Top findings include: Ownership dynamics and firm stability. The survey sheds light on shifts in ownership dynamics and firm stability within the AEC industry. Despite a slight decrease in the median number of years respondents have been owners in their firms, from 20 years in 2022 to 15 years in 2024, AEC firms continue to navigate evolving business models and strategies. Additionally, there’s a noticeable trend of promoting younger individuals earlier in their careers into management and leadership roles, injecting fresh perspectives into decision-making processes. These trends may signify changes in generational ownership, mergers and acquisitions, or succession planning strategies among AEC firms, underscoring the need for adaptability and forward-thinking leadership. Investment and risk. With continued consolidation and the overall transition of ownership in the AEC industry, the dynamics of internal transition seem to be changing too. We have seen an increase in the percentage of owners who have borrowed money to purchase the equity in their firm (up to 43 percent from just 32 percent five years ago). Funding sources with the largest increases over the last five years were from the selling shareholder and the firm respectively. The data this year suggest that personal guarantees on firms’ debt has decreased from five years ago to around 45 percent, down from nearly 60 percent of owners signing personal guarantees on firms’ debt.  This is likely due to a shift in the percentage of equity help by this year’s respondents, with more respondents owning less than 10 percent of their firm. Political donation trends reflect shifting priorities. Analysis of the survey data unveils a notable decline in the percentage of AEC firm leaders making political donations, particularly at the state and national levels. While 20 percent of respondents made contributions to local candidates, only 19 percent and 14 percent donated to state and national candidates, respectively. This shift suggests a reevaluation of priorities on spending and investment in the political process. Economic impact on severance packages. Amidst economic uncertainties, the survey indicates adjustments in compensation structures, particularly concerning severance packages. While a small percentage (10 percent) of respondents have employment agreements specifying severance pay, there has been a decrease in the median and mean number of weeks specified, from 14 to 8 weeks and 21 to 15 weeks, respectively. This trend reflects a strategic response to economic pressures and changing labor market conditions, highlighting the need for firms to manage costs and remain competitive. Unlock unparalleled insights into the world of AEC firm leadership with the Principals, Partners & Owners Report. Explore the latest data on compensation, perks, key challenges, and qualifications shaping the industry’s ownership landscape. Click here to learn more. Will Swearingen is vice president and director of research and advisory services at Zweig Group. He can be reached at wswearingen@zweiggroup.com. AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum This new event gathers leaders of small AEC firms to discuss the unique issues of managing and growing a small business today. The one-day event includes keynotes, panel discussions, roundtables, and breakout sessions, all focused on the emerging trends and needs of small businesses. Join us May 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Building a fandom in AEC", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-05", "url": "/blogs/news/building-a-fandom-in-aec", "summary": "Focusing on creating fans of your brand, rather than just clients, can drive deeper engagement, brand loyalty, and word-of-mouth marketing. Architectural Digest focused on “world-building.” Those in Seattle focused on the seismograph. World leaders focused on the measurable economic boost. Of course, the focus of all of this was the Eras Tour. And when asked how it was all possible, time and again, Taylor Swift’s focus is consistent: It’s because of the fans. Taylor Swift does not have customers. She doesn’t have clients. She has fans. And what does Taylor Swift and her fandom have to do with AEC marketing? Depending on your firm vision, the answer could be nothing or everything. However, the real question is, are you content with having clients – or do you want fans? What’s the difference? Clients stick with you through the duration of the project. Fans look for a reason to keep working with you. Clients know your firm’s strengths. Fans broadcast your strengths to their peers and tell them exactly what you’ve done for them, when, and why. Comparing clients and fans: It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference. In Seth Godin terms, clients may think, “Why are you bothering me?” while fans demand, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Bring on all the pretenders, we will be remembered. Fandom is the key. But don’t take my word for it, or Taylor Swift’s either. Have you heard of Field Notes or Zentangle? Field Notes has fans. A three-pack of original Field Notes notebooks costs $12.95. Most of their notebooks measure 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches. The company was founded in 2007 and maintains manufacturing in the United States. Their beginnings were humble. Their website reports, “Field Notes owe their existence to a tradition of promotional memo books distributed to American farmers over the last hundred years by seed, tractor, and other agricultural companies.” Today, these little notebooks have built an amazing fan following. Quarterly releases typically sell out shortly after they are available. Each quarterly release has an accompanying video created by Field Notes HQ. Yearly subscriptions include surprises, bonuses, and perks. The company has collaborated on limited edition notebook designs with entities from the United States Postal Service to Starbucks and even German industrial designer Dieter Rams. This is the marketing they do for themselves. Field Notes fans take it from there. From unboxing videos to handwritten love letters, participation in contests and gifting, the fans are spreading the word. Zentangle has fans. At its core, Zentangle is a method for drawing. What you can buy from the company is mostly paper, pens, and pencils. Since the first germ of an idea in 2003, Zentangle has amassed a worldwide following that includes Certified Zentangle Teachers and countless enthusiasts. Special releases (called Project Packs), free video content, and partnerships are the core of their marketing. You don’t have to buy a single thing to enjoy and engage with the Zentangle Method. Yet Zentangle’s estimated annual revenue is currently $3.5 million per year. Zentanglers, from all around the globe, spread the word. Although they speak different native languages, they all speak Zentangle. Common denominators. What fan-based activities do these entities have in common? They are generous. Fresh content is what’s talked about most in the fandom-sphere. This often takes the form of free videos which might be announcements, entertaining clips, or instructional sessions. In all cases, it is content that is free and valuable to fans. They are worth following. Communication is ongoing for those with fan-followings. And those who are paying attention are rewarded for following along. They might not know exactly when a surprise is coming, but they do know, sooner or later, something good will be hinted at, partially revealed, and finally divulged. Fans are waiting for it. They are meaningfully creative. Creativity for creativity’s sake is not the goal. Crafting creative content and approaches that support the thing fans are excited about in the first place is a key to cultivating fans. Whatever these entities are doing, they’re making it meaningful to the fans, something that will be welcomed and embraced. They are consistent. A consistent approach to fan outreach feeds and rewards anticipation, delivering delight on an ongoing basis. They have carved out a space of their own. Let’s be honest, in AEC, sometimes clients struggle to get the names of our firms right. This doesn’t happen with a fan base. Swifties talk about Easter eggs, embrace the number 13, and often talk in lyrics. Field Notes fans know why Wednesdays are special. Zentanglers have their own rich vocabulary of Tangles, TangleRootZ, and Tangleations. It’s world-building. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. This all sounds exciting – but also like a lot of work. Why should you and your firm care? As Seth Godin tells us: “When all things are equal, we choose the cheapest.” So if your strategic position is to be the low-cost leader, you might not need to be concerned about your lack of fandom at all. Are you content competing on this low-cost, level playing field or is it time for a tilted stage? Many firms say they offer something else, something different, something better. But do you? Ask yourself, can you be generous, interesting, meaningful, consistent. Or more of these things? Have you carved out a space all your own, in the eyes of those you work with and for? It’s worth repeating, as Seth Godin challenges: Clients may think, “Why are you bothering me?” while fans, demand “Why didn’t you tell me?” Creating a fandom; that’s next-level marketing. Are you ready for it?  Jane Lawler Smith, MBA, is a Swiftie, Tangler, and Field Notes fan. She is also a Seth Godin follower. Her day job is working to build a fandom for Derck & Edson, LLC. Contact her at jsmith@derckandedson.com." }, { "title": "Selling firm owners on entrepreneurship", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-05", "url": "/blogs/news/selling-firm-owners-on-entrepreneurship", "summary": "So many firm owners in our industry could do even better for their people and themselves, and build real value, if they were more entrepreneurial. When you look across our industry at the tens of thousands of AEC firms that make it up, it’s clear that most of these professional services firms are not what one could consider truly entrepreneurial enterprises. Not to say that the majority of these companies don’t provide a very valuable service to their clients, provide solid jobs for their people, and make a decent living for their principals, because they do. But at the same time, so many of these firm owners could do even better for their people and themselves, and build real value that could help their families for generations IF they were more entrepreneurial. As someone who has worked in and around AEC firms for nearly 44 years now, it’s clear to me the reason why more firms in our “industry” don’t act more entrepreneurial than they do is multi-faceted – but ultimately, it really comes down to one thing. Their owners aren’t sold on the benefits of doing so. And if the owners aren’t sold, the employees certainly aren’t going to be able to make it happen. The thought change has to occur at the top. I have stated before on these pages that the primary distinction of an entrepreneurial venture versus a small business lies in value creation. The entrepreneurial firm owner is thinking long-term and not trying to maximize their annual extractions from the company. Instead they want to build the company such that there is an even bigger pot of gold when they decide to get out. There are several implications of that, including: The firm HAS to be committed to growth because growth rate greatly impacts value. I have written before about the fallacy of historic EBIT multiples when it comes to valuing rapidly growing companies in this industry and others. All you have to do is look at the public markets to see what happens when revenue for any business is growing rapidly. Value multiples of EBIT go out the window. We have seen rapidly growing AEC firms be worth as much as three times annual revenue in a few external transactions, which is mind-blowing in light of the historic industry multiples of 50 percent to 100 percent of net service revenue. It was only because of their growth rate! Growth in revenue has to be seen as more important than maximizing profitability. Any company can make a 20 percent or 30 percent profit or better in any given year if they want to – but at what price? Cut all overhead functions and it isn’t hard. But what happens later? Growth will plateau. Entrepreneurial firms figure out that by maximizing their growth rate they also end up being more profitable than their peers anyway because their revenue is always growing faster than their overhead. It’s a great paradox, but believe me it’s real! There has to be a valuation methodology for the company in place that ties internal transaction value to the real market value of the firm were it to be sold externally. You can’t transact internal shares or ownership interest based on book value or a multiple of book value or historic EBIT when the real value of the company is going to be assessed using projected EBIT based on a certain growth rate. This is fundamental. Otherwise, there is not a connection between doing the things that maximize value because the incentives encourage a much less aggressive strategy. In order to grow at a faster rate than the industry, the company has got to make greater investments in people, marketing, and systems. Acquisitions will also probably have to be part of the strategy and practice. Just because these things take money directly out of potential short-term profits doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. They must be done in spite of that fact. In order to sustain growth, the company has to be continuously innovating and improving all it does, and bringing out new service offerings that differentiate it from the dozens of competitors it inevitably has. Innovation and “new” has to be baked into the practice and culture of the firm on a daily basis. It must be part of the business planning process for each revenue-generating unit in the firm, and management has to see to it that it actually happens and isn’t just something that gets done if there isn’t any billable work to charge time to. These five things are fundamental to the entrepreneurial firm. It takes unanimity of the owners who must all understand the hows and whys of entrepreneurial management principles. Don’t underestimate the power of having even a single unsupportive leader. The good news is we have some really smart people who own the firms in our industry. They can “get it” IF they understand the logic. So explain it. Sell it. Talk about it until they all get it. The benefits of doing so can be enormous.  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Benefits of an ESG report", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-05", "url": "/blogs/news/benefits-of-an-esg-report", "summary": "This report allows firms to highlight their responsible business practices, community and sustainability commitments, and social innovations. We know that the work we do impacts our clients, communities, and teaming partners. We have a responsibility to make life better for those around us, and an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) report can help us do so. An ESG report is a way to take inventory of our current practices, set goals for the future, and track our progress as we work toward these goals as a company. Our company chose to go through the process of creating an ESG report to help us track our progress around our environmental impact, company culture, and leadership. We published our first report in 2023. This report is publicly available on our company website. Our ESG report will be updated annually, and the second version of the report was published in April. See the latest report here. Benefits of an ESG report include: Risk mitigation. Considering environmental and social concerns increases resiliency and reduces risk (operational, legal, reputational, etc.). Marketing. An ESG report allows prospective clients, partners, and employees to see how a company’s values are reflected in their work and organization. Employee engagement. Compiling an ESG report requires expertise and input from many different people in an organization. Including employees in the creation of the report and execution of its goals is necessary and can increase employee engagement. Innovation and adaptability. Considering sustainability and social responsibility in all aspects of the business challenges us to innovate and adapt as the industry changes. Here is our approach to each ESG pillar: Environmental. This pillar challenged us to understand our impacts on the environment in our external operations as well as through our internal projects, and set goals to reduce these impacts. We primarily focused on energy, emissions, water, waste procurement, and green buildings. We paid attention to internal elements, such as product sourcing, to our project impacts. In other words, how are we contributing to the care of our physical world and creating spaces for people to thrive? Because we lease many of our office spaces, we track data related to water use, energy consumption, and carbon emissions as best as we can and make use of available resources to make assumptions where necessary to establish a baseline (e.g. Environmental Protection Agency emissions factors). Social. This pillar addresses our company culture and the exciting ways that our employees are contributing to our community and broader society. This portion of the report excites me the most because it’s centered around the best part of our company: our people. We chose to focus on community involvement, training and development, and diversity and inclusion. While we delve into programs and policies in place to support employees, a large portion of this section is composed of employee features. Whether it’s an innovative approach to our work, a passion for supporting the next generation of AEC professionals, or getting involved in their community, these features highlight the unique ways that our people are contributing to the industry. Representation matters and featuring a diverse group of employees emphasizes that our company, and the AEC industry, is for everyone. Governance. This pillar address how our company is led, from our board of directors to corporate management, and how we consider the impact to people and environment as part of our decision making. Our ESG report allows us to share our responsible business practices, community and sustainability commitments, and social innovations with potential employees and clients. Above all, our goal is to take responsibility and continuously improve our impact on the world around us.  Lalitha Benjaram, EIT is diversity and inclusion program manager at Mead & Hunt. Contact her at lalitha.benjaram@meadhunt.com." }, { "title": "Scared of selling?", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-05-05", "url": "/blogs/news/scared-of-selling", "summary": "With the right approach, our people can develop the skills and confidence needed to excel in business development, contributing to our collective success. Annually, I organize an off-site leadership summit for my senior leadership team. This event serves as an excellent opportunity for deeper connections, collective problem-solving, and envisioning the future of our industry. At our most recent summit, we concluded with a brainstorming session aimed at enhancing our operations to bolster our reputation, profitability, and overall growth. We identified several areas for improvement, including internal communication, template development, guidance documents, and optimizing our accounting software. However, one topic stood out. Many senior leaders expressed a lack of confidence and even fear regarding business development. This revelation was surprising and led me to ponder the underlying causes: Are we adequately preparing our technical leaders for sales roles? Are our expectations realistic? Are we equipping them with the necessary tools for success? In adopting the seller-doer model prevalent in engineering firms, such as Pennoni, it’s crucial to recognize three key factors: Technical background. Our senior leaders typically possess technical backgrounds, having pursued degrees in engineering, science, or related fields. Introverted nature. The majority of technical experts tend to be introverted, often feeling less inclined toward extensive social interactions, especially small talk. Lack of sales training. It’s rare for consultants to receive formal training in sales techniques, leaving many ill-prepared for business development responsibilities. I stand apart from the norm, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree, which afforded me ample opportunities to develop communication and interpersonal skills. However, this isn’t the case for most engineers and scientists within the AEC industry. It’s essential to acknowledge that while these professionals excel in their technical domains, they may lack foundational communication skills necessary for effective interaction. Conducting personality assessments among our team members has consistently revealed a prevalence of introverted personalities, which isn’t surprising given our industry’s nature. Introversion often translates to a discomfort with small talk and a preference for direct, purposeful communication. As an introvert myself, I understand the challenges firsthand and the importance of adapting to engage effectively in various situations. Lastly, we must consider the insufficient provision of comprehensive sales training across firms. Learning to sell is a skill that requires dedicated mentorship, access to high-quality resources, and professional development opportunities – not merely a brief webinar or book recommendation. While selling may seem daunting for many of our staff, including senior leaders, it’s imperative to acknowledge these apprehensions and address them proactively. By recognizing individual differences and providing the necessary support and training, we can empower our engineers to embrace the seller-doer model confidently. In conclusion, selling doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right approach, our team can develop the skills and confidence needed to excel in business development, contributing to our collective success.  Alan Lloyd, CIH, CSP, ENV SP, WELL AP is vice president and EHS practice leader at Pennoni. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 04/08/2024 – 04/14/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-05-03", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-04-08-2024-04-14-2025", "summary": "Zweig Group is the leading AEC Industry advisory service provider. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Reach our Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory team here.   M&A Activity Report for the week of 04/08/2024 – 04/14/2024   Domestic Transactions: 4/24/2024Site design firm specializing in civil engineering, ecological consulting, geotechnical engineering, land surveying, landscape architecture, and facility consulting, PEA Group (Auburn Hills, MI), acquired environmental firm, ASTI Environmental (Brighton, MI). Read More.   4/25/2024Surveying and engineering firm, Delta (Lubbock, TX), with experience in commercial and residential projects, joined land development and employee-owned firm LJA Engineering (Houston, TX) (ENR #67). This is LJA’s fourth acquisition of 2024 thus far. Read More.   4/29/2024Civil engineering, surveying, architecture, landscape architecture, and planning services firm Crafton Tull (Rogers, AR) (ENR #412), expanded its landscape architecture team with the addition of Prism Design Studio (Huntsville, AR).  Read More.   4/29/2024Multi-disciplined engineering firm, Clark Dietz (Champaign, IL), acquired civil, structural, traffic, and construction engineering firm, RS Engineering (Lansing, MI). Read More.   4/30/2024Transmission reliability modeling, market analysis software, and technical services firm, PowerGEM (Clifton Park, NY), providing for the electric power industry, acquired Astrapé Consulting (Hoover, AL), a firm that offers resource adequacy for reliably managing the transition to clean energy. Read More.   4/30/2024Utility and field services firm, Magnolia River Services (Decatur, AL), with expertise in engineering, inspection, GIS, and software, acquired engineering and management consulting firm, Heath and Associates (Shelby, NC), focused on the power and energy industry. Read More.   4/30/2024Public-infrastructure firm, CRIADO & Associates (Dallas, TX) joined civil engineering, structural, landscape architecture, surveying, and construction inspection services firm, Dunaway (Fort Worth, TX). Read More.   4/30/2024Energy efficiency and sustainability solutions firm, Legence (San Jose, CA), acquired commercial real estate sustainability consulting firm, Corporate Sustainability Strategies (Huntington Beach, CA). Read More.   5/1/2024MEP, fire protection engineering, lighting design, energy services, and commissioning firm, Rushing (Seattle, WA), joined industry leader, IMEG Corp. (Rock Island, IL) (ENR #57). Read More.   5/1/2024Leading global design firm, WSP (Montreal, Canada) (ENR#4), acquired specialized MEP firm, AKF Group (New York, NY) (ENR #318), designing complex healthcare, science and technology, and mission-critical facilities. Read More.   5/1/2024Linton Engineering (Potomac Falls, VA), a structural engineering firm, merged with Bennett & Pless (Atlanta, GA). The acquisition extends Bennett & Pless’ reach and single-discipline structural engineering expertise into the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. Read More.   5/2/2024Kimley-Horn (Raleigh, NC) (ENR #10) a planning and design consulting firm joined forces with consulting firm, VICUS (Los Angeles, CA), specializing in urban planning, design, and environmental services. Read More.     International Transactions: 4/29/2024Surveying services firm, Plowman Craven (Harpenden, UK), serving the residential, rail, and infrastructure markets, received funding from private equity firm Agathos Management (London, UK). Read More.   4/30/2024Ufenau Capital Partners (Schwyz, Switzerland), a privately-owned investor group, acquired engineering firm, IPP Group (Kiel, Germany), with expertise in infrastructure and energy projects such as road renovations, water and wastewater systems, and hydrogen plants. Read More.   4/30/2024The private equity business at Goldman Sachs Alternatives (New York, NY) will acquire a majority stake in Adler & Allan (Harrogate, UK) an environmental risk reduction and advisory services firm, from Sun European Partners (London, UK).  Read More.   5/1/2024Stantec (Edmonton, Canada) (ENR #8) a leading sustainable design and engineering firm, acquired engineering design firm, Hydrock (Bristol, UK), offering fire safety, energy & sustainability, civil & structural, MEP, transport, environmental, and geotechnical services. Read More.   5/1/2024Leading global architectural, advisory, construction engineering and mobility services firm, Egis (Guyancourt, France) (ENR #30), acquired PM, cost management, building surveying, and construction safety services firm, Thomas & Adamson (Edinburgh, UK). Read More.   5/1/2024EcoAmmo (Edmonton, Canada), a sustainability services firm, joined ESG and sustainability consulting, carbon, energy engineering, commissioning, and project delivery services firm, Stok (San Francisco, CA). Read More." }, { "title": "Zweig Group releases 2024 Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-29", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-releases-2024-fee-billing-report-of-aec-firms", "summary": "Zweig Group, the leading provider of advisory services, research, and education for the AEC industry, has announced the release of its 2024 Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms. This comprehensive report offers insights into fees, billing rates, chargeability/utilization rates, project contracts, and billing practices. Compiled through an extensive online survey across diverse industry firms, this year's report encompasses analysis on more than 150 job titles and 15 market sectors.  Here are some key findings from the report:  Billing rate hikes. According to the 2024 report, there has been a surge in billing rates, with 100 percent of respondents reporting fee hikes averaging 10 percent over the past year. It’s encouraging to see this figure as it’s in line with the base compensation increases Zweig Group reported earlier this year in its 2024 Salary Reports of AEC Firms.  Chargeability changes. With strong backlogs and a continued strain on capacity, we saw the gap between actual and projected staff chargeability decline again this year. It has steadily declined from 6.3 percent in 2015 to 2.5 percent this year, indicating both enhanced project budgeting practices and consistent workloads.  Refined collections management. A notable shift in the data suggests collections management is shifting from project managers to accounting personnel. This refinement in process and accountability can improve many aspects of the collections cycle, but it can also free up your high performers to focus on higher ROI efforts than sending collections emails!  Quicker collections. The report also highlights a standard window of roughly 45 days for considering invoices as past due. Collections have sped up by around four days on average (down to 54 days) when looking at pre-COVID and post-COVID data sets. Again, this highlights improvements and continued attention from firm leadership on improving cash flow and working capital positions for their firms.  Zweig Group’s Fee & Billing Survey Report of AEC Firms is the standard guideline for AEC industry firms looking to benchmark fees, billing rates, and billing practices, and evaluate productivity and utilization. This invaluable resource equips firms with the necessary benchmarks to maintain competitive bids while ensuring profitability amidst evolving industry dynamics. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Not in my backyard", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-28", "url": "/blogs/news/not-in-my-backyard", "summary": "Those of us in the AEC business need to do a better job educating the general populace about the benefits of smart development. As someone who has worked for and been an owner of companies that support developers, and someone who has been a small-scale developer myself, I have to say that NIMBYs (not in my backyard people) drive me absolutely bonkers. A current project attempting to get permitted in our hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a great example. At the top of Dickson Street, there is an empty surface parking lot that out-of-state developers want to build a seven-story building on. For the readers’ perspective, Dickson Street is the main entertainment strip for the town – full of bars and restaurants – and it dead-ends right into the heart of the University of Arkansas. This proposed building is in a walk-to-everything location. It’s a mixed-use project with retail on the ground floor and apartments above. And the public outrage about it is remarkable. One Facebook post put out by a particularly vocal complainer who owns a local bar has had more than 300 comments and 100 shares, the preponderance of which have been in agreement with her about what a horrible project this is. The irony of it all is the very same people who don’t like the architectural design, who don’t like the building height, and who don’t like the lack of parking are the very same people who are lamenting our lack of affordable housing, lack of walkable housing, and sprawl. They are also the same people who want more public transportation, less dependence on automobiles, more sustainability, and less environmental impact. And they also want better parks, better schools, higher teacher pay, more bike and pedestrian paths, and better police protection. It’s mind boggling. Those in favor of even tighter vertical height restrictions than we already have in place cannot do simple math. Math such as having a $4 million piece of property divided by 60 apartments is $67K land cost per apartment versus $4 million divided by 30 apartments is $133K land cost per apartment. Which one do you think will result in lower rental prices? If you want viable public transit, you have to have density. Enough people in one spot makes a bus stop there viable. Vertical height supports that. If you want the least amount of paving and lowest impact on drainage, you want taller buildings. If you want “better” design that is more compatible with our existing older buildings, it will raise the cost of the building. That makes rent prices go up. Not to mention, you should see some of the homes and yards of those design “critics.” To say they need work is a tremendous understatement! If you want people to be less dependent on automobiles and to be able to walk to work and school, you need to let them live where they can actually do that. If you want better parks, schools, bike paths, and police, that takes property tax revenues. Which do you think generates more annual property tax revenue – a seven-story 60,000-square-foot new building, or a dusty, dirty surface parking lot? The money has to come from somewhere. Then there are those hand-wringing about the fact that this city is not the same as it was 10, 20, 30, or however many years ago. Of course it isn’t! What city is? What city that isn’t on the decline, that is? The NIMBYs also complain that rent is too high for local downtown retail businesses to survive. What is the cure for that? More people living downtown and more customers is how to make that rent that business owners pay more affordable! I really think those of us in the AEC business who work with and serve developer clients need to do a better job educating the general populace about this stuff. As long as we keep silent and don’t explain how it all works and the benefits of smart development, the NIMBYs will command the stage and control the messaging. If we are really going to help our clients, this kind of marketing and PR has to round out our firms’ full range of service offerings. The ignorance has to be combatted for the benefit of all.  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Building your own GPT", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-28", "url": "/blogs/news/building-your-own-gpt", "summary": "   AI assistants empower personalized and effective support that will save time and money, and enhance creativity and quality. Building your own AI assistants or GPTs (generative pre-trained transformers) opens up new avenues for every role, title, job, and skill in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. With personalized GPTs, you can “control” the entire AI process from prompting to the knowledge base to the instructions to the output parameters. AI is now in the palm of your hand. I recently gave a hands-on demonstration specifically for marketers on how to build a GPT within OpenAI’s ChatGPT platform. You can find the link to the online seminar here. By building your own GPT-based chatbot, you can: Access customization options. Save and automate your process. Develop personalized training of the GPT. Focus on repeatable tasks. Fine-tune its dedicated knowledge base on your own data, which leads to better performance for your specific use case. It also offers an added layer of confidence in the outputs (accuracy and validity) since you give it the detailed directions and the source of its information. The value of GPTs in AEC marketing. At the heart of any successful marketing strategy is the ability to connect, engage, and convert. For the AEC industry, where projects are vast and stakeholders diverse, “building” AI assistants empower personalized and effective support to your marketing team that will save time and money (and sanity!) and enhance creativity and quality. Notice I said “will” and not “can” or “should.” I am that certain. Demystifying GPTs: The architects of conversation. GPTs are designed to understand, respond, and interact in ways that mimic human communication. Imagine having a digital assistant capable of drafting project descriptions, enhancing resumes, and even engaging in real-time chat for conference swag ideas. For AEC marketing, this translates into elevated conversations with your CRM database to know more about your clients’ needs, streamlined proposal drafting, and new insights about your services and market sectors, all generated from vast, personalized data sets into precise answers specifically for you. Developing your own GPT: A step-by-step approach. The journey to creating a specialized GPT begins with a clear understanding of your objectives. Simply, what do you wish to achieve? What do you need help with the most right now? Once you have your idea, and the goal is set, the following steps outline the process: Data gathering. The foundation of an effective GPT lies in the data it learns from. It can obviously be connected to the internet, however uploading your own files to train your GPT will lead to better outputs. You want to load up its virtual library with accurate, clean, meaningful, and rich information. Training. With your data ready, the next phase is training your GPT. This involves feeding it the collected data and providing detailed, adapted instructions. The more descriptive you can be, the more you are allowing it to learn from the patterns and terminologies specific to its purpose. Use the GRACES framework by giving it goals, roles, audience, context, examples, and steps. And don’t forget the tried-and-true who, what, how, where, and when. Customization and testing. Tailor your GPT to reflect your voice and tone, the technical specifics of your needs, and the types of queries it will handle and how. Continuous testing and refinement are crucial to ensuring your GPT truly delivers on its function. (Sometimes, I even ask the GPT what else it “needs” to be the best, and then I incorporate its recommendations into its configuration.) Deployment. With initial testing complete, your GPT is ready for use. You can keep it private; share by invitation-only with a link; or publish on the GPT Store to a public audience. Integrate your new AI assistant into your daily workflow wherever it serves your objectives best. Evolution. Regularly update your GPT based on new data, feedback, and technological advancements to keep it functioning at its best and highest use. Real-world applications: Enhancing client engagement. The examples I showed during the seminar included several GPTs that I have built for myself: Marketing Framework Wizard (This GPT is in the public GPT Store and can be found here. Give it a try and let me know what you think! I built it to help marketers generate better content using proven frameworks.) PIE Business Development Planner (This GPT is in the public GPT Store and can be found here. Give it a try and let me know what you think! I built it to help anyone in AEC work through a BD process from planning to implementation to evaluation. It is trained on my proprietary PIE process, presentations, handouts, and workbook.) Interview Summarizer (Helps me to find themes and insights from transcripts with clients and from my own recordings.) Network Navigator (I built our CRM in this. We can have conversations with our client and vendor contact data.) AI in AEC Marketing (This specifically helps us find new and creative ways to market our AI intelligence/specialty.) Write Like Kristin (I love this. I have trained it on samples of my writing so that it can mimic my style to generate new content on any topic.) RFQ Master (Brilliant. This is trained to analyze proposal requirements and generate not only specific technical details, but winning strategies as well.) Competitor Analysis (Exactly what it says. I have trained it to generate differences and similarities between firms and outline value-driven differentiators that my clients can use to win work.) Continuous improvement. As with any powerful tool, GPTs come with some maintenance. Ensuring the AI’s responses remain aligned with your needs and brand and continuous learning from interactions and updated knowledge sources are areas requiring vigilant oversight. Yet, the time you dedicate to creation or maintenance will pale in comparison to the amount of time you reclaim when using AI. Your GPTs will deliver unparalleled opportunities to create, understand, grow, learn, and succeed in ways you didn’t think possible. Again, notice I said “will” and not “can” or “should.” I am still that certain. Embracing the future of GPTs in AEC. AI is here to stay, and what’s next is now. The integration of GPTs into marketing activities within the AEC industry heralds a new era of better (more tailored and personalized!) client engagement in every aspect of the project life cycle – from relationships to business development to proposals/sales to technical design to delivery. The future of the AEC industry, powered by GPTs, is not just about automation but about creating deeper, more meaningful work and connections to our clients, our fellow co-workers, and each other. The AI marathon has begun. Are you walking, running, or sprinting? Even at the very beginning of this race, we already have the power to build our own AI assistants. Right now. It’s here, I’ve done it, and I can show you! You can use this technology today, take advantage of its real capabilities, and tailor it to your unique narrative. As we move forward, remember, the true value lies not in the technology itself but in how we leverage it to automate or augment tasks so we can get to the more important stuff in life, like the people, ideas, or causes we care about. (This is my definition of AI!) And as a testament to the ingenuity and vision that defines the AEC industry, we have to take the first step across the starting line. The course is ours to shape.  Zweig Group’s AI & AEC Tech Summit in Atlanta May 22-23 will connect AEC industry pioneers to explore and collaborate on the transformative impact of technological advancements shaping the field. Learn more here! Kristin Kautz, CPSM is Zweig Group’s artificial intelligence (AI) consultant and trainer. Learn more about Kristin here." }, { "title": "The evergreen relevancy of “why”", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-28", "url": "/blogs/news/the-evergreen-relevancy-of-why", "summary": "We must hit the pause button at several junctions in our marketing and business processes to discuss the “why.” Arguably the most important word in the marketing for professional services ecosystem, “why” is applicable 100 percent of the time, from the earliest strategic conversations to post opportunity closures and beyond. Dictionary.com places the origin of “why” circa A.D. 900 – this mighty adverb, also used as a conjunction and noun, packs a historical punch. “Why” is defined as a question concerning the cause or reason for which something is done, achieved, etc. All that baggage carries over into our bottom lines. Decisions, in business and in life, should be made after careful consideration of all applicable factors. Our actions, before and after, carry the weight of the powerful “why.” In our post-COVID world we are bound to implement the biggest lesson learned of all – to make the most out of our time. Hopefully I am not alone in having experienced a paradigm shift where I now question “why” I am engaging with every situation before me. If the answer does not transcend my self-imposed threshold, then it is time for a course correction, a readjustment, and to focus instead on a meaningful activity. In a nutshell, we need to be able to explain the reasoning behind our pursuits and the information shared in our submittals. We must hit the pause button at several junctions in our marketing and business processes to discuss the “why” – initially as a baseline set of criteria and subsequently, as stop gaps to gauge if we are staying the course. Here are some examples: Marketing collateral. I have shared my views on Statements of Qualifications (SOQs) with my “No More SOQs!” plea. Why are you assembling documents when their chances of being read are close to zero? Obviously, we cannot get rid of all collateral (heavy sigh), so we must ask “why” an average of 1.2 million times throughout the process. Why are we doing this; why would the intended audience care about this section; why include a narrative so generic that you could just replace the name of the firm and it still works? Proposals. Why waste everyone’s time by starting your cover letters with “XYZ firm is pleased to submit...” instead of only including valuable information? Why include page-long descriptions of projects when you can share the highlights focusing on why these examples are relevant to the pursuit in fewer words? Why not spend more time identifying long narratives that could be presented as visuals (infographics, callouts, etc.)? Why do our proposals look like every other proposal out there? Go/no-go decisions. Having witnessed several endless discussions during go/no-go meetings going over details laid out in the RFPs, it never ceases to amaze me how few instances the simple question, “Why would we want to pursue this?” is uttered. We forget about lessons learned and to ask, why did we win/lose the last similar pursuit, why did we decide to expand in this market, why are still considering projects that have proven not to be profitable? Websites. Many companies fail to build websites based on user experience and succumb to the temptation of taking the easy road of developing a web infrastructure based on how they are organized internally. We must put ourselves in the audience’s shoes and ask, why would they know that they must click four times through this maze to land on the information they are looking for? There are numerous other examples, but the essence of this petition is to maintain the wonderful trait of being curious. “Why” and “why not” are powerful tools in our quest for knowledge and the quintessential drivers to lay out a successful path to success. Focus on achieving a consistent path of meaningful endeavors. Sometimes all we need is something as simple as asking “why.” Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask, for once I know the proper question, I can solve the problem in less than five minutes.” I put my money on Einstein having asked “why” and “why not” at most junctures throughout his successful life.  Javier Suarez is corporate marketing manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at jsuarez@geosyntec.com." }, { "title": "Learning to unlearn", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-28", "url": "/blogs/news/learning-to-unlearn", "summary": "In the AEC industry today, the most innovative organizations will not be those with the greatest capacity to learn but those with the greatest capacity to unlearn. Today’s workplace has changed more in the last several years than in the preceding quarter-century. Driven by a mix of deliberate business choices and broader industry trends such as AI and automation, the “future of work” is no longer an imaginary time in the future. It’s here. It’s now. Although technology is nothing new to modern workplaces, the rapid evolution of what defines specific technical skills and the rate at which new skills emerge for nearly every role in a company is unique to this moment. These new workforce demands underscore the importance of professional development as organizations respond to change in a way that fuels innovation for long-term success. Innovation through professional development. Embracing this opportunity, Bowman’s professional development strategy centers around the simple philosophy of connecting those who know with those who need. Although the latest technical skills are crucial for an employee’s success, so is a growth mindset founded on the principles of continuous learning. Unless paired with business skills to manage their career, technical learning alone can unintentionally diminish an organization’s innovation potential. Often, with a focus on tactical skills alone, the comfort and desirability bias embedded in existing workflows yields the opportunity offered by new and more efficient technologies. The disruption of voicemail. An example of this was the introduction of voicemail technology to the workplace in the 1970s. With an early name of the technology being the “electronic secretary,” it’s no surprise that many secretaries saw the technology as a threat and feared it would render them obsolete. Focused on the task that consumed the most significant amount of time in a typical workday, many resisted the change by arguing that voicemail was impersonal, inefficient, or unreliable and that human interaction was essential for effective communication. On the other hand, those who embraced the new technology discovered voicemail didn’t diminish their roles but evolved them. Crucially, we automate tasks, not people. While some see automation as a force that eliminates jobs, innovators, like the secretaries who embraced, instead of resisting, voicemail technology, leverage it as an opportunity for individual growth. While Bowman’s learning programs include many tactical skills, its core mission is personal growth fueled by a mix of technical and business skills. The paradox of contemporary disruptors. Today, technical disruptions like automation and AI are more pervasive than voicemail, but challenges and pathways forward are no different. Capturing this idea, futurist Alvin Toffler poignantly said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” In the “future of work” where we now live, the most innovative organizations will not be those with the greatest capacity to learn but those with the greatest capacity to unlearn. As more technologies disrupt ordinary workflows, teams will face the challenge of learning new skills that no one else knows and will likely change the nature of their job. Succeeding through a culture of learning. For organizations to succeed, they must find ways to shorten the distance between acquiring and applying a new skill. While there are many tactical approaches to achieving this goal, an organization’s learning culture is the most pervasive predictor of success. If people don’t want to change, no amount of content will convince them to change. However, in a culture of learning, content alone is not the star of the show. Instead, a culture of learning focuses on both connections and content. It shortens the distance between acquiring and applying a skill by establishing onramps to the new opportunities created by adopting new technology. While a learning asset may help an employee develop a new skill, connections with fellow employees are the seeds of your organization’s innovative ideas for tomorrow. Define your future of work. New automation and AI technologies may soon displace entire task categories within your company. While these changes can be unsettling, past technical transitions like the adoption of voicemail remind us that the challenges we’re facing are not insurmountable. Packed within each change is an opportunity for growth and innovation. The key to realizing those opportunities rests in our willingness to learn, unlearn, and relearn as we develop new skills. Organizationally, this journey is not just about empowering employees with new skills; it’s about cultivating a culture of continuous learning. By fostering an environment prioritizing connections and content, you can prepare your workforce to shape the future through innovation.  Donnie Gladfelter is senior manager of technical learning and development at Bowman. Contact him at dgladfelter@bowman.com." }, { "title": "Performance management", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-28", "url": "/blogs/news/performance-management", "summary": "This strategy empowers leaders to align their teams with organizational goals, provide feedback and recognition, and foster a culture of growth. The transition from individual contributor to having direct reports can be incredibly challenging, and one of the most difficult components of leading people is performance management. This continues to be evident as even seasoned managers have difficulties when it comes to performance management, and this has only become more trying as the pace of our industry has accelerated and people interact face-to-face less. Successful performance management looks different depending on the individual, but putting one’s own authentic twist on the general format spelled out below will lead to more consistently successful performance management within the groups you oversee. It is critical to remember that performance management helps managers align their teams with the organizational goals, provide feedback and recognition, and foster a culture of growth. Let’s take a look at some of the effective strategies for performance management for technical teams, and how they can help you achieve better results and satisfaction for your team members: Set clear expectations. Setting clear expectations is a crucial aspect of managing a team effectively. This establishes the foundation of the manager/direct report relationship and any discrepancy between what the manager expects, and what the direct report thinks is expected of them can lead to misaligned views of their performance. Therefore, it is important to communicate your expectations clearly and concisely, ideally in writing, so that team members understand what is expected of them and can work toward meeting those expectations.For example, if senior engineers are expected to win their own work, put it in the job description and provide measurable goals such as pipeline and orders. This is one area where I see companies being vague which can lead to friction between the manager and the senior engineer. Sharing expectations tailored to the roles and responsibilities of the position, with as much specificity as possible is important in eliminating any grey area. Providing these expectations for all levels can also be a transparent way to allow individuals to work toward their next position. By setting clear expectations, you can help to create a more productive and harmonious work environment. Provide timely and constructive feedback. Feedback is the next essential component of performance management, as it helps your team members know how they are doing, what they are doing well, and what they need to improve upon. Providing feedback that is both timely and constructive will also help build trust and rapport with your team. However, occasional, or inconsistent feedback that is critical in nature or focused solely on shortcomings can negatively impact employee morale. This can best be facilitated during recurring touch base meetings, not by waiting for formal performance reviews. Constructive feedback means that you provide your team members with specific, actionable, and balanced feedback, not just vague, generic, or harsh feedback. It is also important to remember to give feedback about the action not the person. This will help avoid the tendency of the individual receiving feedback to get defensive. One particularly effective method for delivering feedback is the STAR method. This involves describing the Situation, Task, Action, and Result of the feedback. Recognize positive contributions. It is important to remember to intentionally take the time to recognize the positive contributions team members make. This is one way to help team members feel valued and appreciated, while also increasing motivation and engagement. Another critical component of providing positive feedback is avoiding the appearance of only recognizing negative instances of performance. People are not inspired or motivated by someone they view as overly negative. Recognition and reward can also help you create a positive and supportive work environment and foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration. Recognition and reward can take various forms: It can be as simple as verbal praise. There is power in saying “thank you” to someone doing the small things correctly. Public recognition, such as announcing or showcasing your team’s achievements in a meeting, a newsletter, or a social media platform. Tangible rewards, such as bonuses, incentives, gifts, or certificates. Career development opportunities like training or mentoring. Use available resources. The last strategy for effective performance management is to use the resources you have available. When preparing for a potentially difficult conversation or review, talk through the situation with your human resources representative, if possible, or a peer to gain an outsider’s perspective. This can often help fine-tune the feedback to ensure that you maximize its effectiveness. Connect with your human resources representative to support your preparation as this will help ensure you are in compliance with your company’s policies and procedures. Whether a new or seasoned leader of people, if you set clear expectations, provide timely feedback in a constructive manner, recognize the wins of your team members, and use the resources you have at your disposal in preparation for challenging conversations, you will be more effective at performance management. Not only will you be more effective when managing the performance of your team, they will be more engaged leading to higher levels of performance.  John Butt, MBA is interim civil director at Ulteig. Contact him at john.butt@ulteig.com." }, { "title": "An argument for mentorship", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-21", "url": "/blogs/news/an-argument-for-mentorship", "summary": "The employee-focused recruiting, retention, and compensation strategy. Stellar management usually consists of those who are great at making sure there are people and resources in the places where they are needed so work can be completed efficiently. Much like a conductor overseeing a world-class orchestra, they plan, direct, and oversee a cacophony of people and needs. But then there is mentorship. Compared to mentorship, even the best management can still cause people to feel like they are merely assets being placed where they are needed in order to produce an end-result (profit). You know the phrase: “Cogs in a wheel.” This environment can be emotionally draining and can easily lead to burnout. Mentorship, however, is not just developing a relationship with these cogs, it is a commitment to recognizing that they are people with career goals of their own. It is also the knowledge that nurturing their professional selves will be beneficial to both the employee and the company. A “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario. Mentorship starts with defining what “success” looks like for an employee. Then an intentional and sustained relationship is developed to encompass goal setting, training, motivation, advice, direction, coaching, and support. This is a wholistic approach to a person as a company’s resource. So why do more companies not choose the path of mentorship? Let’s unpack this a little: Not everyone is great at mentoring. Many of us have not had the benefit of a great mentor, so not everyone has the knowledge of how this relationship functions. You can find a few words of advice from The Zweig Letter on what to look for in mentorship here, on how to be a mentor here, on how mentoring factors into being a good steward of your company here, and (for those of us who are remote) how to be intentional with your mentorship program as part of the greater hybrid/remote strategy here. Modern employees may jump ship to a neighboring company more often than leadership would like. Leaders, now more than ever, need every tool in their belt to both gain and retain staff. Mentorship is one of the greater intangible benefits you can provide. Employees care about the full potential of a position at a company. When looking at competing offers, money isn’t always the bottom line. Opportunity and the environment they are joining may be the deciding factors (this was true for me!).Additionally, a mentorship environment may be the defining factor in choosing not to jump ship. Mentorship gives employees the opportunity to grow, to thrive, to be heard, and to become their best professional selves. It also allows them to grow their careers in the direction of their choosing. With the younger generations focusing so much on self-care, this is a version of professional self-care that they cannot provide for themselves, only the more experienced can.Mentorship is also a tangible investment in your staff. It lets them know they matter and are not just a cog in the wheel. Eighty-nine percent of those with mentors believe their colleagues value their work, which is a key component to overall happiness at work. Seventy-nine percent of millennials see mentoring as a crucial part of their career success, and seventy-seven percent, who feel they have control over their career, are more loyal. These are some huge numbers when looking to increase your odds of recruiting and retaining staff. A scapegoat in delaying a mentorship program could easily be the budget. Many companies are focused on KPIs, and having a set utilization rate for each employee is typically one of them. We all know that dedicating time to training and mentoring cuts into a department’s utilization rate. If this metric is something leadership is tracking, you might have a tough time trying to convince them to relax it for the greater good of the company. After all, the bottom line is the bottom line.My argument to the converse? Be farsighted! In time, this mentorship and training will make your staff more knowledgeable, efficient, effective, and satisfied at their jobs, thereby increasing productivity, in perpetuity. Perpetuity is a pretty strong word, but much like a degree, once it is earned, it is yours. And, to your company’s benefit, you will have more knowledgeable, efficient, and effective staff. How does that benefit the company? Well, whether it is due to increased efficiency or increased competency, this more effective staff will be more valuable when it comes to billing. So, what is the bottom line? What is the end-result of mentorship? Your company will be able to be more proficient with a higher level of competency at a price you will be able to set accordingly. You will either be able to charge more for a better deliverable or decrease your timeframe for the same deliverable. You will decrease your turnover rate because you will have happy, fulfilled staff who are progressing their careers in a direction in which they have a say. And you will set your company up for future success in your own growth plans by developing your own (happy) future leaders.  Sara Karstetter, MBA is a mergers and acquisitions advisor with Zweig Group. Contact her at skarstetter@zweiggroup.com. AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum This new event gathers leaders of small AEC firms to discuss the unique issues of managing and growing a small business today. The one-day event includes keynotes, panel discussions, roundtables, and breakout sessions, all focused on the emerging trends and needs of small businesses. Join us May 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Balancing work and life", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-21", "url": "/blogs/news/balancing-work-and-life", "summary": "Strategies for successfully managing work-life balance and reclaiming your personal life while continuing to grow in your career. Finding time outside of work to enjoy your favorite hobbies, relax, recharge, and unwind can become increasingly difficult as you progress through your career and your list of responsibilities continues to grow. High level positions often come with increased demands on your time and energy. Whether you are asked to develop a new piece of software, manage more clients, develop and train new employees, or are even tasked with opening a new office, you will quickly realize the amount of extra effort you are putting into the success of these projects can directly correlate with the lack of time you can make for yourself. Heavy workloads, tight budgets, and fast approaching deadlines can result in tunnel vision that makes it challenging to separate yourself from the work in front of you. While I am still relatively young in my career, I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by a number of incredible mentors who have spoken to me at great length about the effects of this sort of burnout and the consequences it had on not only their personal lives, but also on their careers as a whole. From my own personal experience, and the conversations I have had with each of these mentors, here are three essential keys to success for managing work-life balance and reclaiming your personal life while you continue to grow in your career: A time for work and a time for play. Being effective, efficient, and optimizing your time spent at the office is a critical step for creating a better work-life balance in your day-to-day life. A Gallup poll published in 2007 reported that U.S. workers claimed they waste nearly one-and-a-half hours a day during business hours. Now, with this being a self-reported metric, you can almost certainly guarantee that this number of “non-working hours” is slightly to seriously underrepresented. (Important to note, the world has also experienced a few slight changes since 2007. For example, Twitter launched in 2006 and was home to 50,000 active users in 2007. Today, X (formerly Twitter) boasts 528.3 million active users.)Between surfing on the internet, online shopping, scrolling through social media, unproductive meetings, constantly checking emails, recurring workplace distractions, and good ole procrastination, you can lose hours of productivity a week, causing you to fall behind and forcing you to make up those hours when you should be off the clock. While I am not saying you should not make time for things such as catching up with coworkers, giving yourself mental/ physical breaks throughout the day, and the occasional personal errand, effectively utilizing your time at the office and completing your tasks in a timely fashion will allow you to leave the stresses of work at the door. Time off isn’t always time off. Have you ever returned to the office after a stint of PTO and been asked by a coworker, “Did you take a vacation or did you go on a trip?” The first time I was asked this question by a coworker, I looked at them like a cow looking at a new gate. “What’s the difference? A trip is a vacation,” I ignorantly quipped back. Back then, I did not understand this, but time away from the office does not always equate to time away from work. Understanding this difference is paramount in creating a healthy work-life balance for yourself so you can make time for the things you have to do and find time for the things you want to do.As we continue to progress in our careers, our personal lives also evolve alongside them. We get married, start families, move to new cities, deal with novel challenges, engage with new groups of people, and before you know it, our personal lives can quickly become filled with so many commitments and obligations that our weekends start to feel like a part-time job. Taking the kids to soccer practice, buying groceries, cleaning the house, and, my least favorite, folding laundry, are just a few of the everyday life tasks and chores that take away free time you have set aside for yourself when not at work.Carving out time in your busy life schedule to be selfish and solely focus on your wants and needs is crucial for creating a healthy work-life balance. When you prioritize self-care, you’re better equipped to handle the demands of work and personal life. Ultimately, investing in self-care isn’t selfish; it’s essential for ensuring your long-term happiness and fulfillment in both your professional and personal endeavors. The importance of clearing your mind and focusing on the now (actively and passively). Finding hobbies that not only allow you to completely clear your mind and be present in the moment, but also challenge you to think and have introspective thoughts is another important aspect in generating a symmetrical work-life balance. These two types of hobbies are essential for mental growth as they allow you to reset yourself and formulate new solutions for everyday problems you experience throughout your life and in your career.For instance, engaging in activities like meditation, journaling, or reading can foster self-awareness and introspection, helping you understand your thoughts and emotions better. On the other hand, hobbies such as hiking, painting, or playing video games can provide an outlet for relaxation and rejuvenation, allowing you to disconnect from work-related stressors and focus on the present moment. By balancing these introspective and mindfulness-enhancing hobbies with leisure activities, you can cultivate a healthier mindset, improve productivity, and achieve a more fulfilling work-life balance.I have always been an avid mountain biker for most of my adult life. Gliding through the woods on a tree covered trail next to a shimmering body of water is where I truly begin to feel at peace. Mountain biking has always been an incredible outlet for me to destress, but after speaking with one of my mentors, I realized I wasn’t practicing any sort of hobby that demanded me to have expressive thought when I was not at work.After that conversation I began leisure reading for the first time since college, and last year, I read the book 10% Happier by ABC news correspondent Dan Harris. In the book, Harris chronicles his experiences (and initial skepticism) about embarking on a journey of mindfulness meditation and how it helped him manage his high-pressure career in journalism (where he was a reporter in active war zones across the Middle East), cope with anxiety/self-doubt, and find a sense of inner calm in and outside of work.While my job as a civil engineer working in land development isn’t quite that stressful, I have been able to apply many of Harris’ practices to my own life during stressful situations in and out of the office and found a wide range of benefits from them that have improved my life significantly. Coupling this newfound practice of mindful meditation (no, I am not a hippie) with my physical outlet of mountain biking has been an essential method for managing stress as my responsibilities and workload have continued to increase throughout my career. Achieving a healthy work-life balance is essential for overall well-being and success, especially as you navigate the demands of a growing career. As your responsibilities increase, it becomes progressively more challenging to find time for personal pursuits and relaxation. However, it is crucial to recognize the importance of making time for yourself amidst the hustle and bustle of work and daily commitments. Whether it’s optimizing your time at the office, understanding the distinction between time off from work and time away from work, or engaging in hobbies that promote relaxation and introspection, prioritizing your self-care is paramount. By investing in yourself and finding moments of respite, you not only enhance your productivity and effectiveness at work but also ensure long-term happiness and fulfillment in all aspects of life. Remember, striking a balance between work and personal life isn’t just a luxury – it’s an essential component of a fulfilling and successful career.  Wesley Jones is an engineer in training at Westwood Professional Services. Contact him at wesley.jones@westwoodps.com." }, { "title": "Things firm leaders must do", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-21", "url": "/blogs/news/things-firm-leaders-must-do", "summary": "At some point leadership has to take action and act like leaders versus just talk a good game. There’s a lot that has been written about the qualities of effective leaders in the AEC business. I have written plenty about it myself. We can talk about these qualities of leaders all day but ultimately, it really comes down to action – it’s what firm leaders DO that matters. Here are a few things that are absolute musts for leaders to do as far as I am concerned: Get to know your people. As a leader, you need to have a personal relationship with every single person who works for you, as well as many who aren’t your direct reports. That takes time and energy. You need texting, phone calls, coffees, lunches, after work beers, and plenty of casual time together to make it happen. It also takes curiosity. When you ask people questions about themselves and their families and listen to what they tell you, it shows care and concern and builds trust. In the “old days” when I was starting out, there was a school of thought that said you shouldn’t be friends with your employees. I have always thought that was bad thinking and still do. Real friends want to help you out. They don’t want to sabotage you. They look out for you. And they defend you. Wouldn’t you rather have employees who think this way than those who don’t care about you? I know I would. Project energy and optimism – always. Leaders have to be positive. They must always have a plan – something the organization can do – to make things better. They cannot publicly despair and act as if there are no options to overcome whatever the challenge is that the organization is facing, or nothing that can be done to fix whatever the problem is. It cannot be false confidence, either. It has to come from inside the leader, and it is based on experience that the leader has had that he or she can communicate effectively to all members of their team. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Effective leaders are not “one and done” communicators. They constantly repeat and restate in different ways what they feel is essential for everyone on their team to understand. A popular cliché I see overused today is that leaders are good “story tellers.” They have a way of making people understand what can be done and what has to be done through stories. Good leaders are also speedy communicators. They don’t hold back on sharing information that needs to be shared and get it out there quickly. And they are good writers. One tactic I encourage firm leaders to do is to put a weekly memo together for all employees that tells them what is happening in the company and where it is going. The discipline of doing this every single week without fail helps keep everyone’s priorities crystal clear and their heads on straight. Sell the vision of the promised land. Good leaders are effective sales people. Most importantly, they can sell their own people on what the promised land looks like and how doing what it takes to get there is going to benefit them personally. I think a lot of ineffective leaders assume that everyone who works for them understands this (that if the company does well, they will do well). In my experience, many employees don’t get this. They don’t all have the perspective and they don’t all have trust in management (because of past experiences) that they will share in the rewards for the organization’s success. You need to demonstrate that this linkage is real and not B.S. through making examples out of people who are advancing your goals. Set the pace and be a positive example for any and all behaviors you want out of your people. You want people to be responsive 24 hours a day – show that you are. You want people who help the other guy or gal when they need it – jump in and help! You want people who go the extra yard to demonstrate excellence – do it yourself. Effective leaders always use “do as I do” versus “do as I say,” because they know it is the only way to be a real leader. Be resourceful! Effective leaders can pull a rabbit out of their hat every once in a while. That means they find the capital when new capital is needed. They sell the project when a new project is essential. They make an unhappy client happy because they figure out what they are unhappy about and fix the problem. That takes a “can-do” attitude and willingness to confront what has to be confronted, and never giving up! Scrappiness – for lack of a better word – is the hallmark of good leadership! When leaders don’t do these things, the organization suffers. Growth can stall and morale will decline. At some point leadership has to act like leaders versus just talk a good game.  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "A performance coaching culture", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-04-21", "url": "/blogs/news/a-performance-coaching-culture", "summary": "This type of culture drives people to compete at their best, challenges everyone on the team, and pushes boundaries to elevate the entire game. Winning feels good. Whether you were a high school debate champion, competed as a college athlete, or simply enjoy jumping into a backyard game of bocce ball, earning the win brings a feeling that is often slow to fade. This is what makes athletes step up to the plate every day. But, as professionals, how do we achieve the wins? How do we bring that desire to compete, and ultimately succeed, to our teams? Is it feasible to structure an AEC firm’s culture to bring forward this type of drive and desire? Let’s take a look: High performance isn’t accidental. When you’re competing as an athlete, the results of your performance are extremely measurable. There are individual records that calculate every moment of every game, as well as the less quantifiable factors like your form, drive, strategy, and teamwork. When you perform well, everyone around you knows it. When you don’t perform well, everyone around you knows it. As an AEC professional, you also compete. There are results from your performance, but the metrics aren’t as obvious. It is easy for some firms to hold employees to metrics like utilization rates, but that isn’t enough. ISG is a young firm with an average age of 36. We are growing our future leaders and need to make sure we are persistent in helping them. This is where a performance coaching culture comes in. Similar to athletics, a coach helps you with awareness, enabling you to see what you are good at or need to work on. Without coaching, you aren’t forced to reflect on your performance. Improvement requires keeping score. Based on Zweig Group’s annual employee survey, ISG is an award-winning Best Firm To Work For. We know that professional development, growth, and career advancement are valued by our team. Even so, from 2019 to 2022, survey results in the categories of training and mentoring had 6 percent to 7 percent lower ratings than the average of all questions. It’s our responsibility to ensure we push to improve this and maintain an environment for team members to thrive, that includes leaning into a performance coaching culture to raise the bar. Coaching maximizes elite potential. Driving high performance has been an important part of ISG’s culture from the beginning. In the early days, our founders served as the coaching staff. They helped less experienced engineers and architects reflect and improve on their performance. As we’ve grown, an increased emphasis on coaching helps new ISGers understand and embrace our high-performance culture, while seasoned employees mentor and hold each other accountable. We believe in doing the hard things to produce greater results and avoid a punch in, punch out mentality. Versatility fuels high performance. Competing is important to us. We look for professionals with a competitive drive. Former athletes often find success at ISG due to our team mentality, hunger to win, and focus on progress. This important piece of our culture is elevated by a robust, in-house performance coaching program led by a seasoned professional with a background in sports psychology. Our more than 500 employee owners have varying levels of experience, motivation, and expertise. We recognize that one-size-fits-all professional development does not work for us. Success requires a dynamic and flexible coaching strategy that can quickly and effectively elevate our employees. Success stories. Like athletes, professionals want to know how they are performing and what they can do better. In 2023, 95 percent of ISG employee owners attended at least one coaching presentation and used at least one performance coaching resource. As a key component of our firm’s long-term strategy, we look forward to the lasting impact of this and future employee engagement. Sam B., ISG structural engineer and former collegiate football player, said, “As a college athlete, I had four years to improve. As a professional, I have my entire career. If I’m not intentional, I won’t improve. Performance coaching feedback has helped me realize I need to be more decisive and use data to make quicker decisions.” As individuals find success, they become coaches themselves. They share what they’ve learned, help others become more self aware, and perform at a higher level. The program builds upon itself and allows our teams to achieve more by diligently focusing on continuous performance improvement, ultimately increasing ISG’s success. Tiara M., ISG project management group leader, said, “There has been a noticeable acceleration in my team’s performance since we’ve increased the focus on performance coaching. I’ve seen numerous individuals who more confidently give and provide feedback as they work on projects. My direct reports are also initiating more frequent discussions about their performance, looking for opportunities to improve and grow.” The final sprint. When done well, leaning into a performance coaching culture drives people to compete at their best every day. It challenges everyone on the team and pushes boundaries to elevate the entire game.  Samantha Boeck is the director of talent engagement at ISG, a nationally recognized architecture, engineering, environmental, and planning firm. Connect with her on LinkedIn." } ] }