{ "articles": [ { "title": "Crafting clarity", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-18", "url": "/blogs/news/crafting-clarity", "summary": "Job descriptions need radical simplification for authenticity, brevity, and impact in attracting top talent. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is certainly true, but I’d like to offer an additional dimension to that old line for the purpose of this article: “Familiarity breeds complacency.” Which is to say, what is familiar to us breeds laziness into us. I don’t mind telling you, I think we as human beings prefer familiarity for that very reason. We seem content doing what is familiar to us with mindless repetition no matter how unfruitful it may be because that is far more palatable to us than the hard work of really thinking through something critically, of really innovating, and of exploring something new and exciting and edgy. If that’s your vibe, so be it – but it goes without saying that complacency, laziness, and mindless repetition are the secret ingredients that will lead you straight to failure. I’ll give you an example: Present day job descriptions remain virtually unchanged from the job descriptions used 30 years ago. Then, as now, they resemble a lengthy and complicated thesaurus explosion. It’s as if organizations have believed that the more complex and cryptic the job description, the more prestigious the position will appear. And here we are today still tipping our hat to that same nonsense. We’re still plaguing our “Careers” pages with a forest of complexity and vague, numerous responsibilities because that’s the way it’s always been, because it makes us look like we know what the hell we’re doing, and because doing something different and innovative takes too much time and effort. Your firm’s art of crafting job descriptions is a crucial step in attracting top talent and effectively promoting your brand. A job description is a sales pitch, folks, and in our current labor environment you have about 10 seconds for your pitch. That’s it. Use the time wisely with a simple but savvy narrative that aptly accomplishes four critical objectives: Attract. Limit your job description to three-quarters of a page at most. I’m not joking. Believe me, anything more is a turn-off, and nobody is reading through half the complicated excess you’re typically putting in your postings anyway. Save the more detailed job description to cite during the actual interview.Give them a compelling but authentic headline. Flourish it a bit, just don’t make it sound cheap and overdone. Instead of just listing “Project Manager” as the headline you could try something like, “Seasoned Civil Engineer for Iconic Projects.” Don’t use headlines like, “Seeking World-Class, One-of-a-Kind Project Manager.” That just sounds cheap and overdone. People will smell that a mile away. Follow up the headline with a brief, easy to read summary of the position. Entice. Begin the first narrative with a personable and compelling introduction to your firm and limit it to one brief paragraph (yes, just one!). This section serves as a virtual handshake to a candidate, so get rid of all the cold, prescriptive language. It should grab the reader by the shirt collar, captivate him or her, and make it plain to them why they would be an idiot not to want to work here.Let them know at the outset that you’re an extremely selective firm and that in an effort to preserve your highly potent team the majority of candidates won’t qualify. Marginal candidates will be warded off and the best candidates will see it as an enticement to compete. Inform. Present a clear but succinct picture of the position, remembering that at every turn you’re trying to create something compelling for the reader. The job details don’t need to be an HR-esque Magna Carta with endless bullets regarding responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations! Good candidates will already know key tenets of the position and bad candidates can easily be weeded out with knockout questions inside your online application process. The most potent job descriptions adopt a balanced marketing-oriented tone aiming to excite while informing potential candidates. Direct. This is the final segment of the job posting where you give instructions for applying. But don’t lose the opportunity here to a create a compelling climate of achievement for him or her (and simultaneously ward off irrelevant candidates). Something to the effect of: “Exceptional candidates are encouraged to apply via this link. Note candidates not having licensure and a minimum of five years relevant and progressive project management experience in a civil infrastructure context will not be considered and need not apply.” It’s direct but necessary. Please, gather and burn all your current job descriptions (unless of course you’re the “I prefer familiarity over the hard work of innovating” type). Let’s imagine an industry together where candidates can explore positions without needing a decoder ring. A world where employers can express their needs without resorting to thesaurus-induced headaches. The call for radical simplicity in job descriptions is a call for compelling authenticity, a recognition that the heart of a role can often be captured in a few well-chosen words. P.S. Check out this link to see a sample suggested job posting format.  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. 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": "The modern COO", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-18", "url": "/blogs/news/the-modern-coo", "summary": "For any COO to be successful in the AEC industry today, they must embrace the soft side of leadership, focusing on the people and culture as much as the numbers. In January of this year, I took on the role of chief operating officer at SCS Engineers; I am the first COO in the company’s history. I’ve been in the environmental services industry since 1990 and have worked for both large national/international firms and small firms, and I started and ran a successful consulting business before selling it to SCS in 2012. At least one of the two national companies I worked with prior to SCS employed a COO, but I moved on from there more than 20 years ago, so I’ll admit my experience with a COO is somewhat dated. Perhaps it’s just me, but I developed this picture in my mind of a COO as someone who just focused on financial performance – who drove the numbers, who managed using a command and control style, who was the bad cop to the CEO’s good cop persona. The COO is the hammer that needs to get unleashed every once in a while to get things back on track, right? Well perhaps it’s because I’m a bit longer in the tooth as they say, or because I now find myself in the role, that my perspective on the COO in our industry has changed significantly. As I’ve held several roles in my career (from project team leader, founder of a company, and senior vice president of a national firm), I’ve realized that driving numbers is not a great way to run and sustain a healthy business. Financial success is an outcome, a lagging indicator, of getting the leading indicators right – think employee engagement, resource sharing across functions, client satisfaction, and company culture to name a few. And that’s where a COO can really help a business. Sure, there may be times when a quick turnaround of the company or a branch is necessary and the COO may be the right person for that job, but for the most part, the COO can play an instrumental role in making the aspirations of the company a reality. Now before explaining a bit more of what I mean, I have to say that the COO role may look quite different from firm to firm. I think that’s because the COO is often the person in the C-suite that compliments the other company leaders. If the CEO is an outward (client) facing persona, the COO would likely focus inward – which is probably how most think of their partnership, but the roles can certainly be reversed. Or the C-suite may decide to simply work as a team and divvy responsibilities to meet the strengths of each member, so the COO may need to be somewhat of a chameleon. The COO should be able to flex his/her strengths to compliment the others in the C-suite. But there’s one thing that is typical of the COO’s focus: It is to implement the company’s vision. The COO works with other leaders/managers in the firm (think of your regional or branch managers or market or service area leaders) to develop strategies by which the company’s mission, vision, and values are expressed in day-to-day work. For example, many firms in our space today are likely focusing on employee engagement. Given the tight labor market, recruiting and retaining the best in the industry and maintaining low turnover of desired employees – a good leading indicator – can differentiate a company from its competitors and lead to the profitable growth that most firms desire. So to that end, the HR department may be working on a training program for supervisors, to demonstrate the benefits of coaching, checking in, and helping develop their direct reports. And the IT department may be working on acquiring or developing new systems to enhance a managers’ ability to resource share, predict hiring needs and enhance the quality of deliverables. Now think about how many IT system roll-outs or HR training programs have yielded little adoption or no meaningful behavioral changes. That’s where the COO comes in. They can function as the bridge between HR and IT and the client-facing staff (who are already overwhelmed with work, by the way) so that the training and systems that are developed are realistically implementable, given the inherent competition for one’s time. So as in the above example, and as is true with much of what the COO does, he/she must be able to thoroughly understand the firm's KPIs, diagnose what may be contributing to say a poorer than expected outcome, move upstream, and pull the levers that will positively impact performance, and that KPI. In other words, the COO influences the leading indicators to result in positive lagging indicators. Of course there are a lot of other areas the COO is likely to get involved in, but for any COO to be successful in our industry and in today’s environment, they must embrace the soft side of leadership, focusing on the people and culture as much as (or more than) the numbers. After all, a COO with a great spreadsheet of financial metrics won’t lead a company to financial success, but engaged and supported people in a healthy company will. Eduardo Smith, P.E. is chief operating officer at SCS Engineers. Contact him at esmith@scsengineers.com." }, { "title": "Affording a small firm acquisition", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-18", "url": "/blogs/news/affording-a-small-firm-acquisition", "summary": "These four components all work in concert to make buying the business more affordable and easier to fund. Let’s face it. There are thousands of small architecture, engineering, and allied consulting firms out there with aging owners who are ready to retire. The bigger firm buyers aren’t interested in them. They are too small and it’s not worth their time to find them, buy them, and integrate them into their businesses. But acquiring these companies and giving their owners a way to get out is a big opportunity for you to grow your own AEC firm. That is why buying another firm is included in the strategic plans for many growing AEC firms today. Yet, my experience is that most potential smaller and mid-size firm buyers think they cannot afford to buy another company. A typical $2 million revenue AEC business might be “worth” $1.5 million. The $8 million-$10 million revenue AEC firm buyer doesn’t have that kind of cash sitting in their account. So as far as their principals are concerned, buying another firm is just out of consideration until they can “save up” a bunch of cash. But it shouldn’t be. No one writes a check for the entire purchase price of a company up front. I want to show you just one example of how you could structure a deal that would allow you to buy a firm that you may not have considered before. The way to do it is to get the seller(s) to finance the deal for you. A typical deal structure that has not only worked on dozens of transactions we have helped our clients with but one I have also used myself several times involves four components. And it is critical to understand how your knowledge of these will affect your ability to make an offer and put a deal together that would benefit everyone. Those four components include a cash down payment for "book value” of the business, an amortizing interest-bearing note, an annual payment based on a percentage of revenue from the selling firm’s clients for two to three years post-sale, and consulting agreements for selling firm principals. These all work in concert to make buying the business more affordable and easier to fund. Here is a specific example of how to buy a $2 million firm: Book value down payment. The book value down payment is essentially cash for cash and accounts receivable. It’s like moving money from one account to another. In the example above, a $2 million annual revenue firm would probably have a book value in the range of $300K-$500K. So you use $300K-$500K of your cash for a day or two (or draw on your own line of credit) for your down payment. But once you own the business you get $300K-$500K in short-term liquid assets to pay yourself back that money immediately. Amortizing note. The note in this case could be another $300K-$500K, and let’s say that will be paid out over three years. For this example, it is $400K paid in three annual payments, or $153K a year at 7 percent interest. That money comes from profits this selling business will make. Hopefully a $2 million revenue firm with lower overhead (because you will be reducing professional liability, legal, marketing, accounting, etc. expenses post-acquisition) should be able to generate at least 15 percent margin post acquisition. That’s $300K a year assuming absolutely no growth. That leaves you about another $150K a year left over. Earnout not based on profit, but instead revenue from existing clients. The next component is a percentage of revenue from existing clients at the time of the sale. Let’s say in this case that is $1.6 million a year for three years from these clients (80 percent repeat business). A 5 percent payment based on revenue would be another $80K per year for the sellers. I like percentage of revenue from existing clients versus percentage of profit in earnouts for many reasons. There won’t be any arguments over profit. There won’t be any barriers to moving work and people around. Work could be done by the buyer for the seller’s clients and they would still get their 5 percent. It’s cleaner and encourages integration and cooperation between the two companies versus keeping the sellers out to the side. Employment agreements for selling firm owners. Many think these employment agreements aren’t part of the sale consideration but they are. Let’s say in our example there are two owners. One wants out immediately and the other wants to work for another three years but phase out over that time. So you agree to pay the one who wants out $100K a year for three years to not show up, and the other one gets $200K a year for three years but really would have averaged $100K a year based on the hours he or she will work. The total is $600K going toward the purchase price. Add all these numbers up: $300K down payment, plus $400K note payment, plus $240K “bonus” payment, plus $600K in employment agreements, and you now have a $1.54 million offer to buy this $2 million revenue company. And you have been able to essentially finance 100 percent of the deal and pay for it over time. And hopefully, you will not only make it more profitable than it was but grow it, too. You could multiply the numbers in my example by 10 for a $20 million deal if you wanted to. The concept remains the same. You might ask yourself why a seller would take a deal like this? There are many reasons! The sellers can’t just quit and shut down. They want to protect their employees and long-term clients. And they cannot get any money out of their business any other way. Their book value isn’t liquid. They may have personal debts to pay off. They may be ill. There may be any number of reasons they want to exit. By financing the deal they could save money on their taxes because it isn’t all coming at once. The percentage of revenue payments are a bonus. The employment agreements allow them to retire immediately or slow down gradually and still make some money. This deal structure also allows the buyers to expense out most of their acquisition costs. Of course, you always need to consult experienced and specialized accountants and legal advisors to put this all together. It may not be quite as simple as I have portrayed it above. We are lucky there are some really great experts who work with companies in our industry who help engineer deals like this. I plan on sharing more of my experience in buying and selling AEC firms in future columns here. I’m tired of all of the standard advice I read from non-industry specialized financial jockeys. And it’s time for some new creativity to shed some light on this super-important subject for all of us who own these businesses. Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com. Zweig Group’s Mergers & Acquisitions Advisory Services Whether you’re on the buy- or sell-side of a deal, Zweig Group’s full-scale Mergers & Acquisitions advisory team can help you find and evaluate candidates and then structure the transaction – managing the complicated process from conception to the closing table. Our team of M&A advisors are industry leaders. We approach each project as a cross-functional team consisting of professionals with different expertise working toward a common goal. We blend industry and sector knowledge with experience across the M&A lifecycle to help you capture value for shareholders. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Be the best loser", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-18", "url": "/blogs/news/be-the-best-loser", "summary": "Losing out on a bid could present you with an opportunity to turn a “not this time” into fuel for your pipeline and processes. Imagine losing a multimillion dollar public infrastructure project after months of preparation. The impact of the loss can lead to not just financial implications but also a significant dent in team morale. (Maybe, if you’ve lived this experience before, you don’t have to just imagine it.) The fact is that facing a lost bid or proposal is not just common; it’s an inevitable part of the business. Every AEC firm across the world loses. From small firms working on local projects to large corporations handling international contracts. And, if they’re pursuing a healthy amount of work, then they’re likely losing more often than they’re winning. The typical response involves moving quickly past the loss. This might mean immediately jumping onto the next project or pushing the team to do so, often neglecting to address the loss constructively. Many firm leaders avoid discussing the setback with their teams or seeking detailed feedback from clients, focusing instead on the pipeline of future opportunities. This approach is harmful to every AEC firm. Repeated mistakes and missed opportunities for learning and growth are common outcomes. Without engaging with clients or teams post-loss, leaders lose out on critical insights that could refine their strategies and approaches. For example, if a firm consistently fails to effectively communicate their value to prospects, they are likely to continue losing proposals for as long as the issue isn’t addressed. A constructive approach to losing. There are two valuable components of loss that shouldn’t be ignored. The first is maintaining a strong relationship with the prospect, regardless of whether they move forward with a competitor. A “No” now can turn into a “Yes” later and you want to be top of mind when opportunity strikes. The second is refining your business development process based on feedback from prospects. If you don’t understand where the misalignment occurred, it’s likely to happen again. Here are six strategies that address both components: Personalized notes. After a loss, take the time to send a personalized note or email expressing gratitude and acknowledging the opportunity. This small gesture can differentiate your firm and lay the groundwork for future interactions. Be genuine in your communication, and try to reference specific aspects of the engagement to show that your interest is sincere and informed. Constructive feedback. Make a call to gather detailed feedback on your proposal. Approach the conversation with an open mind and be prepared to ask specific, thoughtful questions that can provide insight into your firm’s performance. This feedback is a treasure trove for improving future proposals and understanding client expectations. Proactive follow-up. Several months after the project begins, check in with the client. This can be a simple message or call, expressing your continued interest and willingness to provide support. This proactive approach can lead to unexpected opportunities and keeps your firm in the client’s mind for future projects. Competitive congratulations. Make a personal call to your competitors to congratulate them on their win. This approach not only shows sportsmanship but also builds bridges in the industry. It’s a chance to connect, share insights, and even pick up a few tips from their success. Documentation. Create a “lessons learned” document or spreadsheet for all proposals, focusing on what worked and what didn’t. This should be a living document, regularly reviewed and updated with insights from new experiences. It serves as a valuable resource for continuous improvement and strategic planning. Analyze and adapt. Conduct a thorough analysis of the feedback received and look for trends or recurring issues. Develop a plan to address these in future proposals. This might involve training for your team, revising your proposal templates, or reevaluating your business development methodologies. Implement the changes and monitor their impact on your success rate. Losing out on a bid doesn’t just mean waving goodbye to the time and energy you put in. For AEC leaders, how you bounce back from these losses will continue to shape your firm’s future. These strategies aren’t just about damage control, they’re about turning a “not this time” into fuel for your pipeline and processes. It’s about getting back up and doing so with a clearer direction and a bit more wisdom.  Tyler Suomala is founder of Growthitect. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Keeping hybrid teams engaged", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-18", "url": "/blogs/news/keeping-hybrid-teams-engaged", "summary": "When leaders combine a strong company culture with workplace flexibility and employee empathy, they can create an environment where hybrid work can thrive. In this post-pandemic era, both employers and employees are working to redefine their employment expectations and determine which pandemic practices will become the “new normal.” One area still in hot debate between C-suites and talent pools is remote versus in-person work. While fully remote and entirely in-person work arrangements each have their share of pros and cons, hybrid work has emerged as a seemingly positive middle ground within the architecture and engineering industry, offering the best of both worlds for companies and their employees. But is hybrid work really a win-win? Two significant benefits of hybrid work include better work-life balance for employees and increased employee retention rates. At the same time, however, hybrid work environments can make it harder for employees to stay connected to the company culture, which can hurt long-term motivation and productivity. The good news is there are small steps an organization can take to mitigate this potential downside of the hybrid work environment. To keep their hybrid employees engaged, firm leaders can work to create an environment that promotes connection with: Teammates. The connections created between team members are the essential building blocks of a successful hybrid work model, as these connections can promote unity and belonging.Examples of tools that leaders can leverage to promote teammate connection include: Online collaboration tools. Using online platforms like Teams and SharePoint can help teams maintain consistent two-way channels for communication, collaboration, and feedback, whether remote or in-person. Behavioral assessments. Using a communication assessment like DiSC can help people learn more about their teammates’ work styles, which can improve team communications and promote intra-group vulnerability. Casual meeting spaces. High-performing teams need strong foundations of trust, so they will need opportunities to build that trust outside of their immediate tasks. When the team is in the office, they have the chance to create connections through chitchat or “water cooler” talk, and they will need similar opportunities to keep building on those connections when working remotely. Teams can engage in virtual relationship-building in a couple of ways, including general “water cooler” chat channels and video check-ins instead of emailing. Connection with tasks. Communication becomes especially important in remote and hybrid work environments, as physical isolation can create unintentional information barriers that can lead to increased task ambiguity.Examples of tools leaders can leverage to promote task connection include: Regular check-ins. Holding regular one-on-one and group check-ins can provide leaders with a valuable opportunity to listen to employee feedback, reinforce the group’s mission and vision, share project updates, and check on task progress. These meetings do not need to be long but should be held at regular intervals. Clear expectations. Setting clear expectations for work progress and outcomes can help prevent ambiguity. When employees know what is expected of them, they can feel confident they are working toward the right goals. Leaders can communicate and reinforce expectations through multi-modal communication channels, job descriptions, remote work plans, and job aids/process documents. Celebration of individual and team progress. Tracking and communicating team accomplishments and showing employee appreciation becomes even more essential when teammates are not in the same place. Leaders can help employees feel more connected to their tasks by celebrating team and project wins. The organization. In a remote work arrangement, connection to the company culture becomes the only distinguishing factor that keeps a talented individual as an employee of Company A instead of Company B. Companies should, therefore, aim to leverage whatever tools or resources are necessary to promote a strong company culture to keep their offsite employees engaged.In a hybrid work arrangement, the company has the added opportunity to engage with employees on the days they are in the office, so it would behoove business leaders to try to make the most of those in-office days as well.Examples of tools leaders can leverage to promote organizational connection include: Onboarding experience. Paying special attention to the onboarding process can set new hires up with a positive connection to the company from day one. Virtual or in-person onboarding is an excellent chance for the company to welcome new hires into the culture and ensure they know where to go with questions. Carefully crafting a meaningful onboarding experience for hybrid workers has been shown to lead to increased retention rates (by more than 69 percent in some cases), especially when the company’s senior leadership gets involved with the onboarding process. Mentorship programs. Mentoring programs can offer a host of benefits for a company, such as keeping employees engaged with the company culture and providing employees with development opportunities. While benefits afforded to mentees may be more apparent, mentoring programs also benefit the mentors, who can gain hands-on leadership and coaching experience. Hybrid events. Offering employees the option to attend events virtually or in person with other employees promotes the company’s commitment to flexibility. The events could be related to professional development, industry networking, specialty work teams, or social affairs. While various opportunities for employee engagement exist, company social events, in particular, have been shown to lead to increased engagement and productivity. As more firms adopt a long-term hybrid approach, the volume of best practices and methods for engaging with the hybrid workforce will continue to grow. Whichever methods an organization chooses, the key to those initiatives being successful may hinge upon the company’s willingness to listen to the needs of its workers. When a company seeks and responds to employee feedback, those interactions can positively impact the employee experience and create a culture of feedback and trust. When leaders combine a strong company culture rooted in trust with workplace flexibility and employee empathy, they can create an environment where hybrid work can thrive.  Jennifer Haddad, GPHR, SHRM-SCP is human resources manager at Urban Engineers. Contact her at jvhaddad@urbanengineers.com." }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 02/12/2024 – 02/18/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-02-16", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-02-12-2024-02-18-2024", "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: 2/8/2024Architecture, engineering, planning, site design, and sustainability services firm, Little (Charlotte, NC) (ENR #275), acquired architecture, programming, space planning, interior design, and construction administration services firm, Red Iron Architects (North Charleston, SC). Link to details.   2/10/2024McKinley Architecture and Engineering (Wheeling, WV), an architecture, engineering, design, and construction administration services firm, merged with sports and recreation facilities focused architecture firm, J.T. Sauer & Associates (Canonsburg, PA). Link to details.   2/12/2024Engineering solutions and automation design firm, Zepnick Solutions (Green Bay, WI), serving the food, paper, and consumer goods industries, joined facilities planning and design firm Salas O’Brien (Irvine, CA) (ENR #54). Link to details.   2/15/2024Sustainable transportation firm, Alta Planning + Design (Portland, OR), and part of the Trilon Group (Denver, CO), acquired transportation planning and behavior change firm, UrbanTrans North America (Atlanta, GA). Link to details.   2/15/2024SAM Companies (Austin, TX) (ENR #88) a geospatial and inspection solutions firm, acquired 3D laser scanning to Building Information Modeling (BIM) services firm PrecisionPoint (Fishers, IN). Link to details.   2/15/2024J-U-B Engineers (Meridian, ID) (ENR #237) a leading employee-owned civil engineering and planning firm, acquired electrical and control systems engineering firm, AEI Engineering (Coeur d’Alene, ID), serving industrial, municipal, commercial, and government clients.  Link to Details.   International Transactions: 2/8/2024Phenna Group (Nottingham, UK), a family of businesses providing testing, inspection, certification, and compliance (TICC) services, acquired building surveying services firm, MBC Group (Sydney, Australia), who serves the retail, industrial, government, education, healthcare, and aged care sectors. Link to details.   2/9/2024SLR (Aylesbury, UK), a global environmental and advisory consultancy, enhanced its ecology and biodiversity capabilities with the acquisition of freshwater, estuarine, and marine environments experts, frc environmental (Cleveland, Australia), an aquatic ecology firm. Link to details.   2/12/2024In its second deal of the week, SLR (Aylesbury, UK) acquired geoscience, environmental science, planning, and development services firm, Groundwork Plus (Milton, Australia), who works in the mining, power, construction materials, and waste management sectors. Link to details.   2/12/2024Environmental sustainability investor, Ambienta (Milan, Italy), acquired a majority stake in environmental engineering, civil engineering, geotechnical, and environmental construction services firm Officine Maccaferri (Bologna, Italy). Link to details." }, { "title": "An evolving landscape", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-11", "url": "/blogs/news/an-evolving-landscape", "summary": "What it means to be an entrepreneur and run a smaller AEC firm in today’s competitive environment. Ask any leader of a smaller AEC firm about the challenges they face in today’s climate and you’ll likely get an earful. From recruiting and retention challenges to feeling like they are constantly being stalked by larger serial acquiring firms, sometimes it’s not easy to stay focused on the aspects of the business that bring joy. For the purposes of defining a smaller firm in this article, we’ll focus on firms with around 75 full-time employees (FTEs) or fewer and/or $18 million or less in gross revenues. Running one of these smaller AEC firms can have many benefits, both professionally and personally, including: Flexibility. Not only do you have more control over your work-life balance, you are also more flexible inside the firm to make adjustments and adapt to changes in the marketplace. Additionally, the decision-making process in small firms can be faster as there are fewer layers of bureaucracy. This agility can also be advantageous in responding to staff and client needs. Stronger financial performance. Firms in this data set tend to perform better than their larger peers in profitability (pre-tax, pre-bonus on NSR median 16.4 percent versus 15.5 percent for all other firms), return on owner’s equity (pre-tax, pre-bonus 47.3 percent versus 43.2 percent for all other firms), and annual growth rate (14.5 percent versus 12.6 percent for all other firms). Specialization and niche markets. Smaller firms can specialize in niche markets or specific types of projects. Have you ever heard the phrase “there are riches in the niches”? Refer to the above stats as evidence. Specialization can create a competitive edge and attract clients seeking expertise in a particular area. While we could go on citing other advantages smaller firms can have, many of them also face some significant challenges, including: Lower overheads. Operating costs for smaller firms are typically lower than those for larger firms (overhead pre-bonus 148 percent versus 164 percent for all other firms). This can result in higher profit margins and increased financial stability, however, there is a dark side to keeping overhead low. Many firms in this category need to start building necessary business infrastructure to continue growth and struggle to do so as overhead costs are seen as bad. This is not true. Leaders in this challenging phase must strategically decide how to start making critical business investments to continue growth. Not growing is not an option, unless a slow death is your preferred route. Firm valuation. Smaller firms also tend to have higher valuation multiples. Firms in this category post a $98,900 valuation multiple per full-time employee versus $89,909 for all other firms. Driving value should be the top objective of firm owners, however, like everything, there are tradeoffs. As values increase, it can be more challenging to internally transition ownership as it becomes more expensive. If the firm does not have at least a 20-year financial model of future transitions, many can find themselves in a situation where there is not enough time or funds to keep the firm owned internally. Thus, many smaller firms tend to be targets for larger acquiring firms or private equity groups looking for firms that don’t have other options. Recruiting and retention. This is one of the greatest challenges for a lot of smaller firms right now. Disparities in compensation and the immense resources of larger firms is creating an extremely lopsided competitive market. The challenges in finding good people have never been greater and small firms are feeling it. Running a smaller AEC firm and being an entrepreneur is more challenging than ever as the race for talent has created new and unbalanced dynamics between large and small firms. As outlined in this article, the rewards are significant and the opportunity to drive change and improve the competitive position of these firms is also greater than ever. Here are a few things to keep in focus as you navigate today’s business climate in our industry: Focus on growth while maintaining agility and flexibility. Growth is essential to every business. “Grow or die” is a real thing, especially today. Growth is a critical strategy for recruiting and retaining staff. Remember, opportunities for career growth and development are important to all of your staff. Have a strategic plan that outlines a revenue growth plan, recruiting and retention plan, and a bureaucracy-free framework to accomplish goals while maintaining agility and flexibility. Invest in the business. The pressure to invest in the business is especially strong in smaller firms and startups, but for those in the 50-75 FTE range, some need big leaps to maintain a competitive edge. If you don’t invest in the right people, it can harm your firm and create even more challenges for you to manage. Invest more in planning. Have a strategy for growth, ownership transition, and technology. If you need some high-level leadership/management help, consider fractional C-suite positions before committing to hiring or promoting into full-time positions. Drive efficiency. With the talent crunch, efficiency is more important than ever. To approach this, think beyond recruiting and retention of people. Small firms are probably in the best position to take advantage of evolving technology and advancements around artificial intelligence. Every project and every phase, down to the task, can be examined to find where efficiencies can be gained. Fractions of a percent on people’s time can make the difference. Cut through the hype and fear around AI and look for tools that can speed up processes or repetitive tasks that can free up staff to focus on design and client service. AEC firms of fewer than 100 staff stand to gain the greatest competitive advantage with AI. Could it be the great equalizer for small and large firms? The incredibly diverse business climate for small and large firms and the rapid advancements in AI are why we are putting more of a focus on this sector of the industry in 2024. Our inaugural AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum in Atlanta on May 21 will bring the greatest business insights and strategies for the firms we focused on in this article. Additionally, it is strategically positioned next to the AI & AEC Tech Summit from May 22-23 in the same location. With an incredible lineup of industry experts, we hope these two events will elevate the industry as we give some special focus on these areas. If you are interested in learning more, click here. We are offering a special discount for subscribers of The Zweig Letter. Enter TZL24SMBZ for discounted registration to the Small Firm & Entrepreneurship Forum and enter TZLATL24 if you want to get a bigger discount to attend the AI & AEC Tech Summit as well. Just two-and-a-half days could make a huge difference for you and your firm!  Chad Clinehens, P.E. is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com. AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum + AI & AEC Technology Summit The 2024 AEC Small Business & Entrepreneurship Forum is connects leaders of small firms to discuss the unique challenges of managing and growing a small business in the AEC industry. The one-day event will comprise keynotes, panel discussions, roundtables, and breakout sessions, all focused on the needs of small businesses. Stay an additional day-and-a-half for the AI & AEC Technology Summit. This event provides valuable insights into technological developments on the technical and business side of running an AEC firm of any size. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Your new coworker", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-11", "url": "/blogs/news/your-new-coworker", "summary": "   AI needs effective onboarding and subsequent guidance, patience, and education in order for it to become a productive and valued “employee.” I have often referred to AI as a hungry, spy-trained toddler: Hungry because it is always looking for more and more data to train its model, spy-trained because it most likely is taking your prompts and inputs and giving it back to its model (or owner or even the public at large), and toddler because it is prone to making things up when it generates an output – also called hallucinations. In the past week, I have added another descriptor: new coworker. In other words, AI is still a hungry, spy-trained toddler, but it is also a hungry, spy-trained toddler who was just given a cubicle next to yours as the latest addition to your team. “Show him the ropes,” your boss says. Like any new hire, AI needs effective onboarding and subsequent guidance, patience, and education in order for it to become a productive and valued “employee.” You would never demand that a new employee know everything about everything on day one, and yet, for some reason we expect this of an AI tool. Intelligence is something that improves and grows the more it learns, and intelligence of the artificial kind is no exception. I would suggest first understanding the capabilities of the AI tool. Test it out. Change up your prompts and iteratively improve how you ask questions. Give it logical and helpful instructions. Be specific. Over communicate. If you are also the one training its knowledge base, make sure your data is clean and accurate and the resources and files you are uploading are current, relevant, and clear. Keep working with the AI – just like you would a new coworker – until you figure out the best way to interact so that it can provide you with exactly what you are looking for. We all get frustrated with the naivety of the newbie sitting next to us who needs more time and attention than we have to give. However, I am certain that the quality of our investment in AI – including the time, talent, and resources we devote upfront and as we continue to build this working partnership – will create an incalculable advantage for you and your firm. Perseverance will pay off.  Kristin Kautz, CPSM is an artificial intelligence consultant at Zweig Group. Contact her at kkautz@zweiggroup.com. Artificial intelligence in AEC Subscribe for AI in AEC news, updates, and articles. This content is intended to help emerging and current leaders be at the forefront of the AI technological revolution. AI is not a trend or fad. AI is here to stay. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Ten qualities we all want in our PMs", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-11", "url": "/blogs/news/ten-qualities-we-all-want-in-our-pms", "summary": "If you take an honest look at people who are really good project managers, you’ll find they have some specific personality traits and abilities that lead to their success. The owners of practically every AEC firm we talk to or work with tell us that they are trying to have better project managers. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that if you do projects as your primary source of income for your business, you are going to want to have capable project managers – it’s how you make your money. Plus, you want to end up with a happy repeat client after you work with them, and don’t want any liabilities coming back to bite you in the backside later. I think if you take an honest look at people who are really good project managers, you’ll find they have some specific personality traits and abilities that lead to their success. Here are some of them (you may have heard some from me before, but some of them you haven’t!): They aren’t trying necessarily to be firm managers. Sure – they like their discipline and they like project management. But this does not mean that they necessarily aspire to be department managers or be a manager of other project managers. They like being “in the fight” daily, doing work on projects, and dealing with clients, subconsultants, contractors, and other employees. They enjoy solving the problems that come up, and like putting out fires instead of dreading those things. They don’t procrastinate. They return phone calls and emails promptly. They put out project meeting notes fast. They cry for “extra services” agreements when they need to be called for quickly. They don’t put off ‘til tomorrow whatever would be best done today. They know how to respond under fire. They will come under attack from contractors and subcontractors, and occasionally clients, and they don’t lose their cool. They also don’t write angry and stupid emails that make whatever they are dealing with worse. They are good at sizing up people. There’s no substitute for being able to size up people quickly. People who are good at this can predict what their clients will like and won’t like, will know how to please them/impress them, and will know how to communicate effectively with them. They are also good at figuring out who should be in what role on the project. Call it intuition or call it being a real student of human behavior – it makes no difference – some folks have it and others don’t. They know how to treat people. People don’t say about them, “So-and-so is a real jerk (or worse)!” Maybe they learned some real lessons from their grandmothers or their kindergarten teachers? It’s a skill that really helps you as a project manager, where so many of those on your project team don’t actually report to you. They are great communicators. This, of course, starts with being a good listener and observer. But it’s more than that. They do things like parrot back what they heard someone tell them to confirm they heard it right. They don’t use terminology that practically no one will understand. They know how to be succinct and clear. They are just a tiny bit paranoid. A good PM can anticipate where things will go wrong and who won’t do their job properly. That helps keep them (and the project) out of trouble! They are natural relationship builders. Because people like them and trust them – because they know how to treat other people and are good communicators – because they can keep their cool under fire – they naturally build strong relationships with other people. This makes people WANT to work with them. They are excellent multitaskers. I know all the LinkedIn “experts” out there will tell us that we shouldn’t multitask. What? Have these people ever really done anything? As a PM, of course you have to multitask! There will always be all kinds of conflicting demands on your time. You typically have many different projects, clients, and other priorities all tugging at you at the same time. You have to be able to juggle all those balls and still get done what needs getting done without upsetting anyone in the process. They are honest. You have to keep your promises, do what you say you will, and be trustworthy to be an effective PM. You cannot keep a client happy if you are known as someone who speaks empty words and doesn’t follow through. Nor will a PM be able to keep their own team happy if they do things such as artificially shrink the budget or compress the schedule for the project – tools some people who work as PMs use. Sure, it is difficult – especially when you don’t control all the resources – but it’s essential to being an effective PM. I would guess that few of our readers would disagree with me here on the requisite skills for PMs. Yet, it’s really fascinating to me how little of this stuff is actually addressed in the typical PM training that firms do.  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "It’s time to win more work", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-11", "url": "/blogs/news/it-s-time-to-win-more-work", "summary": "Prioritize building relationships with clients and potential clients to build trust, credibility, and alignment for better outcomes. I talk to growing contractors every day. One of the most common complaints I hear from them is: “We drop everything to bid these GCs/owners and then they never call us back! What jerks.” In my time as a vice president of pre-construction and sales, I used to think the same. Until I realized it’s not the GC/owner’s fault I dropped everything I was doing to bid their work! It was my fault. I was expecting my dedication to somehow turn into calls back and project awards, but that doesn’t make sense. Our competitors were doing the same thing as me. I was a commodity. I finally realized I had to do a better job qualifying prospects. You see, if you don’t really know a prospect, and they don’t really know you, then you shouldn’t ever expect a call back. Because before you can build a project together, you need to: Build trust Prove credibility Make sure you align with each other It’s really that simple. And you can’t do any of that simply by bidding a job. You can, however, do it by having a good “relationship meeting.” I can pretty much guarantee that if you make a habit of holding relationship meetings before engaging with new clients – or even reengaging with existing clients – then, the results will speak for themselves: more sales, better win percentage, fewer “ghosted” bids. Here are the four tenets of the relationship meeting: Business alignment (market, size, geography). First things first: Do our businesses truly align? Some questions you should be asking the prospect are: What markets do you work in? (Multi-family, institutional, higher education, etc.) What are the typical project sizes you are performing? What is the typical contract size for our scope you usually award? Where do you operate? What’s your strategy in that geographic area for the next five years? Some questions you should be asking yourself are: Do we work in the same market(s) as the prospect? Does their typical project and contract size align with our typical project and contract size? Do we operate in the same area(s)? Is there long-term growth potential with them in that area(s)? Make sure you feel comfortable with the answers to these questions before ever bidding a project with a prospect. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. If you don’t align, stop here. Say thanks for reaching out but don’t bid the job. If you do align, move to tenet No. 2. Philosophical alignment (mutual relationship). Do you align philosophically? This is really simple: What are your values? Could you describe your last successful contractor partnership? On your last project, how did your contractors fit into the project’s success story? Basically, you want to ensure that if you work together, you will be treated fairly, with respect, and hopefully have such great cultural alignment that your teams do an awesome job working together! This is important because you’re setting yourself up to be treated like an equal rather than like a random bid. Mutual agreement for how we will pursue opportunities (the rules of the relationship). To establish yourself as a true partner, you need to set some mutual ground rules for your relationship. The basic formula is: “If I do X, will you commit to doing Y?” Here’s what that looks like: If we bid this project, will you commit to giving us good, honest feedback? Before we submit our bid, we like to schedule proposal review meetings. If we agree to bid this project, will you commit to having a proposal review meeting with us? If we bid this project and knock it out of the park – even if we don’t get the award on this one – will you commit to giving us a hard look on the next one? Your bid is your leverage. If you want to ensure you receive something in return for your bid – like a call back, a meeting, or really good feedback – then now is the time to do it. And if they don’t keep up any agreements they commit to? Then you have to call them out on it (respectfully). If they don’t own up to it, then never bid them again. If they do, then you’ve established yourself as a partner and professional. Picking a “project” to pursue together. If you’ve made it past the first three tenets, then you get to the fun part: picking a project to pursue together. Maybe you already know which it will be, or maybe you realize the original job they reached out about isn’t right, but they have another one coming up that is. Either way, pick a project before ending the meeting, and then make sure everyone is clear on the commitments that go along with it. Boom. You just showed that you are not like your competition, established yourself as a professional, got commitments for feedback and communication, and significantly increased your chances of winning this project, or future work. Matt Verderamo, MS is a consultant at Well Built Construction Consulting. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Developing leaders: Jim Canfield", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-11", "url": "/blogs/news/developing-leaders-jim-canfield", "summary": "President of WithersRavenel (Cary, NC), a multidisciplinary consulting firm serving both the private and public sectors. By Liisa AndreassenCorrespondent As president of WithersRavenel, Canfield is charged with leading the company and its most valuable resources – its employee-owners. He was initially hired in 1990 to lead the land development group and took over as president in 2013. He says the most exciting thing that’s happened during his time with the company has been its continued growth. Most of that growth can be attributed to adding complementary lines of business and geographic office locations to better serve clients, provide growth opportunities for teammates, and enhance the communities where they work. In 2023, the Triangle Business Journal recognized WithersRavenel as one of the most successful businesses in the region. The company made the prestigious list for the fifth straight year, finishing at No. 43 in 2023. The honor affirms the company’s commitment to quality projects, core values, and client experience. An ESOP culture drives success. WithersRavenel became 100 percent employee-owned in 2019. The primary impetus for that move had to do with developing a way to transition the company from its two majority owners and founders, Tony Withers and Sam Ravenel, to its employees. It was also closely aligned with their belief in sharing ownership and company culture, which emphasizes that everyone on the team is important to company success. “It’s rewarding to see the growth of teammates and their success as they advance into leadership positions across the organization,” Canfield says. “This new ESOP has led to tremendous growth for us since 2014, and especially over the last four years.” In 2022, the company launched a “focus on innovation.” While innovation can mean many different things, for WithersRavenel, it’s mostly about leveraging technology and being thought leaders to create efficiencies in the way it conducts business, delivers services, and adds value. WithersRavenel wants to help people solve old problems in new ways by leveraging technology. For example, WithersRavenel has developed a web-based tool to avoid sanitary sewer overflows. It’s called LiftCommand and is specifically designed for lift station and sewer system operators, managers, and utilities directors to track your sanitary sewer system, verify permit compliance, and plan for sustainable growth. Developing leaders. However, despite company growth and innovative developments, finding talent is a top challenge in all areas – ranging from recruiting, retaining, and developing talent. To combat this, the company has put an outstanding HR team in place that it considers a true business partner to the practice areas and support teams. “We’re investing in our team members by providing professional and personal development opportunities, including leadership training and we have an internal development program called WR University with six pillars,” Canfield says. He says that the industry, as a whole, is still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession which led to many people leaving the business, and in turn, creating a scarcity of project managers. “The recession was a learning experience for most of us,” he says. “At the time, I was leading our land development group and our company went from around 280 employees to fewer than 100 in a year. We were not nearly disciplined enough with respect to business processes, and I learned quickly that my business acumen needed to increase to enhance our future sustainability.” As a result, this led to a goal of balancing revenue between private and public sector work and implementing business-related requirements dealing with timesheets, invoicing, AR, unbilled time, and more. “Projects are the lifeblood of our organization and we will continue to develop and train our teammates who have a desire to manage projects,” he says. “I want to develop more project managers within our organization as it provides growth opportunities and also leads to more positive client experiences.” WithersRavenel has several programs that revolve around training and professional development. The firm provides supervisors with training about what makes a great supervisor, the challenges they will face, and strategies to deal with them. It’s also launched cohorts in its Leadership Academy under WR University, which helps employees develop the leadership skills needed to be great leaders and people managers. Healthy habits. In addition to training, wellness is a key focus at WithersRavenel and the company was recently recognized as one of the healthiest small businesses in the state of North Carolina. In fact, it finished third place in the Triangle and Triad competitions among companies with 100-499 employees in the annual Healthiest Employers awards program. Specifically cited in the Healthiest Employers’ recognition was WithersRavenel’s unique Thrive program which offers micro-training sessions, a testament to their recognition of the diverse needs of their teams in the midst of a hectic workday. Succinct 15-minute, live sessions are conducted through video conferences and are conveniently recorded and made accessible via their SharePoint app for those unable to attend in real time. After the content delivery, they actively facilitate open discussions to promote social connections and provide a platform for participants to share ideas and recommendations related to the topic. WithersRavenel’s Thrive committee includes individuals from throughout the company who generate the program ideas. Additional company initiatives include running and walking clubs, wellness-centered events, team contests, and programs linked with its company health plan. Physical and mental health are both key components of the programming, along with financial and emotional well-being. " }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 02/05/2024 – 02/11/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-02-09", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-02-05-2024-02-11-2024", "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: 2/1/2024Architecture firms ACSW (Lafayette, LA) and Rozas Ward (New Orleans, LA) merged and formed a new architecture firm serving the educational, healthcare, and civic sectors AQ Studios (Lafayette, LA). Link to details.   2/1/2024Critical inspection, maintenance, and restoration services firm, Osmose Utilities Services (Peachtree Corners, GA), who provides for electric utility and telecom infrastructure, acquired the principal assets of McLean Engineering Company (Moultrie, GA), a power engineering firm. Link to details.   2/2/2024Hillman Consulting (Union, NJ) a leader in the Environmental Health & Safety, Due Diligence & Remediation Management, and Construction Services, acquired Abraxas Energy Consulting (Atascadero, CA), a commercial energy efficiency services firm. Link to details.   2/5/2024Dynamic Civil Solutions (Birmingham, AL) a civil and transportation engineering firm, acquired land surveying firm Jackins Butler and Adams (Birmingham, AL). Link to details.   2/5/2024Bowman Consulting Group (Reston, VA) (ENR #87), one of the leading multi-disciplinary consulting firms, acquired site/civil engineering, environmental, landscape architecture, and land surveying firm, Trudell Consulting Engineers (Williston, VT). Link to details.   2/6/2023ENR’s #4 ranked environmental firm, Clean Harbors (Norwell, MA), entered into a definitive agreement with Gryphon Investors (San Francisco, CA) to acquire specialized environmental and emergency response services firm HEPACO (Charlotte, NC). Link to details.   2/6/2024DCCM (Houston, TX) (ENR #129) a design, consulting, and PM/CM firm acquired CM/PM and special services firm Southstar Engineering & Consulting (Riverside, CA), serving public agencies throughout California. Link to details.   2/8/2024RMA Companies (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) (ENR #146) a technology-enabled laboratory testing, inspection, and quality management services firm acquired geotechnical and construction inspection services firm, Black Eagle Consulting (Reno, NV). Link to details.   International Transactions: 2/1/2024Trace Associates (Calgary, Canada), an environmental science and engineering services firm, reached an agreement to acquire the assets of XCG Consulting (Kitchener, Canada), a firm that provides environmental site assessment, remediation, solid waste advisory, and hazardous building materials management services. Link to details.   2/1/2024Mipac (Brisbane, Australia), a feasibility studies and commissioning services firm and a subsidiary of GR Engineering Services (Ascot, Australia), entered an agreement to acquire control system and electrical engineering firm Paradigm Engineers (Perth, Australia). Link to details.   2/1/2024Montrose Environmental Group (North Little Rock, AR) (ENR #40), acquired environmental science and engineering services firm, Epic Environmental (Brisbane, Australia). Link to details.   2/2/2024Woolpert (Dayton, OH) (ENR #56) a strategic consulting firm, entered into an agreement to acquire multidisciplinary geospatial services firm, Murphy Geospatial (Dublin, Ireland). Link to details.   2/2/2024Air emissions testing and monitoring solutions firm, Alliance Technical Group (Decatur, AL), entered an agreement to acquire ORTECH Consulting (Mississauga, Canada), an environmental, engineering, and science consulting firm. Link to details.   2/5/2024The Sanborn Map Company (Colorado Springs, CO) a geospatial solutions firm, purchased the assets of Nuvia Dynamics (Toronto, Canada) and established its Canadian subsidiary named Sanborn Geophysics (Toronto, Canada), a geophysical survey services firm. Link to details.   2/5/2024RSK Group (Helsby, UK) an environmental consulting and services firm, acquired Brown & May Marine France (Brest, France), a firm that specializes in the provision of studies and services relating to various interfaces that occur between commercial fishing and offshore renewable energy projects. Link to details.   2/6/2024Hardies Property & Construction Consultants (Edinburgh, UK) a surveying and project management firm, acquired David Adamson and Partners (Edinburgh, UK), a firm that offers surveying, cost and contract management, planning and program management, and housing consulting services. Link to details.   2/7/2024Qualus (Cincinnati, OH) a power services firm, acquired electrical engineering and technical services firm, Enkompass Power and Energy Corporation (Bolton, Canada). Link to details." }, { "title": "Observing cultural holidays", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-04", "url": "/blogs/news/observing-cultural-holidays", "summary": "Engaging with cultural holidays in the workplace requires genuine interest, education, and inclusive celebration. Despite my best intentions every year, January 1 has yet to work out for me as the default fresh start to launch a new set of personal and professional goals. The first few weeks of a new year work as a trial period for me. Once I get my bearings though, I use Chinese New Year, sometimes known as Lunar New Year, as my real reset, which means this year my reset date is February 10. That prompted me to think about what might be some best practices for celebrating cultural holidays at the workplace. I will focus on February in this article, and I will explore Chinese New Year first.  The more inclusive phrase for this holiday is "Lunar New Year" since it is not actually a Chinese holiday, but also celebrated in many countries and by many ethnicities. It might be one of the most, if not the most, important holidays celebrated among Eastern and Southeastern Asian cultures – a season of family reunions, traditional feasts, fireworks, and (cash) gifts in the form of red envelopes.  In the region of China I grew up in, companies of all scales host elaborate feasts and celebrations (收爐) leading up to Lunar New Year, not unlike holiday parties here in the U.S. It is also common practice that everybody’s last month’s salary is, at a minimum, doubled by default (雙糧), regardless of the company’s profit. It’s considered an embarrassment if a company fails to distribute that at the end of a lunar year.  While I don’t expect our firm owner readers to fulfill the doubled salary in honor of the Lunar New Year, there are some ways to go deeper into observing the occasion beyond decorations and a themed lunch. Small next steps could include: personally learning about and educating your team on the symbolism behind the color red in the decorations, offering a floating holiday to those who observe it, checking in with your Asian-owned suppliers and/or vendors, and encouraging your team to shop, dine, and support Asian-owned businesses. I sure wouldn’t mind a red envelope (with cash) from my employer, but any show of genuine interest goes a long way. Another significant celebration around this time of year is Black History Month. In February, we put focused emphasis on celebrating the achievements of African Americans and recognizing the central role of African Americans in the U.S., while reflecting on the 400 years of Black history in this country.  It is essential that we recognize these and other special holidays and months of celebration with everyone in our organizations. I cannot emphasize this enough though: We need to be very mindful that the “burden” of organizing celebrations and observations does not fall on the minority employee(s) by default – engaging them for input is essential, but expecting the entire execution to fall on the minority employee(s) is counterproductive. Some meaningful activities I recommend include seeking out and encouraging team outings to events like film screenings, panel discussions, art exhibitions, etc. themed around the occasion. This doubles up as team building, in addition to the educational benefits.  I can’t begin to speak about what exactly is the “right way” to celebrate all the cultural holidays, especially ones that I am not a member of. But a genuine interest and effort from the top, and from my peers, to learn about my culture is gold. It’s natural we are hesitant or timid to ask, but do the hard things anyway! Becoming and staying an employer of choice takes a lot of effort with many considerations, but the return is well worth all of it. Zweig Group supports our clients’ pursuit of becoming the best employer in multiple ways, and we recognize that recruiting and retention are the greatest barriers many firms face in this endeavor. Zweig Group can help firms better understand how to recruit and retain staff through our advisory services, awards programs, and through our ElevateHER® program, which brings together AEC professionals to develop and disseminate actionable plans that aim to solve the industry’s recruitment and retention crisis. To learn more about Zweig Group’s 2024 ElevateHER® Symposium, click here. Shirley Che is director of field marketing, learning, and ElevateHER® at Zweig Group. Contact her at sche@zweiggroup.com. ElevateHER® Symposium This dynamic event is designed to inspire, empower, and equip attendees to solve the industry’s recruitment and retention crisis, and will feature powerful panel discussions, keynote presentations from the industry’s leading change agents, and select presentations from past ElevateHER® cohorts. Join us March 6 in Irving, Texas. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Strategic steps for government affairs", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-04", "url": "/blogs/news/strategic-steps-for-government-affairs", "summary": "Understanding and participating in government affairs can play a valuable role in a company’s business development process. Understanding and participating in government affairs can play a valuable role in a company’s business development process. By staying informed and involved in political processes, companies empower their clients, and themselves, to navigate evolving regulatory frameworks and capture opportunities in their industries. The role of engineering firms in government affairs is so important that ACEC encourages and helps firms navigate this field. Here are four steps for creating and implementing a successful government affairs program into your firm’s business development program: Clarify your goals. Before starting your program, it is important to clarify what your objectives are. Your goals should be achievable and aligned with your firm’s strategic plan. Is the purpose to enhance your networking with clients, or is it aimed at staying ahead of legislative priorities that impact the engineering community? A strategic approach, starting small and building on that, will be easier for most firms to accomplish. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you kick off your program: How big is your firm and how many resources can you dedicate to this process? Who will lead this endeavor? Do they have appropriate time to commit to this important undertaking? How will we train our business development staff to participate? Have we budgeted for this? Is this consistent with our firm’s culture? Communicate the benefits. Creating any new policy for a firm can be a challenge. When introducing a new policy, it is best to lead with the benefits and constantly reiterate them throughout the process. The benefits should be tied to the goals, and this will validate and guide the process. It is important to customize your firm’s benefits to your goals. Here are some examples: Improve your firm’s reputation. Being an active participant in the government process can make a firm a strategic asset, as demonstrating an understanding of the complex intersection of government policies and funding will result in a firm being viewed by clients as a knowledgeable resource and partner. Participation establishes a firm as a thought leader, an advocate for positive change, and a socially responsible organization. Achieving project funding. Obtaining funding for clients’ projects is a crucial aspect of a firm’s mission, as it directly contributes to project creation. Whether government grants, subsidies, or funding programs, by sharing the various funding mechanisms led by government agencies, helping achieve project funding shows a firm as a trusted advisor. Bettering the industry. Promoting legislation that aligns with a company’s service offerings is a proactive strategy that supports the clients and the industries served by AEC companies. By engaging in advocacy efforts, involved firms can shape policies that impact the AEC field, which, in turn, fosters innovation, sustainability, and economic development. Establish methods of participation. Now that you have set your goals and communicated the benefits, it is time to align your targets with your business development team. Reiterating that it is best to start small, diving into a full in-house government affairs department, in-house lobbying efforts, candidate endorsements, and outside lobbying aren’t recommended at the onset. Focus on the smaller, achievable methods of participation, for example: Public outreach. Public outreach seeks to actively engage and inform a firm and the public about government initiatives, policies, and activities. It’s probable that your firm is already well-acquainted with public interactions, often participating in public meetings, hosting design charrettes, and offering training sessions. As part of public outreach efforts, firms commonly provide testimony in support of bills or communicate public policies that will impact them. If you’re considering exploring this avenue, don’t hesitate to leverage the in-house expertise at your disposal. Campaign funding. When deciding on contributions and endorsements, it is important to know who supports policies and legislation favorable to the engineering industry. You should conduct thorough research on existing campaign financing regulations. It is important to learn about the federal campaign laws as well as state and local ones, because they vary state by state. Getting sound legal advice is the best course of action because non-compliance can result in legal penalties, fines, and damage to an organization’s reputation. Trade associations. To optimize engagement in trade associations, the internal government affairs team should collaborate with employees participating in association meetings and events. This collaboration aims to educate them on what to listen for and obtain valuable insights they already have. In cases where employees or the firm aren’t actively participating in trade associations, initiating internet searches using keywords aligned with specific goals serves as an effective starting point. The ACEC state-level government affairs committees play a crucial role in keeping your company informed about recent regulatory developments, such as the Infrastructure Investment, Jobs Act, and tax code changes, which can significantly impact your business. Committee participation. Start by asking what level of government will best help your company: national, state, or local. All shape policy and legislation, just in different ways. Please note, if you participate in a committee in a town that is also your client, there are potential conflicts of interest. Reevaluate, adjust, repeat. A successful government affairs program is never finished. As part of annual strategic planning (or more often if necessary), the program must be reevaluated. Like any effective company program, it must be cultivated and adjusted so that it works for the firm, within the regulatory sphere, and for your clients. A successful government affairs program is one that reinforces your firm’s objectives of becoming a recognized and knowledgeable resource, while also serving as a valued client partner. By setting achievable goals that align with your firm’s overarching objectives and taking measurable and strategic steps, a government affairs program can actively contribute to the success and strength of an organization in a changing political and regulatory environment. Katherine Nanowski, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing and business development at Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. Contact her at knanowski@fando.com." }, { "title": "Is AI going to eliminate the need for AEC?", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-04", "url": "/blogs/news/is-ai-going-to-eliminate-the-need-for-aec", "summary": "   Anything that requires human intelligence to deal with different complex human behavioral issues isn’t going to be replaced by AI any time soon, if ever. I have heard a lot of noise out there about how artificial intelligence is going to make architects, engineers, etc., obsolete. I want to go on the record and say I don’t believe that one bit! Will AI be a tool that helps us design stuff? Absolutely. Will AI be a tool that helps do some writing? Sure. Will there be other uses for AI in our business that become evident over time? Most certainly. The flaw in thinking AI is going to make all of those in the AEC business unnecessary is that so much of what we do in this business has nothing to do with just cranking out designs and construction drawings. For example: Can AI go sell a city council on rezoning a piece of property or giving a variance? No. Can AI meet with a lender to help a developer client get the preconstruction appraisal they need to finance a project? No. Can AI get a building committee for a new building at a university to all agree on everything about the project before it gets built? No. Can AI help angry local homeowners who are running out of well water because the local farm is using all of it? No. I could obviously go on and on here, but I think I have made my point. Anything that requires human intelligence to deal with different complex human behavioral issues isn’t going to be replaced by AI any time soon, if ever. There are just too many variables to consider. The AEC business has a long runway ahead. We have a massive talent shortage that isn’t easing one bit. We live in an increasingly complex world. We have exploding needs from growth. We have constant deterioration of everything. We have pollution, weather events, resource scarcity, and so many more issues and problems that AI can hopefully help us with, but not replace us. What all of this tells me is that as individual firm owners and managers, we need to focus on finding and developing people with business, social, and communication skills. When you start out with a shortage of people who have the requisite technical and design skills, and then only a fraction of those people have the interpersonal and “soft” skills you need, it won’t be easy. These kinds of capabilities are going to be more important than ever. Companies that can assemble the best teams of people will thrive. Those that don’t will inevitably decline. So what are you going to do in your AEC firm to combat the threat of new technology? You have a plan and are taking action, right?  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com. Artificial intelligence in AEC Subscribe for free AI in AEC news, updates, and articles. This content is intended to help emerging and current leaders be at the forefront of the AI technological revolution. AI is not a trend or fad. AI is here to stay. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "A new change management approach", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-04", "url": "/blogs/news/a-new-change-management-approach", "summary": "To integrate effective change management, identify needs, understand deeply, honor the past, mandate change, and provide a precise, optimistic roadmap forward. As we start a new year and strategic planning is in full swing, I believe it is crucial to be intentional about integrating change management strategies into the process. Anticipating, planning, and embracing change fuels growth. In my experience leading teams in the engineering industry, I have found that introducing change can result in resistance and challenges. Everyone responds to change differently. To address this, I have found it helpful to approach change management with honesty, empathy, sensitivity, positivity, and accountability. This simple, five-step approach has allowed me to craft a clear and compelling story that motivates people toward change: Name what needs to change. The first step is to identify what needs to change. For example, when I joined MCE in 2021 to lead a newly created sector serving the government, higher education, and workspace markets, I encountered a challenging situation in which I was tasked with turning around and growing a sector with low sales volume, several underperforming projects ranking at the lowest net multipliers in the organization, low client satisfaction rates, and an understaffed team. Deep understanding, simple description. It is crucial to gain a deep understanding of the situation so you can craft a simple, clear, and concise message that builds a compelling story. I dedicated four months to understanding MCE’s culture, history, values, vision, and strategy framework so that I could develop this message.It is important to test the simplicity and stickiness of your message by distilling the vision down to a sentence that is so clear and concise everyone can see it, understand it, and articulate it. By describing our sector as “a start-up team operating within a mature organization,” I provided a simple yet profound description of the turnaround. The comparison to a start-up illustrated the exciting and challenging endeavor ahead of us. Honor the past. The first component of honoring the past is to acknowledge the good parts of the history. Understanding the organization’s history, legacy, and solid reputation in our industry allowed me to bond with key influential team members inside and outside the organization.The second component of honoring the past is to acknowledge the not so good parts and address them with honesty and optimism. This build trust and a sense of new direction. In this phase, I was honest with people about my observations for change and avoided blaming. The message then shifted to sharing an optimistic picture of the future. I illustrated “the not so good” reality by showing data on one key performance indicator, project spend versus project contract. By the end of 2021, this metric had reached -$180,000. This became the anchor to illustrate the need for improvement and to bridge the gap to the future. A mandate for change. After making progress on the first three steps, it is time to share the plan for shaping a different future. This step involves reflecting on “the why” and asking questions such as: “What problem am I trying to solve? What is the cost of not solving it?” My sector’s strategic plan was launched in September 2021, focusing on achieving a $0 project spend versus contract KPI, setting ambitious revenue goals, growing the core sector team, and shifting from a project-centric to a client-centric approach. A precise and optimistic road map forward. This step delves into the details of the plan, addressing “the how.” I began by asking myself, “What persuades me to choose the road ahead? How confident am I of the probability for success?” In my case, using data as a storytelling element to highlight that the organization was operating at a deficit brought home the sense of urgency of the situation. Describing a contrasting and optimistic way forward was crucial in enlisting stakeholders to the vision in an energizing manner. Following this approach has allowed my sector to undergo a turnaround. We are currently well positioned to scale and achieve sustainable growth. Today, we are running projects profitably, ranking at the top on net multiplier, expanding our team, and establishing a client and leadership-centric culture guided by our mission. Experiencing such a transformation has been a profoundly rewarding and energizing experience in integrating change management. Leisbel Lam, PE, LC, MBA is a principal at Michaud Cooley Erickson. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Build and sustain a DEI infrastructure", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-02-04", "url": "/blogs/news/build-and-sustain-a-dei-infrastructure", "summary": "Organizations can drive positive change and contribute to a culture that values diversity as a strategic asset by setting clear goals and consistently sharing progress. The need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry has never been more crucial, especially as generational shifts continue. The heart of innovation in our industry lies in embracing differences and fostering an inclusive environment. Let’s explore the evolving DEI landscape and provide a roadmap for AEC firms to prioritize and sustain their commitment to DEI in the future: The state-of-the-state of DEI. To enact meaningful change in the industry and within organizations, we must first acknowledge that DEI in the AEC industry is undergoing a transformative shift, with a heightened recognition of the importance of fostering a more inclusive environment. We must identify and overcome common roadblocks, such as societal pressures and internal biases, as we navigate the path to inclusivity.The industry is striving to dismantle barriers and create pathways for underrepresented groups. Companies that empower diverse perspectives experience more innovative solutions and improved problem-solving. Efforts are being made to address systemic biases, promote equal opportunities, and cultivate an inclusive culture where employees from various backgrounds feel valued and empowered. While progress is evident, work is still needed to integrate DEI into policies and the industry.A commitment to an inclusive culture becomes more than a checkbox when DEI principles are woven into an AEC company’s purpose, mission, and values. Organizations that embrace DEI recognize a diverse workforce – reflective of various backgrounds, perspectives, and communities they serve – brings a richness of ideas crucial for tackling complex challenges. AEC firms can ensure their workplaces are diverse, equitable, and inclusive by championing DEI initiatives and creating an environment where individuals thrive and contribute. Fostering connection and commitment. Leadership buy-in is vital to the success of DEI initiatives within organizations. Championing diversity goes beyond rhetoric; it requires tangible actions, appropriate resources and a commitment to fostering an inclusive culture. Internally, leaders set the tone by promoting DEI at all levels, leading by example in hiring practices, and valuing every voice. Externally, their influence shapes industry norms and standards as a voice for change.Introducing the concept of the policies, processes, and procedures (PPP) review underscores the accountability and transparency essential in supporting leadership’s DEI efforts. This framework involves a comprehensive examination of the workforce polices, organizational processes, and day-to-day procedures. By holding leaders accountable for tangible outcomes, organizations can engrain DEI initiatives in all aspects of the organization, fostering genuine transformation, action, and progress.Establishing a culture of inclusion demands deliberate and purposeful initiatives such as investing in employee awareness and education. These initiatives aim to cultivate a shared understanding of DEI principles and foster a workplace culture that values differences. Additionally, employee resource groups provide a community where individuals with shared backgrounds or interests can connect and collaborate within larger organizations. Building a sustainable DEI program ensures inclusivity is a pervasive aspect of the culture and contributes to a workplace where every employee feels seen, heard, and empowered. Creating a sustainable DEI program. Thoughtfully creating a program’s infrastructure – beyond standing up the program – is key to implementing sustainable DEI practices. Start with a roadmap; define what a successful initiative would entail and identify the actionable steps, resources, and metrics needed to be successful. Aligning DEI goals with pre-established company values and metrics is an effective strategy to ensure the program blends seamlessly into organizational structures.Technology and innovation are crucial resources for advancing DEI in AEC. Technological solutions allow for more inclusive hiring processes, enable accommodating remote work opportunities, and ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Innovative platforms can be utilized for educational initiatives to encourage continuous learning and understanding. Firms enhance efficiency and leverage innovation for the benefit of all employees by integrating technology into DEI strategies.DEI goals must align with the broader company goals for a cohesive strategy that lasts long-term. Setting specific and measurable DEI objectives, coupled with well-defined key performance indicators, is vital for progress and sustainability. Involving stakeholders in the goal-setting process fosters a sense of collective ownership and incorporates diverse perspectives. Regular data-driven assessments can identify areas for improvement and allow organizations to track the effectiveness of initiatives. Organizations can drive positive change, foster an inclusive workplace, and contribute to a culture that values diversity as a strategic asset by setting clear goals and consistently sharing progress. The DEI landscape in AEC is evolving, with efforts to address biases, and promote equal opportunities for underrepresented groups. The journey toward inclusivity involves leadership buy-in, alignment with company values, and a long-term DEI program. Ultimately, AEC firms can create a workplace where diversity is integral to success by integrating these principles into everyday operations. Annie Rezac is DEI program manager at Ulteig. Connect with her on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Baltimore-based Alban Engineering joins RTM Engineering Consultants", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-31", "url": "/blogs/news/baltimore-based-alban-engineering-joins-rtm-engineering-consultants", "summary": "RTM Engineering Consultants, a national multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firm has recently merged with Alban Engineering, an MEP consulting firm based in Hunt Valley, MD. Alban Engineering specializes in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting design, and sustainability solutions, with a focus on K-12, higher education, worship, and other public and community facilities. Their portfolio showcases expertise in projects of varying sizes, from large-scale new building constructions to building system replacements and renovations. This strategic merger opens new opportunities for RTM by expanding our presence on the East Coast and allowing the team to combine experience and resources to better serve educational clients nationwide.  “We have great respect for the technical expertise possessed by the Alban Engineering team. Their well-established reputation within the educational market is a testament to their wealth of experience and dedication to building lasting client relationships. We are truly privileged to be welcoming them to RTM,” said Tony Mirchandani, CEO of RTM Engineering Consultants. Beyond technical expertise, Alban’s commitment to excellence shines through their client-centric approach. Their success is rooted in a collaborative team that listens intently, thinks creatively, and solves problems with finesse. Their principles align seamlessly with RTM's CORE values, creating a powerful alliance grounded in an unwavering dedication to clients and delivering innovative and sustainable design solutions. “We are thrilled to be joining forces with RTM,” said Jeff Alban, President of Alban Engineering. “This merger presents an exciting opportunity to combine our strengths, leverage shared expertise, and collectively deliver even greater value to our clients.” Parvaneh Famili, Senior Mechanical Engineer for Alban Engineering, highlighted the growth opportunities presented stating, “One of the most exciting aspects of this merger is the wealth of opportunities it presents for our talented team – I am confident they will not only experience a seamless transition but will also discover an abundance of avenues for professional development and personal growth.” This merger is marked by significant synergies across both firms – sharing a common vision and mission in providing innovation and sustainable design solutions, prioritizing the development of lasting client connections, and building a culture centered around its employees. Integrating resources and expertise will enhance the capabilities of the newly combined team, comprised of 400 engineering professionals  nationwide, and provide opportunities to build even stronger relationships within our local communities and beyond." }, { "title": "Goodhart’s Law and utilization", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-28", "url": "/blogs/news/goodhart-s-law-and-utilization", "summary": "Making utilization a target in your firm could result in some undesirable behaviors. In 1975, British economist Charles Goodhart wrote: “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Duh… Luckily for the rest of you, his statement has been recast more accessibly as, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” It is known colloquially as Goodhart’s Law. I ran across the reference on X (formerly Twitter). Examples of the law in action abound. For example: Airlines, setting targets for on time departures (where on time equals good), pushing back from the gate to meet their numbers but idling their passengers for long periods of time on the tarmac. (Full disclosure – I’m not sure if this really happens. I fly too much to make the airlines angry at me.) Call centers using call duration as a proxy to measure how quickly their reps solve problems. Setting call duration targets indirectly encourages those reps to transfer calls or terminate them early. Short calls became more important than solving problems. Of all the key performance indicators that design firms track and use, utilization (or chargeability) is the one most prone to proving Goodhart right – again. Efficient utilization of people’s time is fundamental to our businesses – there is no way around that – and it’s a core determinant of a firm’s profitability. Utilization, whether measured in hours or dollars or both, measures the appropriateness of a firm’s structure and the successful execution of its work processes. When a firm meets its utilization goals that should mean it is calibrated correctly – it has the right number of the right people doing the right things – and that work is flowing through the system to those right people. When individuals are meeting their utilization goals, generally expressed in hours, it should mean that work is flowing to them correctly and they are executing tasks with the expected level of efficiency. When utilization – the measurement of structure and process – becomes the target, it can produce behavior that stands in the way of leaders understanding what is going on in their firms. Timesheet hijinks. Light week? I’ll just pile some hours into this project that I know has some fee to work with. Slow rolling work. Light week? I’ll just make something that should take two hours take four hours. Holding on to work. Light week? One of my coworkers is the right person for this, but my hours are down so I’ll do it myself. I don’t think the answer is to stop measuring utilization on a firm or individual basis. The metric is too important not too. But I do think the answer is two-fold: On an individual level, be clear about what should be happening, and then provide direction on what to do if that is not what is happening. For example: “When everything is working well here, you should be spending 32 hours of a 40-hour week on client project work. If it looks like you’re going to honestly come up short, tell me and we’ll try to direct something your way. If we can’t, we’ll figure out together how to best fill your extra time.” On an organization level, take responsibility as a manager and leader for the measurement and do the work to address structural and/or procedural and process problems in your firm. This year, resolve to measure a lot of things – including utilization – but be judicious about what you choose as targets for your people to hit. For help with this, or with any other business matter that might be vexing you, please give me a call. Our agents are standing by to assist you.  Tom Godin is director of strategic planning at Zweig Group. Contact him at tgodin@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": "A people-first culture", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-28", "url": "/blogs/news/a-people-first-culture", "summary": "Four steps for building a strategic plan that supports a people-centric, talent-attracting culture. A people-first culture within an organization isn’t something that just happens on its own. At Garver, we have found that it needs to be intentionally integrated into a company’s strategic plan. Firms that cultivate a culture that aligns with their business objectives and employee values have an advantage in today’s market. So, how can you build your strategic plan to foster a strong, people-centric culture of connection and engagement? There are four key steps: Listen to your people. Historically, our firm utilized a strategic plan, but it tended to be a document geared more toward the C-suite. When we were approaching our second century in business, we flipped the mentality that a strategic plan only applied to those at the executive level. Instead, we started asking our employees what they were looking for in a company-wide growth plan and surveyed them to ask how they would like to contribute to that growth.Supplied with employee input from the survey, we gathered a group of leaders from different levels of the company to inform the development of the plan. We also dedicated a senior leader as project manager, with the responsibility of guiding the pre-planning, coordinating with the planning committee, and shepherding the process. Though he was heavily involved as a committee member, our CEO recommended that the project manager for the strategic planning process be someone else, so that everyone would feel that their input was equally valued.After listening to our employees and applying the survey results to create the framework of a plan, we shared a draft and allowed employees to respond. Varied input throughout the development process created buy-in from both leadership and employees.Now smack dab in the middle of our five-year strategic plan, we continue to strengthen our culture by listening to our employees. One way we do that is through our annual Town Hall Tour. This year, our CEO and COO visited 28 offices across our footprint, meeting with hundreds of our people, hearing their questions and concerns, and getting their feedback. Because we like to celebrate the small stuff and have a lot of fun at Garver, we branded the “Town Hall Tour” with a rock ‘n’ roll theme, which promoted friendly competition among offices, drove engagement, and made for some memorable experiences. How many people who work at companies with more than 1,000 employees can say they get that kind of face time with their CEO and COO? Create a plan that everyone can contribute to and be sure the plan is not solely about financial growth. Our business lines have their own strategic plans with financial components, but Garver’s company-wide strategic plan prioritizes non-financial objectives like internal development and external differentiation. That’s not to say financial and non-financial objectives aren’t interrelated. Since business units drive market strategy, alignment between business strategy and company-wide strategy is required.Keep the plan’s goals simple. Make driving employee engagement a priority. Employees, both technical and non-technical, need to feel that they are moving the needle. In the original survey, our employees told us that they wanted to expand their skills and therefore increase their contribution to Garver’s growth. The goals of the strategic plan enabled employees to do that in three clear ways: through quarterly career development check-ins, 40 hours of professional development annually, and involvement in professional organizations. Communicate the plan frequently and in a creative way. Brand your plan so when your employees see it, they know and feel connected to it. We integrate ours across the board, in multiple formats – in our weekly newsletter and daily announcements and during the onboarding process.Have transparent communication around progress of the plan. We do that through a live dashboard. At any time, employees can log in, see the metrics, add their activities, track their professional development, and earn “Connectedness” points in different categories. Leaderboards show them how their team stacks up against others in the firm, which encourages healthy competition and further increases engagement. Let progress be seen!Talk about the plan regularly at recruiting and company events, so that it’s a part of the company’s shared vocabulary. We talk about our plan during the recruitment process, the Town Hall Tour, and at our annual company-wide event, Summit.Use the plan to keep employees and offices connected across geographical boundaries and business lines – and include remote employees. We now have a designated Remote Office Support Administrator who assists remote employees with day-to-day tasks and helps them stay connected.Our COO Michael Graves says, “You cannot talk about the plan enough.” And it’s true. Keep it in the conversation. And know that you’ve got to be ready to dedicate internal resources to keep the core message in front of your employees over the duration of the plan. Celebrate your firm’s successes and your employees’ contributions, highlighting the way they connect to the overall strategic plan. We like to celebrate milestones at Garver, and we do that in ways big and small. For example, through incentive and competition. We also create opportunities for engagement across the firm with different activities and events – some social, others more work focused. This builds connection.Give your people the freedom to participate in the plan in a way that reflects their office culture. We do that in several ways. For example, after Zweig Group releases its rankings of Best Firm To Work For winners, each of our offices marks the occasion by holding their own unique Best Firm Friday celebrations on the same day.Summit is our biggest celebration, an annual event where we bring all our employees to a different city each year for two days of company meetings, awards presentations, and Garver-style fun – all centered around the goals of our strategic plan. The most important thing Garver can do going forward is maintain our culture. It’s an integral part of our strategic plan, it’s what sets us apart, and it’s critical to attracting and retaining talent. It’s also an investment, and the payoff is having happy employees and happy clients – and that fuels growth.  Laura Nick is chief communications officer for Garver. Connect with her on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Stop demotivating your people", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-28", "url": "/blogs/news/stop-demotivating-your-people", "summary": "You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what you are doing to demotivate people; you just have to stop doing whatever it is now! I was never a big believer in the idea that you can take someone who is not motivated and turn them into a highly-driven person. I just don’t see it happening. So my strategy has always been to try to find and hire people who are already motivated. So let’s say you can succeed at that. You are able to find those people who don’t need a whip cracked on them to do their jobs and even more. Great! But then the next challenge – and believe me, it’s a big one – is how you can keep from turning those people off? How can you avoid demotivating them, so they don’t (to use a current business-speak cliche), “quietly quit” on the job? That’s the $64,000 question. Here are my thoughts. None of them are profound but I have to keep saying them because these problems are rampant: Establish a personal relationship of trust and mutual respect with each of your people. That means you really have to get to know your people, and not just on a superficial level. Don’t think that having company events like softball games or bowling nights absolves you from doing this, either. Many people don’t appreciate any company event they are expected to attend on their own time. Your people, believe it or not, may actually resent them and be demotivated as a result. Get your people involved in the business planning efforts for the firm. Again, I’m not suggesting holding hokey team-building events, or implementing a suggestion box program. I mean real participation and a chance to contribute substantively on how the firm will accomplish something. That takes management that is willing to listen and either act or explain why they cannot act. Ignoring the input is not an option unless you want to demotivate your people. Don’t preach austerity for them but not austerity for you. This always backfires. “We have to save money on coffee in the lunchroom, people. But hey, I’ll be skiing in Aspen next week!” That may seem like an extreme example, but this kind of stuff happens every day and it’s absolutely devastating to morale and motivation. Don’t expect them to work harder or put in more hours than top management. I feel like a broken record on this one because I keep saying it over and over. And with all the telecommuting people do these days it is harder than ever, but management needs to understand face time is as important for them as it is for everyone else in the company. Ignoring this reality is foolhardy. Bring them into the decisions on adding anyone to the team. That means that they need to meet the people you are considering hiring and get to express their opinion on whether or not any specific job candidate should be hired. If their opinion is not going to be considered, then they (the existing employee(s)) need to be told why. Don’t just avoid this important step unless you want to demotivate your people. Don’t implement trendy, buzzword-laden “panacea” management programs. I want to name specific ones here but we all know what they are and I don’t want to alienate any of our readers. The more buzzwords and program-unique terms in the program, whatever it is, the more likely it is your rank and file will make fun of it and be demotivated by it. Just watch movies and TV shows like Office Space or The Office, or read comic strips like Dilbert where management does stuff like this, if you don’t believe me. The reason these things strike a chord with so many is because they show how people actually feel about them. They are demotivated! Don’t ask them to do things you wouldn’t do yourself, or things that you wouldn’t be proud for anyone to find out that you are doing. This is always demotivating. It’s why I was the one who dragged in the trash bins every week at the office after they got picked up. I didn’t want to ask anyone else to do it. Don’t ask them to do things that are, by any standard, just a waste of time. A big one here is a requirement to participate in too many meetings. Long meetings that you don’t want or need to be at will suck the life force out of you and your people. So be careful how many meetings you want your people to attend. To conclude, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what you are doing that demotivates your people. So just stop acting like there is nothing you can do about it and stop doing whatever that is – now!  Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Burn away business clutter", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-28", "url": "/blogs/news/burn-away-business-clutter", "summary": "If you can clear out the unnecessary underbrush, you will benefit from a staff that can finally breathe, see new paths, and move your firm forward. There is a forestry term called controlled or prescribed burning. A controlled burn is a fire set on purpose to reduce underbrush buildup, control competing vegetation, and improve accessibility. It can also have the benefit of returning nutrients to the soil from the ashes of the burnt brush. In addition, fire can be rejuvenating in that the additional sunlight and open space in a forest can help young trees and other plants start to grow. So, does your business need a controlled burn? Over time, most businesses tend to accumulate processes, weekly reports, regular scheduled meetings, and more. And what I have often found is that people cannot remember what some of these are supposed to be accomplishing. Just look for the smirks and the eye-rolling next time that weekly meeting rolls around. We all still laugh at the famously quoted scene in the 1999 movie Office Space when Lumbergh scolds Peter for not using the new cover sheet on his TPS reports. As funny as these brief moments may be, they all take time away from what we need to be doing. Just as scrub underbrush and weeds steal nutrients from healthy timber, these unnecessary items are taking energy away from your staff for productive activities and accomplishing what your business aims to achieve. However, I am not advocating cutting all existing activities; this would lead to chaos and anarchy as managers all pursued their own objectives. What I am proposing is clearing out the things that are hindering your business from moving forward. Here are three things you can do to restore some health to your business: Step back and remind yourself of the purpose of your business, the objective of your project, or the task at hand. Working backwards, you can begin eliminating each process, report, or meeting that does not help achieve that purpose. Maybe that TPS cover sheet really is necessary, but only if it provides a concise and needed summary for leadership who don’t have time to read the full report. Once you have made this initial purge of the unnecessary, take a harder look at the remaining items and see if there is a more efficient way to accomplish your goal or provide the information. Can a brief memo provide an update and replace the regularly scheduled meeting where managers recite the same financial information? Does software you are already using provide a report similar to that circulated spreadsheet that clutters everyone’s inbox? Finally, you need to have the same conversation with your clients. Looking back, some of my greatest efficiency frustrations come from outside the office. For starters, this often includes too many review submittals. We all know each submittal takes time to assemble, check, and document changes in addition to the future follow-up and client meeting that will be necessary. But before you complain to your client, be ready to understand their needs and be prepared to explain how streamlining the process is beneficial to their schedule and plan. Much like how the open space in a forest can help young trees, as you clear out the unnecessary in your office you will find that the additional freedom starts to grow new ideas. This is especially true of the younger staff who up until now have felt hindered by “this is the way we have always done it” responses. Give them room and fresh air to bring their ideas forward and grow. In hindsight, isn’t this how most of the processes were created years ago? They will find this refreshing. This is also true for your mid-level managers. In our office, I promoted a term called “structured flexibility.” I would set requirements (every project needed a budget, schedule, and work plan) without forcing a particular format. This provided flexibility for managers to find the best way forward without hindering them with restrictions. As with most improvements, the best time to start was yesterday. But it is never too late to begin working on the health of your business. If you can clear out any of the unnecessary underbrush, you will benefit from a staff that finally can breathe, see new paths, and start moving the company forward again. Greg Sepeda, retired, was formerly chief engineer and vice president of operations at Sigma Consulting Group, Inc. (a Waggoner Company). Contact him at gpsepeda@gmail.com." }, { "title": "Mitigate risks by reporting", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-28", "url": "/blogs/news/mitigate-risks-by-reporting", "summary": "There has never been a downside to reporting circumstances to your professional liability insurance carrier, but there can be a huge downside for failing to report them. For many years, most professional liability insurance carriers have allowed architects and engineers to report circumstances; in fact, they typically offer pre-claim assistance on matters where they feel it will reduce the chances of a claim being made. Indeed, there has never been a downside to reporting circumstances, but there can be a huge downside for failing to report them. As a practical matter, unless a claim is made and either reserves are posted or payments are made, reporting a circumstance will not affect the AEC firm’s loss ratio. Furthermore, an experienced claim consultant supplied or recommended by the insurer can often provide valuable insight on how the design firm might proceed to resolve the situation or minimize the potential for a claim. Reporting circumstances now more critical for AEC firms. In recent years, developments in the AEC professional liability marketplace have made it more important than ever for design firms to report circumstances on a timely basis. Notably, there are many more carriers offering AEC professional liability coverage. Consequently, more design firms are changing their carrier than in the past. Certainly, some of these changes have been initiated by design firms as they shop to find the best coverage available at the best pricing. In other situations, changes result from carriers reducing their overall book of business due to poor loss experience or one-off decisions to non-renew an existing client. Any time a design firm changes carriers it is extremely important to review their projects and report any with red flags to their current carrier before the policy expires. In this context, red flags may include accidents on the jobsite that resulted in serious injury or death, projects that are behind schedule or have an excessive number of change orders or RFIs, or an actual design issue that has arisen – even if you believe it’s been resolved. Court decision underscores exposure for AEC firms. This issue came to the forefront recently because of a decision in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida Tampa Division made September 22, 2023, in the case of RLI Insurance Company v. Outsidein Architecture, LLC. In that case the Court determined that RLI was entitled to a declaratory judgment that it has no duty to defend or indemnify the architect in the underlying lawsuit. The background is that there was a fatal accident on a construction site in Puerto Rico on a project known as Rose Village on June 19, 2019. The employee was killed when the floor beneath his bobcat failed during demolition. The architect’s insurer at the time of the incident was AIG, which subsequently opted to non-renew the policy. The architect then obtained coverage with RLI in March 2020. The firm was sued by the estate of the worker on July 15, 2020. However, more than a year earlier, on June 21, 2019, the architect received a litigation hold letter in relation to the fatal accident. The letter from the attorney indicated that “I have been engaged as legal counsel by the Garcia family to seek redress in light of the negligence of one or more parties, Bird Group, LLC included, that may be liable for Mr. Garcia’s death on June 10, 2019. To that end we are advising you as a potential custodian of records pertaining to this potential matter.” (Subsequently, there was some dispute as to whether the letter had actually been received.) Regardless, the fatal accident was not reported to AIG before the design firm received the non-renewal letter and had to change carriers. Ultimately, the accident was reported to AIG when the lawsuit was received. The architectural firm also cited the prior litigation hold letter it had received on the same project. However, AIG denied coverage indicating that there was no relationship between the two events. The architect then reported the suit to RLI, which originally agreed to defend it under a Reservation of Rights, but subsequently filed the declaratory judgment action on October 13, 2020. RLI hired an expert witness in this case who was a practicing defense lawyer with 27 years of experience. He opined that OIA knew or could have reasonably expected that Garcia’s death could have given rise to a claim prior to the inception date of the policy or the application. The architect argued that the expert was “unqualified because he is an attorney, not an architect, and therefore cannot opine on what a reasonable architect in OIA’s shoes should have known.” The Court disagreed with this premise. Additionally, RLI took the position that this matter was a related claim to the matter previously reported to AIG. However, the Court concluded the matter does not share a sufficient factual nexus with the underlying lawsuit to be considered a “related claim.” In its decision, the Court granted RLI’s summary judgment because it agreed with RLI that the architect had made material misrepresentations on the policy application that voided the policy under the rescission doctrine. Accordingly, the ruling was that RLI has no duty to defend or indemnify OIA in the underlying lawsuit and was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. There were four questions in the architect’s insurance application completed for the RLI policy that were cited in the decision. Specifically, they were: Please provide the total number of claims and the total aggregate amount incurred for all claims over the last five (5) years…Answer: None After inquiry, is the Applicant aware of any act, error, omission or circumstance which may possibly result in a claim being made against them but which has not yet been reported to a professional liability carrier?Answer: No Has the Applicant ever reported a potential claim, circumstance to a professional liability carrier?Answer: No After inquiry, is the applicant aware of any act, error or omission or circumstance which may result in a claim being made against them but which has not yet been reported to a professional liability carrier? (If yes, please attach a full statement.)Answer: No For design firms, there is rarely – if ever – a downside to reporting a circumstance to your professional liability insurance carrier. However, as this case indicates, there can be huge downside to not reporting them. This architectural firm is currently in a position where it has been sued, and there is no applicable coverage. Although this decision may be appealed, the position the firm finds itself in is serious – and every attempt to avoid getting caught in a situation like this should be made by all design firms. In their risk management practices, AEC firms should make sure all circumstances are communicated to leadership as quickly as possible for review and timely reporting to the firm’s insurance broker and professional liability insurer.  Lauren Martin is a risk manager and claims specialist at Ames & Gough. She can be reached at lmartin@amesgough.com." }, { "title": "Zweig Group Announces 2024 ElevateHER® Cohort & Symposium", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-24", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-announces-2024-elevateher-cohort-symposium", "summary": "Zweig Group, the leading provider of advisory services, research, and education for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, is proud to announce its 2024 ElevateHER® cohort – a special group focused on developing and disseminating pragmatic solutions to the AEC industry’s recruitment and retention crisis. See the complete list of cohort members here. ElevateHER® was founded in 2019 with a resolute focus in forging pathways to success for underrepresented groups by serving as the connector and a central hub for relevant resources and information. Since its inception, ElevateHER® has brought together more than 120 alumni, 50 esteemed speakers and advisors, and 60 partnering AEC firms. The 2024 cohort will meet in-person for the first time at the ElevateHER® Symposium on March 6 – held at Rayleigh Underground in Irving, Texas – to kick off their mission-driven journey, and carry on the ElevateHER® legacy. New cohort members have the opportunity to continue building on any established ElevateHER® project, or work with other cohort members to come up with a new idea. Solutions from past cohorts are hosted/curated as open resources, and are available on the ElevateHER® website. “Authentic and industry-shaping diversity initiatives like those envisioned by the ElevateHer® cohort foster inclusive workplaces that attract, retain, and develop an increasingly diverse workforce,” said Jeremy Clarke, Director of Executive Search & Recruiting at Zweig Group. “By supporting and embracing these initiatives, AEC firms build stronger teams, drive innovation, and meaningfully position themselves as employers-of-choice in an intensely competitive market.” The 2024 ElevateHER® Symposium will feature bold and powerful panel discussions, focused keynote presentations from industry leading change agents, as well as select presentations from past cohorts about their projects and research findings. It is bound to inspire, empower, and connect not only the newly selected cohort members, but all attendees alike.  "ElevateHER® is built on the premise that our legacies are inextricably linked, and we are all called to act,” said Shirley Che, Director of Field Marketing & Learning at Zweig Group. “The relationships and camaraderie that develop between cohort members, advisors, and speakers are the bonus that we don't advertise enough. The members of this network remain closely-knitted and often become each other's trusted personal resource, and that's incredibly invaluable." The 2024 ElevateHER® Symposium is intended for anyone interested in solving the AEC industry’s top challenge – recruitment and retention – through the lenses of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Past attendees have included firm leaders, diversity officers, ERG leaders, HR professionals, ElevateHER® alumni, and many other titles within the AEC industry. It will be a forum for AEC professionals to learn, connect, and collaborate. Zweig Group is grateful for the generous support of our 2024 ElevateHER® sponsors: JQ, now IMEGBernhard Capital Partners, Galloway, Tamarack Grove Engineering, Urban Engineersilluceo, O'Connell Robertson, PK Electrical, SMPS For more information about attending the 2024 ElevateHER® Symposium, please visit our website.  " }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 01/15/2024 – 01/21/2024", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-01-23", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-01-15-2024-01-21-2024", "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:   1/12/2024 Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT) (Hunt Valley, MD) (ENR #59), an industry leader and employee-owned firm acquired structural engineering firm Structural Engineering Associates (SEA) (San Antonio, TX), serving private clients and governmental agencies including TxDOT, the City of San Antonio, and Bexar County. Link to Details.   1/12/2024 GEI Consultants (Woburn, MA) (ENR #91), multi-disciplined engineering and environmental firm expanded its water resources practice through the merger with Resource Management Associates (Davis, CA), a firm that specializes in numerical modeling and engineering software solutions. Link to Details.   1/15/2024 Galloway & Company (Greenwood Village, CO) (ENR #341) an architecture and engineering firm acquired design firm Studio for Housing Design (Atlanta, GA), specializing in multifamily, fitness and medical facilities, retail, office, institutional, and Department of Defense projects. Link to Details.   1/16/2024 Verdantas (Dublin, OH) (ENR #149), a private equity-backed specialist in environmental consulting, sustainable engineering, modeling, and digital technology, acquired Flatwoods Consulting Group (Tampa, FL). Broadening Verdantas’ portfolio of services, particularly in natural resources, environmental permitting, and compliance across the Southeast region. Link to Details.   1/16/2024 Pennoni (Philadelphia, PA) (ENR #102) a multi-disciplined engineering firm purchased the assets of Mills & Associates (Tampa, FL), a civil engineering, surveying, and project management services firm. Link to Details.   1/16/2024 ECS (Honolulu, HI) an electrical engineering firm executed a Letter of Intent to join multi-disciplined engineering firm Coffman Engineers (Seattle, WA) (ENR #161). Both firms have experience serving the federal, education, transportation, civic, and local government markets. Link to Details.   1/16/2024 100% employee-owned firm, Border States (Fargo, ND), that supplies products and serves construction, industrial, and utility customers, will acquire MEP firm Winston Engineering (West Hollywood, CA), serving the residential, commercial, educational, and governmental markets. Link to Details.   1/17/2024 Fuss & O’Neill (Manchester, CT) (ENR #342) a civil and environmental engineering firm entered a strategic partnership with Trilon Group (Denver, CO), a family of infrastructure consulting businesses. Link to Details.   1/17/2024 Private equity firm Wind Point Partners (Chicago, IL) entered a partnership with MOREgroup (Fort Worth, TX) (ENR #106), a family of leading architecture and engineering brands focused on education, healthcare, and government end markets. Link to Details.   1/18/2024 Clapsaddle-Garber Associates (Marshalltown, IA) a civil engineering and land surveying firm acquired civil engineering and land surveying firm Engineering Resource Group (Des Moines, IA). Link to Details.   International Transactions:   1/10/2024 Celnor Group (Reading, UK), a group of companies that offer services in the testing, inspection, certification, and compliance (TICC) arena, acquired a majority stake in workplace health, safety, and environmental compliance services firm, Assurity Consulting (Horsham, UK). Link to Details.   1/17/2024 Engineering firm BPA (Montreal, Canada), focused on institutional, commercial, multi-residential, and industrial buildings, joined forces with building engineering firm M&R Engineering (Halifax, Canada). Link to Details." }, { "title": "Are you a good steward?", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-21", "url": "/blogs/news/are-you-a-good-steward-1", "summary": "Firm owners must have a clear vision, build a solid culture, and celebrate achievements big and small to be good stewards. Earlier this year, I delved into the concept of what smart AEC owners do to be good stewards of their firms. To recap on the definition of stewardship, Merriam-Webster defines it as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” In other words, stewards lead responsibly by making wise decisions that will propel their firm to new heights. In a world of constant change, it is crucial that principals never forget this. As I observed more firms throughout this year, I have given more thought and believe it would be beneficial to add more points to my original list. By expanding our understanding of what it means for principals to be good stewards of AEC firms, we can contribute to the growth and prosperity of our industry. A good steward: Presents a vision not only for their people, but also for the company. A good steward understands that their people are the lifeblood of the firm. They are not just employees but individuals with aspirations, talents, and the potential for growth. A steward has a clear vision for their people and is committed to nurturing their professional development. They provide opportunities for skill enhancement, mentorship, and career advancement. Imagine having your employees get better in business development, leadership, and project management each and every year because you have set a vision for them. Having a personal, precise vision laid out for your people creates a path that helps people succeed and shows your willingness for them to grow. But in order to sustain that, your vision must be conveyed in a clear, defined manner that empowers people to better understand the where, when, what, why, and how. Being intentional in placing the firm’s location in the future gives your people the confidence that leadership has a North Star to navigate the firm in good and tough times. Builds the culture of their firm. Creating a solid culture takes effort and consistent dedication. Principals have the power to build their culture up – or tear it down by setting objectives that don’t provide value to their employees or clients. Culture is the fabric of your firm’s DNA. It shows what is valued and what is not. It demonstrates to your people what is allowed and what isn’t, it allows people to feel a sense of belonging, or it makes them want to look for another opportunity elsewhere. Setting the tone of your culture is intentional work. It requires as much energy and dedication as climbing Mount Everest. But once you reach the top, you’re not done. There will always be another mountain to climb. Taking the time to weave the fabric of what it means to your firm will provide many dividends in return. Pretty soon, you will see others who emulate you and project the same principles and energy that you set forth. Understands the importance of celebrating achievements and milestones, both big and small. We are busy people. We have a tremendous amount of work going on right now and for the foreseeable future. Having a moment to pause and reflect will allow you and your people to recognize and appreciate the hard work and dedication of the team. This will foster a positive and motivating work environment that encourages continued success. This culture of recognition and appreciation further enhances the sense of purpose within the company. A good steward uses these celebrations as opportunities to set new aspirations for the future. They inspire their team to reach even greater heights and continue their pursuit of excellence. By fostering a culture of celebration and recognition, they create an environment where everyone feels valued, motivated, and eager to contribute their best. There are many more things that go into being a good steward, but these three points provide a good baseline and pulse check to see how you and your firm are doing. Let this list be a motivator, not a deterrent. There is a heavy burden on owners these days and by giving that extra push to the finish line, the rewards and sense of accomplishment will be well worth it.  Ezequiel Tovar is an analyst within Zweig Group’s ownership transition team. Contact him at etovar@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy 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 leadership, financial management, recruiting, marketing, business development, and project management. Join us Februay 8-9 in Savannah, Georgia. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "AI is already here", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-21", "url": "/blogs/news/ai-is-already-here", "summary": "   We must adapt or we could miss out on an opportunity to transform the future of the AEC industry. Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Engineering Management Institute’s blog, linked here. I recently had the opportunity to attend Zweig Group’s Minds & Machines Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee. The event was a very interesting and in-depth look into the world of artificial intelligence and the inevitable impact its implementation will have on our industry. It might come as a bit of a shock, but at this very moment there are already more than 60,000 AI companies across the globe, with more than 18,000 founded in the United States. That’s a huge amount! That means AI is already here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you will very soon. We in the AEC space may feel disconnected from AI, but it will certainly infiltrate our industry. In fact, it already has, although not in mass consumption, yet. The Engineering Management Institute publishes a podcast focused on this topic, the AEC Engineering Technology Podcast. Let’s do a brief overview of what Zweig Group’s Minds & Machines event covered: AI 101. This session summarized the AI technologies that would be discussed at the symposium, a brief look at the current applications in the AEC space, and ideas of where we could see AI being used in the foreseeable future. AI across AEC sectors. This session took a deeper dive into the particular sectors of AEC and how AI is currently molding its way into different use cases. For instance, Nvidia is currently working on a 3D modeling application to rival the likes of industry titans like Autodesk and Bentley. Interestingly enough, this software will reach over into the asset management/public infrastructure industry too, once geolocation services are added into the mix which will challenge companies like ESRI and Trimble. Additionally, Autodesk is coming out with a platform called Forma which will be a cloud-based software for early-stage planning and design. AI’s role in design and construction processes. Another session discussed how AI will play a prominent role in our design and construction processes. There were three parts to this session: Part one explored how AI will enhance the design process by implementing local design standards. Part two covered AI in robotics. This was construction-focused, and detailed autonomous vehicles, drones, and how AI can be used for things like site inspections, material delivery, and construction assembly. Part three explored how AI will change energy optimization in MEP, structural, and civil design. According to Goldman Sachs, 37 percent of tasks can now be automated by AI in architecture. In my opinion, the industry that will be impacted the most going forward is architecture, since most of the work done is in design. AI for project management. There are also some developments happening with AI in project management. Consulting firms in particular could benefit from this when common PM processes are integrated as standards. Let’s take into account the following scenario: What if you bid on a particular project and use AI to pick out a type of consulting service based on a bank of information from experiences your firm has built up over time? Maybe you have a massive stormwater conveyance and management project. Your job is to design a new conceptual landscape in a shopping center, to convey water in a way that will impact businesses the least. What if you could enter this into your AI software, and the AI spits out a range of documents? For example, the output might include a few alternative plans, a scope sheet, a cost estimate, a proposal, etc. all with the push of a button. I think that would be pretty amazing and scary at the same time. AI’s impact on business development. Now let’s get into business development. In one session, Rachelle Ray of RMR Consulting joined us to discuss some interesting things that Joist.AI and Adobe Firefly are doing to increase the effectiveness of our marketing tools and strategies. For example, the creator of Joist.AI is a Texas A&M grad and developed the company to help AEC professionals create proposals in the AEC space. It also gives the user insights to make better business decisions. One question we have to ask ourselves going forward is, “How will AI impact us?” This is crucial for us to know moving forward. For me, it’s hard to tell. While AI could be very helpful, it could also be harmful. I can see the benefit of innovation, in how the implementation of AI can drastically increase the efficiency of our work. Proposals, design, and construction efforts are already being impacted by AI and there is only a matter of time before new advancements are made for our industry. My biggest concern is about the possible replacement of employees or the reclassification of services and prices thereof. In my opinion, this revolution will go one of two ways: Either more work will become automated, which would lessen the need for employees, or AEC firms will join in the revolution, and retain their talent, but in an effort to stay competitive will reduce the prices of their services over time given project tasks can be done faster and more efficiently. Overall, there was so much to learn at Zweig Group’s Minds & Machine Symposium, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there. Going forward, I’m interested to see how AI will impact the construction industry, particularly with the use of autonomous vehicles given human and earthly error on construction sites. I also wonder how effective AI can be in controlling and adapting to different environmental conditions and business decisions. However, considering what we explored during this event, it is difficult to determine just what AI cannot do when given time to develop. But one thing is certain: We as AEC professionals have to adapt to the change. Otherwise, we could miss out on a great opportunity to evolve the future of the AEC industry. If you find this topic interesting, I recommend you consider attending one of the next Mind & Machines Symposiums. Click here to learn more. Matthew Douglas is operations leader of The Engineering Management Institute. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Owning your own office facilities", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-21", "url": "/blogs/news/owning-your-own-office-facilities", "summary": "Leverage construction loans for AEC business real estate ownership, enhancing assets and financial health. It’s interesting to me how many architects and engineers who own their own businesses and serve developer clients don’t understand how they themselves could benefit from commercial real estate ownership – either through their business, or with a separate entity outside the business that leases space to the business. Most think they can’t afford it. They are already undercapitalized. How could they buy a building when that typically would take a 20-25 percent down payment, plus require them to do all of their own buildout, when they can probably get their landlord to finance a lot of that to them through a long-term lease with higher rent. The answer is to do what your landlord does! Whether you want to do an all new greenfields build, or buy an existing building and renovate it to meet your needs, the process and vehicle you can use to finance it is pretty much the same. Use a construction loan! Here’s how that works. Let’s say you want to build a new 40,000-square-foot office building for your firm. You will plan on using 25,000 square feet for yourselves and lease out the other 15,000 square feet so you have some space for future growth. So you find an available site, design your building, and then go to the bank to get a construction loan to build it. Depending on your company’s or your own financial wherewithal, you can probably borrow about 80 percent of the completed value of the building in a construction loan. A construction loan is a one-way line of credit. It goes up but doesn’t get paid off until you are finished with the project and convert to an amortizing loan. So in my example, let’s say that your construction cost estimate for this building, designed and built out to your spec, is $9 million. You can get it down that low because you are not only designing it, but you also plan on being the GC on the project. You also have to buy the site for $1.7 million. So you need $10.7 million to do the project. You have to get a loan, and you want it to be as large as possible so you put the least amount of cash into this thing. How will you do that? You have to get the best post-construction appraisal you can get. Commercial real estate appraisers use projected income to set the value. They also use what is called the “cap rate.” So today, let’s say you are in a market where a 6 percent cap rate is the norm for office space. You can find that out by talking with local commercial real estate agents. Cap rate is basically determined by the risk associated with investing in that type of income-generating property in that specific geographic area. The lower the risk assessment, the lower the cap rate. The lower the cap rate, the higher the value. So, for example, an office building in Newport Beach, California, would have a lower cap rate than the same type and size of building in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Newport Beach could be a 3.5 or 4, and Muskogee could be a 10 or 12. That greatly impacts the value. Here’s how it works. You add up all of the rents (or projected rents) the building will bring in over the year, and then deduct property taxes, insurance, utilities on common areas, and maintenance, along with some reserve for less than full occupancy in a multi-tenant facility. A good rule of thumb that my experience tells me most lenders will go for is to use about 85 percent of annual rent payments. Then divide that by the cap rate, and voila! That is the value for the completed project. So let’s take our 40,000-square-foot office example. If, in your area, the going rate for nice office space is $25 per square foot annual rent, that means your total annual rent income (coming from your own business and from your tenant space) will be projected to be $1 million a year. Multiply $1 million by .85 and you get $850K. $850K divided by .06 (the cap rate in this example) gives you a value of $14,166,666. Your estimate to build the project was $10.7 million. But you will be able to borrow 80 percent of $14.67 million, or $11.74 million in your construction loan. That gives you $1 million more than you thought it would cost to do the project for contingencies. So you get your construction loan – typically interest-only for two years or so, buy the site, build the project for $11.74 million or less, and at the end, when it’s all done, you convert your construction loan into permanent financing. The original appraiser will be called in to do the final appraisal, and as long as you built what you said you would build, they will typically set the value at what they projected it would be worth. So instantly, you now have a $14.67 million dollar building with nearly $3 million in equity in it. As long as you can lease out the other space, you did it all with no cash out of pocket other than interest during construction, and some banks will even let you use your construction loan to help pay for that. You can do the exact same thing with the renovation of an existing building. Obviously, the worse condition it is in, the better, because there is more of an increase in value through your improvements and that gives you a better shot at doing it with little to no out of pocket cash. And if your rent payments aren’t enough to cover your loan, just bump up your lease from the AEC firm a little bit. Rates do go up and down and should be coming down by at least 1 percent in the coming year; you may have to bet on that. Twenty years from now, hopefully your building is worth two or three times what you paid for it. You have also paid the loan down entirely or in large part. Now you have a significant asset, owned either by your AEC firm, or by some or all of the partners in the business. Consult your tax advisors for what they think is best. It’s a classic small business wealth-building story! Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Fostering connection in a hybrid world", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-21", "url": "/blogs/news/fostering-connection-in-a-hybrid-world", "summary": "A hybrid work model’s success lies in strategies like volunteer engagement, recognition initiatives, and focused professional development for employees. Creating a great employee experience in a hybrid work environment can be challenging. However, these challenges also create exciting opportunities for innovation related to the employee experience. Just as flexibility is key in an employee’s work schedule and location, providing a variety of ways for employees to engage with one another allows individuals to participate in a way that compliments their lifestyle. Here are a few ways that Mead & Hunt is working to enhance the employee experience to help our team stay engaged and connected, regardless of their physical location: Give employees a good reason to get together. The flexibility of hybrid and remote work allows employees to create a routine that works best for their lifestyle and commitments. However, many employees still enjoy coming into the office to connect with their coworkers if they have advanced warning and can plan ahead. One of the ways we encourage employees to connect is to utilize the Mead & Hunt Cares giving program designed to support the causes most important to our people. Employees are encouraged to volunteer, individually or as a group, with organizations that are important to them. Group volunteer events are a great way to bring hybrid and remote employees into the office for an afternoon to engage with their team members. Some of the events our employees have planned include creek, beach, or trail trash clean ups and volunteering at food banks or community farms.Employee surveys show that meaningful and purpose-driven work is incredibly important to employees, especially for millennials and Gen Z. Empowering employees to team up for causes that support their community and passion provides another avenue, outside of their project work, to find this purpose. This opportunity can be particularly meaningful for employees from underrepresented groups who want to make a difference in the communities they identify with and are often under-resourced. Employee recognition. We all like to be recognized for our work, and a simple “thank you” or “great job” goes a long way. But employee recognition isn’t just great for individual morale. Public recognition allows other employees, especially those who are entry-level or new to the company, to learn about service areas outside of their work and identify subject matter experts. It’s also a great way to highlight contributions of employees from underrepresented groups. This representation is especially important in our industry where visible diversity, especially in leadership positions, has progressed slowly.At Mead & Hunt, we share employee recognition in two main ways, through our: Company intranet. With our coworker recognition program, employees can select a peer to receive a gift card or gift in order to recognize a professional achievement or success. This year we started sharing a few of these employee features on our company intranet each month. Annual awards program. We have an annual awards program where employees can nominate each other to be recognized in eight different categories. The categories with the most nominees each year include Rookie of the Year, Mentorship, Culture, and Client Focus. Winners are announced in a formal awards ceremony in front of the whole company. This has been in place for nearly 15 years. Professional development and networking. This year our learning and development team expanded in-person learning and networking opportunities through in-person gatherings for each business unit. These day-and-a-half events focus on the group’s strategic vision, growth, operations, and future at Mead & Hunt. They’re designed to expand each employee’s knowledge, connections, and career. There is a strong emphasis on team building and strengthening employee connections to increase employee engagement and an overall sense of belonging. Lalitha Benjaram, EIT is diversity and inclusion program manager at Mead & Hunt. Contact her at lalitha.benjaram@meadhunt.com." }, { "title": "Beyond reactive", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-21", "url": "/blogs/news/beyond-reactive", "summary": "Proactive marketing anticipates industry trends, leveraging research, analytics, and simultaneous use of multiple tools for an impactful and budget-optimized campaign. Like most AEC firms, the lifeblood of Pennoni’s success is based on relationships. Our pillars of honesty, integrity, and service drive and maintain the success of those relationships. Providing exceptional service is and always will be at the forefront of project delivery and client service. And just like many other firms, seller-doers invest significant time and effort into building and maintaining relationships. This often involves a variety of sales and marketing efforts including meetings, networking, and entertaining clients. And when successful, there is often a follow-up approach employed – sending SOQs, marketing collateral, or submitting proposals. All of this is very reactive and that’s OK. But what about the proactive approach that we often leave out? For example, say someone wants to market our capabilities to solar developers. I’m asked to provide some qualifications related to our experience. Easy enough. They then immediately start to reach out to existing contacts to drum up business. But what about the relationships that don’t exist, yet? People are busy and these things take time. This is where the marketing team can support and be proactive in your marketing strategy. Proactive marketing uses market research and analytics to identify a marketing strategy before the launch of a campaign. Instead of responding to an industry trend or competitor’s actions, proactive marketing allows you to anticipate future needs and changes in your target audience. A marketing campaign is like a wheel on a bicycle, it has multiple spokes, all coming from the same hub. It is not as simple as creating a standalone video, website, collateral, PR, social media, or email blasts. All these tools need to be used simultaneously while planning and strategizing your campaign. Creating engaging content and staying ahead of the curve allows you to set your campaign up for the highest success rate and get the most out of your budget. Develop a marketing plan. Establish goals. Lean on technology as an extension of your team. At the end of the day, the firms that remain agile with their marketing strategies will stand out from the competition and optimize their marketing budgets. Robert McGee, associate vice president and director of marketing and corporate communications at Pennoni, is a seasoned marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience in marketing and communications." }, { "title": "Zweig Group announces 2024 lineup of events", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-19", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-announces-2024-lineup-of-events", "summary": "New focuses align with evolving AEC needs, including AI, tech, and small business growth. Zweig Group, the leading provider of advisory services, research, and education for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, is excited to announce its 2024 lineup of events. Combining flagship programs with innovative additions, this year's events address timely topics, from AI integration to leadership training and recruiting and retention discussions. Designed to equip professionals with critical insights, these events promise invaluable experiences for attendees. “Our events are curated to meet the evolving needs of professionals in the AEC industry,” said Chad Clinehens, president and CEO of Zweig Group. “Our new offerings highlight this, with events focusing on how AI will impact and advance our industry and a small business forum designed specifically to address the unique challenges of growing a small AEC business.” Here is the full lineup of events for 2024: Minds & Machines: Dominating the Convergence of AI and Strategy in AEC. This two-day symposium dives deep into AI integration and operations. Immersive seminars and workshops equip AEC leaders and managers with understanding, insight, and intelligence to identify and act upon AI opportunities within their organizations. 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. Click here for the full list of dates and locations. 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 leadership, financial management, recruiting, marketing, business development, and project management. Click here for the full list of dates and locations. ElevateHER® Symposium. This dynamic event is designed to inspire, challenge, empower, and equip attendees, and will include bold and powerful panel discussions, keynote presentations from the industry’s leading change agents, and select presentations from past ElevateHER® cohorts. This event is intended for anyone interested in solving the industry’s top challenge – recruitment and retention – through the lenses of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Join us March 6 in Irving, TX. NEW – AEC Small Business and 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. In today’s increasingly challenging business climate, this is a must-attend for firm leaders looking for strategies and tactics to better prepare their firm for a competitive future. Join us May 21 in Atlanta, GA. NEW – AI and AEC Technology Summit. This event empowers leaders to learn about and workshop AI and technological advances for AEC firms. With AI being the biggest potential modern-day disruptor in the AEC industry, this conference will provide valuable insights into technological developments on the technical and business side of running a firm in this industry. Leaders will leave with strategies and tactics they can implement to give their people a competitive edge in the profession's future. Join us May 22-23 in Atlanta, GA. M&A Next Symposium. Want to dive into the “next” practices in the world of M&A? This highly interactive event is designed to provide M&A education and practical application through interactive roundtable discussions, thought leadership from expert panelists, and focused networking to connect leaders from across the country. You will end the day better informed about the opportunities for M&A as a growth strategy. Join us September 17 in Tampa Bay, FL. ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala. This is the largest in-person gathering of industry leaders and award-winning firms, all interested in advancing Zweig Group’s "elevate the industry" vision. This year's conference promises to be bigger and better than ever, with a jam-packed agenda designed to help you network, learn, and celebrate like never before. Join us September 18-19 in Tampa Bay, FL. These events offer invaluable insights for AEC professionals, ensuring they stay at the forefront of industry advancements. Explore the full list here and get ready for a year of knowledge, inspiration, and industry connections. We’re excited to see you in 2024." }, { "title": "2024 Valuation Survey of AEC Firms Open for Participation", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-01-18", "url": "/blogs/news/2024-valuation-survey-of-aec-firms-open-for-participation", "summary": " Zweig Group, announces its annual survey on firm value, the 2024 Valuation Survey of AEC Firms, is open for participation. This survey collects information on architecture, engineering, planning, environmental, construction, and related industry firms that have undergone a valuation in the preceding three years.  Zweig Group has administered this important survey for over three decades. Data collected is analyzed and presented in Zweig Group’s 2024 Valuation Report & Benchmarking Tool for AEC Firms, which combines Zweig Group's traditional valuation report, as well as a comprehensive Excel-based tool for firm leaders to make real-time decisions that can impact firm value. Contained in both these resources are Zweig Group's exclusive Z-Formulas, which can be used to calculate how much an AEC industry firm is worth based on seven factors: staff size, net revenue, backlog, EBITDA, profit, book value, and interest-bearing debt.  All participants in the 2024 Valuation Survey receive 50% off any Zweig Group publication or benchmarking tool of their choice. Click here to participate. In addition to Zweig Group’s research publications and benchmarking tools, the firm also has a highly credentialed and experienced appraisal team that performs valuations for a range of purposes including corporate planning, ownership transition planning, transactions, litigation support, ESOPs, IRS issues, and valuation consulting. Click here to learn more. " }, { "title": "Decoding success", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-14", "url": "/blogs/news/decoding-success", "summary": "Best Firms invest in an employee-centric culture, organizational efficiency, and leadership development. The landscape of the employee experience in the AEC industry is in a perpetual state of evolution. Recent years, marked by the “great resignation,” have forced firms to adapt swiftly, implementing internal strategies to align with the evolving needs, wants, and goals of their workforce. In my interactions with clients and industry professionals affiliated with firms recognized as the Best Firms To Work For by Zweig Group, a common question arises: “How can we enhance our ranking?” or “What changes can we introduce to significantly impact our employees?” Let’s take a look at the distinctive traits that set the top-performing firms, specifically the 10 firms with the highest employee survey scores, apart within the AEC industry: Employee-centric culture. According to the Best Firms To Work For employee survey, culture emerged as the most crucial aspect of an employee’s work experience, resonating with nearly 40 percent of the more than 18,000 respondents. Among the top firms, the most notable separation in employee sentiment was the appropriateness of workload and the mitigation of burnout risks. Addressing the industry’s prevalent issue of long working hours and potential burnout, these top firms have devised strategies to effectively manage workloads. Despite the challenges posed by record backlogs and high demand for projects, these firms have invested in recruiting infrastructure and internal reorganization to ensure equitable distribution of workloads. By fostering an environment that values work-life balance, they have achieved a notable edge in attracting and retaining talent. Efficient organization and coordination. The second distinct aspect for the top firms revolves around employees’ perception of a well-organized work environment. An organized firm optimizes employee productivity by creating a space where tasks can be efficiently accomplished. This resonates with the prior point about workload and burnout – top firms invest in organizational strategies to alleviate unnecessary burdens on their workforce. They prioritize clarity by ensuring policies, procedures, and expectations are clearly communicated, empowering employees to focus on their designated roles. By streamlining project coordination and proposal processes, these firms demonstrate a commitment to operational efficiency, enhancing overall workplace satisfaction. Future-focused leadership development. Lastly, a culture of forward-thinking leadership sets top firms apart. These firms prioritize the development of future leaders within their organizations. Recognizing that individuals won’t be part of the workforce indefinitely, they invest in grooming the next generation of leaders. This practice not only benefits the firm’s long-term strategies but also nurtures a sense of recognition among high-performing employees. It establishes a roadmap for the future, instilling confidence in the organization’s sustained success. Moreover, it encourages a culture where dedication and hard work can lead to increased responsibilities and financial growth. While these aspects represent just a fraction of what distinguishes top AEC firms from the rest, they hold substantial potential to transform organizational dynamics. Investing in workload management, organizational efficiency, and future leadership development can catalyze a positive shift within any firm. If your firm has yet to invest in these critical areas, now is the time. By doing so, you can significantly enhance the well-being and satisfaction of your most valuable asset – your employees.  Kyle Ahern is an employee experience and data strategist at Zweig Group. Contact him at kahern@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy 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 leadership, financial management, recruiting, marketing, business development, and project management. Join us Februay 8-9 in Savannah, Georgia. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Stand out in an increasingly visual age", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-14", "url": "/blogs/news/stand-out-in-an-increasingly-visual-age", "summary": "Proposals have adapted to a new way of reading, emphasizing concise, compelling headings to convey complex solutions and deliver winning messages. A significant shift has occurred in proposal development, as we have embraced an increasingly visual approach: fewer words, more graphics, fewer pages. Most agree that this is a favorable trend. After all, who among us relishes the idea of sifting through a 50 page technical approach or reviewing more than 20 resumes? From the perspective of a proposal manager, who wants to write those? The visual trend is fueled by an audience accustomed to consuming concise online content. Complex ideas are now condensed into 20-second videos or 140-character excerpts. Our busy lives demand efficiency at every turn, and shorter attention spans are the norm. As AI becomes integrated into our daily work routines, the need to accomplish more with less will only intensify. Yet, saying something in fewer words is rarely easy. In fact, this trend has elevated the role of marketing professionals in winning work. Conveying complex solutions and benefits in a concise and compelling manner requires deep understanding, strong writing, critical thinking, and marketing skills. To adapt to a new way of reading, we must write differently. One way to enhance communication with clients and deliver strong winning messages is through our headings and subheadings. I challenge my teams to tell our story within our proposal headings. Can readers make an informed decision based on headings and subheadings alone? I ask this question literally. Let us assume our readers are raiders, skimming proposals in just a few minutes. It’s our job to make it as easy as possible to choose our firm. Asking the question is one thing but embedding it as an essential activity of proposal development is another. Here are steps for improving your headings and telling compelling stories to today’s raiders: To begin, I recommend creating a separate document with three columns: current headings, suggested headings, and final headings. Current headings may already be well-thought-out or simply placeholders, depending on when you start this activity. Typically, I find it best to carry this out before the second review of the proposal, but you can adjust the timing based on your proposal development process. Pro tip: If you have not executed a thorough compliance check, do it now. Do your sections, headings, and subheadings follow the RFP? Next, review your cover letter and executive summary drafts to hone in on your win themes. To keep them easily accessible and avoid switching between screens or tabs, I prefer rewriting them on a piece of notebook paper. Then, I proceed to revise and rewrite the headings in the second column, incorporating win themes and strategic messaging. The goal is to create concise headings that highlight as many benefits as possible while telling a cohesive story. Adjust your suggested headings to align with the RFP and client language. This requires a comprehensive review of the RFP, as well as insights from the client’s website, blog, social media presence, and any relevant white papers or publications. Depending on the expectations of the technical team, you might consider providing two recommended headings to cater to different preferences. Pro tip: If you have access to AI like ChatGPT, ask it to help you rewrite the headings, incorporating the client’s buzz words. It’s not as smart as you, but it just might give you a solid foundation to build from. Afterward, key decision makers should review and approve or modify your recommendations. I find it beneficial to conduct a brief meeting with two or three people to go through the recommendations one by one. However, with a seasoned team, this can be completed by sharing the document rather than having a meeting. Finally, conduct a thorough review of the headings from the perspective of a marketer and writer. I approach this review as if I were reading a story, ensuring that there is cohesion, flow, and logical progression. It is crucial to perform this review in a separate document, without the supporting information, as the headings should be able to stand on their own and effectively convey the intended message. Leveraging headings can help us win more opportunities in an increasingly visual age where more is less. By challenging ourselves to tell our story within our headings, we can capture the attention of busy readers, create a cohesive and compelling narrative, and win more business.  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": "Getting your people to be entrepreneurial", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-14", "url": "/blogs/news/getting-your-people-to-be-entrepreneurial", "summary": "There are things firm owners can do to awaken the latent entrepreneurial spirit lying dormant in some (if not all) of their people. When it comes to technical and design professionals, one thing we can probably all agree on is that no one goes into these fields because they are interested in business. If that (business) was their passion or interest, they would have pursued a business education. So my presumption is most – if not all – of these people get dragged into business and management roles, often uninterested or unprepared for them. Yet sometimes, for a wide variety of reasons, the entrepreneurial fire inside them gets lit. Maybe some sort of inspiration hits them. Maybe it is because of a talk they heard or book they read or a successful person they met. Or maybe it’s out of necessity – maybe they end up unemployed and start a new firm, or become a partner in an existing firm. And then they become increasingly aware of the opportunity that sits in front of them to build a growing business that is going to become very valuable over time. The next question for these entrepreneurial firm owners is how to get more of their people to think entrepreneurially. While there is no one “best way” or “best practice” that I am aware of to do this, there are definitely things that firm owners can do to help them awaken the latent entrepreneurial spirit lying dormant in some (if not all) of their people. Here are some of those things that aren’t that difficult to do: Get everyone involved in the business planning for their areas, or for the firm as a whole. Make sure that coming up with new services and how to launch them is a requirement for each line unit in your organization. Forcing them to be more innovative could help get them thinking more about the business versus just projects. Start a voluntary book club where you get to pick a book that’s a biography on a successful entrepreneur or a business success story that you provide to anyone who wants it, and meet weekly during lunch, or before or after work, to talk about it. Bring in entrepreneur guest speakers for “lunch and learn” meetings where they can talk about their lives and lessons learned. This might be a good way to ingratiate yourself with a current or potential client as well! Watch inspirational films about entrepreneurs, either real or fictional, and then discuss them. There are many of them you could show! Create an award that goes out monthly to someone in the firm who acted entrepreneurially, and award that publicly. Show that you value entrepreneurial behaviors. Sell small amounts of ownership to your key people, and allow them to finance up to 100 percent of their stock purchase over time through payroll deduction. Make them think more like owners because they are owners. Invite a different employee who is not on your board of directors to attend your board meetings each time they are held, to give people more exposure to strategy and business-related stuff than they would otherwise normally have. Encourage and support those people who show the most entrepreneurial orientations to further their education by enrolling in college entrepreneurship courses. You may be surprised at the offerings at your nearby business college or university. Mentor those who show the most potential. Spend time with them. Take them with you to meetings. Talk to them before and after work hours. Pose various business problems and opportunities to them to test their thinking. Add to this list! Email me at mzweig@zweiggroup.com with your additions and we will try to get them back out to our readers in a future communication! Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Adapting to new challenges", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-14", "url": "/blogs/news/adapting-to-new-challenges", "summary": "Client managers face new challenges post-pandemic, requiring increased client contact, realistic budgeting, and managing expectations for success. If you are a client manager, you know these are challenging times in the AEC industry. It’s hard to build trust and maintain positive relationships with key clients when so much is outside of your control. Our client management plan at Fleis & VandenBrink was working fine until the pandemic changed everything. Like other engineering and consulting firms, it seems like we’re continually getting slapped with new challenges. The sudden rise of inflation, combined with supply chain shortages, negatively impacted the planning and delivery of our projects, but we’ve found ways to adapt. We have found that more client contact and being transparent about items that could impact a project is a best practice for success. We are all having to do a little bit more to educate our clients, but if clients don’t know what’s happening and why, they may lose trust in you. At F&V we promote going the extra mile to satisfy customers which includes: Setting realistic construction budgets. We have a saying at F&V: “Bad news does not get easier with time!” While some clients may get sticker shock at first, setting realistic expectations at the beginning is better than explaining why the low bid is not even in the ballpark.Setting a realistic construction budget can be difficult to keep pace with the current market conditions. Keeping clients informed of the current bidding climate is also vital. You will need to update your opinion of construction costs regularly during the process.We have also found that another set of eyes to review the budget is extremely beneficial. Sometimes, project managers subconsciously think the client will be upset and cancel the project if we present a budget that is too high. However, having an unbiased opinion helps identify if the project is being underestimated. Better communication. One of the biggest lessons we have learned from the pandemic is the benefit of virtual meetings. Collaborating with clients has never been easier or more efficient. The flexibility, quick check-ins, and project update meetings, are invaluable and leave the client with fewer questions when the invoice comes due. However, they are not a long-term substitute for face-to-face, more human, and relatable client contacts.A balance between virtual and in-person meetings is recommended. In-person client touches provide spontaneous interactions where there is no mistaking body language or facial expressions. The personal connection can be priceless and ultimately solidify a long-term client relationship. Managing client expectations. In this post-COVID world, we have unfortunately gained a better perspective of what overpromising and under delivering really is. It comes down to supply and demand.Contractors are still experiencing project delays and disruptions due to a shortage of construction materials and equipment. Clients want quick, straightforward answers when issues arise. Client managers must continue to communicate effectively with clients and set clear expectations on what lies ahead.The AEC markets are still going strong today. But with the additional funding entering the market, contractors have become more selective on the projects they go after. Client expectations have not changed, but oftentimes they are paying above market prices and getting below average construction quality on their projects.It’s critical to understand how the client views quality. It really helps when it comes to your services. It goes with the old saying, “You can have it quick; you can have it good, and you can have it cheap. But you only can pick two.” The AEC post-COVID world is still evolving. It’s different! We’re utilizing new technology for meetings while trying to maintain our personal client touches because it’s important for client managers to still find a way to be responsive to communities. We want our clients to know and see that we’re a team they can trust to get their project done.  Matt Johnson, PE, is the Kalamazoo regional office manager and an associate at Fleis & VandenBrink. Contact him at mjohnson@fveng.com." }, { "title": "Inspiring others: Leisbel Lam", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-14", "url": "/blogs/news/inspiring-others-leisbel-lam", "summary": "Principal at MCE (Minneapolis, MN), one of the largest mechanical and electrical consulting engineering firms in the United States. By Liisa AndreassenCorrespondent As a principal at MCE, Lam leads the government, higher education, and corporate markets. He started with the company in 2021 and was challenged to build a sector team from scratch – much like creating a start-up within a mature organization. He was intrigued by the idea and says from day one building his team started with a clear vision – to inspire others. His dream: to reinvent team dynamics in the MEP design environment. To meet this end, once the vision was clear, his strategy focused on five pillars: Communicating vision clarity repeatedly. Assessing organization culture, personality traits, day-to-day workflow dynamics, team microcultures, and work sharing culture among sectors. Establishing an informal internal network across all functions of the organization. Soliciting help and support from others to facilitate connections with key clients and partners. Connecting with key players of his external professional network and updating them about his new role and the story he aims to make a reality. Team-building tactics. “Attracting top talent has been one of the key challenges facing our industry for years, and it got even more difficult during the pandemic,” he says. “But thanks to the unwavering support of MCE, my clear vision, my authenticity, and mindset, I was able to attract top talent who wanted to be part of a great story.” Lam gives special attention to employee retention in every move he makes. He coaches and joins forces with managers to cover as much ground as he can when it comes to manager-direct reports’ experiences. “At the end of the day, people are the only asset we have. Without people our business would not exist,” he says. To better inform a positive personal management strategy, MCE assesses individual team members as part of their onboarding through a work focus scale. This assessment reveals whether individuals are prevention or promotion focused. They also assess work styles which shows where peoples’ tendencies lie – analytical, amiable, expressive, etc. To ensure MCE is laying the foundation for great managers, it intentionally gathers this information during its one-to-one meetings and any other interactions it has with employees to understand their dynamics around the six universal human needs. Tony Robbins calls them “certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, and contribution.” “Having a sense of what moves people helps a ton to lead and manage them,” Lam shares. Drivers and challenges. When it comes to specifics about the markets he and his teams work in he says it’s the competitive nature of the industry that really drives him. Since he was a kid, he’s loved competitive sports because it always pushed him to do better, to innovate, and to try new tactics. It also opens up vulnerabilities which only serves to ignite his desire to try harder. “I get the same rush in my role every day,” he says. “And, let’s not forget, the bulk of these markets’ work is won through open RFPs where the competitive landscape is fierce. I approach it much like a game. For example, for me the stage of teaming with an architect partner is like competing for the state championship. Next, we get shortlisted. It’s like competing at the world championship. In the end, we interview and it’s like competing at the Olympics.” Lam shares that corporate, government, and higher education markets are facing some challenges. There’s a surplus of underutilized and outdated spaces which is sparking leadership to begin thinking about innovative ways to reinvent how the work is done and to invest to create a different building user experience. “We’re welcoming such change by being nimble in our capabilities to maximize the building systems design effectiveness,” he says. Another significant change is the commitment of leadership across all markets to reduce their carbon emissions. To meet that end, MCE is engaging in multiple building decarbonization studies. “It’s exciting to experience how quickly the mindset is shifting,” he says. “As more companies and organizations move to decarbonization, it’s becoming clear that not all electrification solutions are created equal.” Despite – and in spite of – these industry challenges, Lam truly revels in creating a team culture where the focus is on enjoying and growing through the process rather than being attached to the outcome. “That’s been a game changer mindset for the team,” he says. “We celebrate small and big wins. We practice gratitude. We walk the talk. We support each other.”   " }, { "title": "Zweig Group releases 2024 Salary Reports of AEC Firms", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-10", "url": "/blogs/news/zweig-group-releases-2024-salary-reports-of-aec-firms", "summary": "Zweig Group has released its 2024 Salary Reports of AEC Firms for all regions of the United States. These reports are based on a comprehensive salary survey of hundreds of industry individuals and firms. Zweig Group, a leading provider of advisory services, research, and education for the AEC industry, has announced the release of its 2024 Salary Reports for all regions of the United States. These reports are based on a comprehensive salary survey of hundreds of industry individuals and firms, and are presented in three separate regional editions: North and South Atlantic, Central, and Pacific and Mountain.  Here are some key findings from the report:  Salaries have increased across the board. On average, firms raised salaries by approximately 6.6 percent. We observed significant salary growth for professionals with over 15 years of experience, particularly in the construction sector, where there was an 11.9 percent rise. Experienced non-licensed technical roles also experienced a significant increase with senior level civil engineering technicians seeing a 12.7 percent increase. Throughout 2023, firms consistently applied their 2022 strategies, emphasizing talent attraction and retention. Additionally, it was highlighted that senior roles, including those of firm principals, CEOs, managing partners, and department managers saw higher than average increases in base salaries.  Regional differences. Firms in the Central U.S. only raised salaries by 3.75 percent, while firms in the Eastern U.S. and Mountain-Pacific regions increased salaries by 6.7 percent and 6 percent respectively. The average project manager in the Mountain-Pacific region had 17 years of experience and made $125,000. For the same role in the Central region we found the average project manager had 15 years of experience and made $111,000. In the Eastern region it was 14 years and $122,000. Engineering firms with more than 500 employees saw the highest year-over-year increase in base compensation – 8.7 percent versus 3.7 percent for firms with fewer than 500 employees.  A focus on architecture and interior design. Observations from the 2024 Salary Report highlight increases in salaries for architecture and interior design. Architects in project manager roles have seen their salaries increase by 9.4 percent to $116,000, while interior designers in associate or department manager roles have seen an 11 percent increase with base salaries now at $110,000. This rise in compensation corresponds with industry shifts toward sustainable design, collaborative project delivery methods, and digital transformation with advanced tools like BIM and VR. Additionally, the industry is adapting to flexible work arrangements, prompting firms to revise compensation and benefits to attract top talent. These changes reflect an evolving landscape where skilled professionals in sustainable practices and digital technologies are increasingly valued. The 2024 Salary Reports include the most up-to-date and comprehensive compensation data for AEC firms operating in any region of the U.S. Based on data gathered between January 2023 and December 2023, from a broad sampling of engineering and architecture firms in the U.S., these reports are an industry standard for firm leaders and human resources directors looking to benchmark their staff's compensation. Click here for the full report or to learn more." }, { "title": "M&A activity report for Q4 2023", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-08", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-q4-2023", "summary": "   This report details some of the biggest trends and movements regarding M&A activity in the AEC industry as of the end of 2023. Zweig Group tracks every M&A transaction that takes place in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry and reports on them on a weekly basis. This process allows us to stay up to date with the latest M&A trends in the AEC industry and report our findings to you. This report will detail some of the trends and movements regarding M&A activity in the AEC industry as of the end of Q4 2023. While the slight decline in AEC M&A activity for 2023, with 568 closed deals representing a 1 percent drop from the previous year's 574, may signal a pause, it is crucial to consider this within the context of broader market trends. Notably, the deceleration in Q3 and Q4 reflects a return to the consistent deal flow observed over the past two years, signifying underlying stability rather than a sharp downturn. This sustained, albeit slightly reduced, level of M&A activity underscores the AEC industry's continued resilience and strategic focus, propelled by persistent factors such as infrastructure investment needs and skilled labor competition. Therefore, the current landscape suggests a measured adjustment rather than a dramatic shift in market dynamics. *Total deal activity tracked quarterly 2023 witnessed RSK Group's dominance in the AEC M&A market, with an impressive 27 acquisitions solidifying their leadership position. Bowman Consulting Group followed with 11 deals, signifying their ambition for strategic expansion. A notable group, including Sweco, Universal Engineering Sciences (UES), and RMA Group, each completed seven transactions, reflecting the continued appetite of M&A activity across diverse segments of the industry. Notably, Sweco's unique focus on talent acquisition, evident in their stellar average of 130 full-time employee (FTE) additions per deal, highlights the growing importance of workforce expansion per deal. *Companies with most acquisitions of 2023 and total FTE added. 2023 witnessed a significant shift in the AEC M&A landscape, propelled by two noteworthy trends: the surge of private equity involvement and a renewed focus on domestic deals. Compared to just 16 percent in 2022, private equity firms fueled 38 percent of all transactions this year, demonstrating institutional capital’s bullish outlook for the AEC industry as a whole. This robust influx of capital undoubtedly reshaped the market dynamics and empowered strategic acquisitions. One of the most notable PE deals in 2023 was the acquisition of Atlas Technical Consultants, which was acquired by GI Partners in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $1.05 billion.  The pendulum swung further toward domestic shores, with a noticeable decline in cross-border M&A activity. Whereas 43 percent of acquired firms hailed from outside the U.S. in 2022, that figure contracted to 32 percent in 2023, signifying a prioritization of domestic opportunities. This internal focus could be attributed to factors like geopolitical uncertainties and a desire to capitalize on the strong national infrastructure spending plans. *Comparing domestic and international deal activity since 2020. The geographical landscape of domestic M&A activity also presented an intriguing shift. California, the top acquisition space of 2022, ceded its top spot to Florida and Texas, which emerged as the most sought-after states for acquirers in 2023. This redistribution of deal volume suggests diverse regional growth trajectories within the U.S. AEC market and also reflects the larger population shifts seen in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic. *Comparing most active seller states in 2023.  *Breakdown of closings by geography Shifting trends in 2023 have shown increasing buyer interest in firms that serve transportation, water, and power/energy markets. With government-funded programs, such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), significant boosts have occurred to infrastructure-related projects, leading to further market growth. Another key trend that is impossible to leave out when discussing 2023 is AI. Artificial intelligence has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in nearly every industry this year. For AEC, this has included improvements in knowledge and project management, as well as design and automation including integration with BIM and other platforms. As the technology is still somewhat in its infancy, we will continue to keep an eye on this trend and its effect on the AEC industry at large.  *Most popular markets served by AEC sellers in 2023. To wrap up, transaction volume has remained constant year over year, thanks to a busy Q1 and Q2 as the final two quarters of the year had activity cool down. Texas and Florida have grown in popularity as both states surpassed California as the most active seller states. Shifting trends into more water, transportation, and infrastructure projects continue to be spearheaded by IIJSA and other federal spending. Lastly, private equity firms have continued to increase their market share as they increase buying activity in AEC firms.M&A activity report for Q4 2023" }, { "title": "Tech trends transforming AEC", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/tech-trends-transforming-aec", "summary": "Those who, adapt, organize and pioneer new workflows will excel in this new era of possibilities. In the ever-evolving world of AEC, staying ahead of the technological curve is paramount. Zweig Group’s 2023 Information Technology Report of AEC Firms offers a compelling glimpse into the industry’s transformation over the past few years. With the rise of AI and an increased acceptance of remote work, we’ve seen the AEC industry embracing a tech-driven revolution. Zweig Group’s report serves as a comprehensive bridge between connecting the changes we’ve seen, from the pre-pandemic era and to the “new normal.” Let’s delve into some of the shifts that have redefined the AEC industry’s technological landscape: Cloud technology. The report highlights a significant transition to cloud technologies, reflected in the shift from local to cloud storage for project archives. The median utilization of shared online disk storage in the cloud has surged from three terabytes to an impressive 17 terabytes, underscoring the industry’s commitment to modernization. Cybersecurity. One of the most remarkable trends unveiled in the report is the sharp decline in instances of being hacked, plummeting from nearly 25 percent in 2019 to a mere 9 percent in 2023. This significant reduction is a testament to the industry’s heightened security measures and proactive cybersecurity policies. IT spending. As firms continue to navigate the evolving business landscape, the 2023 report predicts a 50 percent increase in cloud computing spending and substantial investments in cybersecurity and hardware. Noteworthy is the ascent of building information modeling (BIM) usage from 53 percent in 2019 to an impressive 90 percent in 2023, with 71 percent of firms expressing plans to escalate their BIM utilization in the upcoming year. Remote network access. With remote work becoming a cornerstone of the industry’s operational framework, the report showcases an exponential surge in remote network access, soaring from 56 percent to a remarkable 88 percent post-pandemic. Cloud-based services have become a dominant force, as more firms embrace hosted email strategies and Microsoft 365 usage for enhanced collaboration and productivity. As technology continues to reshape the AEC landscape, one thing is clear: those who adapt and innovate will thrive in this exciting new era of possibilities. The 2023 Information Technology Report of AEC Firms is a powerful tool, offering insight into the evolution of technology within the AEC industry. Read the full report here.  Keith Sequeira is director of data analytics at Zweig Group. Contact him at ksequeira@zweiggroup.com. The Principals Academy 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 leadership, financial management, recruiting, marketing, business development, and project management. Join us Februay 8-9 in Savannah, Georgia. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "A leadership vision for 2024", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/a-leadership-vision-for-2024", "summary": "Embrace significance over success, treat everyone with respect, and challenge conventional thinking for a more inclusive and compelling leadership approach. In reflecting on my leadership journey, I wanted to recognize some of the principles I’ve worked to adopt that have shaped my approach – all gleaned from the most impactful leaders I’ve encountered on jobsites and in corporate settings. As you set goals for 2024, you might consider integrating these principles into your leadership style: Pursue significance, not just success. In pursuing professional success, it’s easy for many of us to focus on money and titles as targets or goals. However, chasing these milestone markers can blind us to more meaningful goals. True success comes from focusing on the work, aiming to be the best, and adding value to others. Leaders should aspire to serve, empower, and develop those under their guidance. By lifting others, we collectively rise. This year, shift your focus from chasing success to creating significance through meaningful contributions. You may be surprised how quickly you achieve the benefits of a higher salary or more significant title. Treat everyone as the CEO. For years, even before I became a CEO, I have always believed in treating everyone as if they were a CEO. It’s not because I think CEOs are superior to others – it’s because I’ve observed how others treat them. Employees respect and listen to the CEO and feel there’s something valuable to learn from them. I like to treat everyone around me with these qualities: listening, respecting, and learning from what they have to contribute. Imagine an office or jobsite where people appreciate others for who they are rather than fixating on their roles. This approach encourages collaboration and shared success. Action over motion. Many of us see moving through our to-do lists as progress. It is typical to see construction leaders rushing from meeting to meeting, checking their emails constantly, responding to fire after fire, and making countless phone calls – a lot of fast-moving activity that leaves very little time for reflection or planning. This behavior is known as “active nonaction.” When you focus only on “motion,” you let others set the pace and determine the outcome. As a lean construction enthusiast, I’ve learned to focus on the endpoint and work backward, removing obstacles in my path or navigating around them, which is the action that matters. Embrace diverse perspectives. The construction industry often breeds conformity, with individuals from similar backgrounds fostering a tendency toward groupthink. In decision-making, especially when consensus is easy to achieve, take a moment to pause and reflect. Consider alternative viewpoints and surround yourself with individuals who think differently. A diverse circle provides a 360-degree perspective, unveiling insights and possibilities that might otherwise remain hidden. Let these reflections guide your leadership journey for a transformative 2024. Embrace significance over mere success, treat every individual with respect, prioritize strategic action, and challenge conventional thinking for a more inclusive and compelling leadership approach.  Keyan Zandy is CEO of Skiles Group. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "The year ahead", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/the-year-ahead", "summary": "What owners and managers of AEC firms should be thinking about and doing as we plow headfirst into 2024. At this time of the year in prior years, I often made my predictions in The Zweig Letter for the year ahead. But it seems to me that now the world is too dynamic and unstable and too much is out of our control, so I thought I would skip that this year. Instead, I thought it might be more valuable to share my thinking about what owners and managers of AEC firms should be thinking about and doing as we plow headfirst into 2024. Here it goes: Growing revenue. The longer I have been part of this industry – and this year marks my 44th year in it – the more convinced I am that committing to revenue growth every single year is an absolute must. Being profitable is easier when your revenue is growing than it is when it’s declining. Your firm is more valuable when it has a higher revenue growth rate. The opportunities for your people and yourself are increased through having a growing revenue stream. The alternative is cutting costs (because expenses WILL go up), and we all know that is NO fun! So grow. More new services. Growth does not just come from better marketing and more capacity. One of the keys to growth is having new services to sell. It’s also one way to build a competitive advantage in a sea of undifferentiated service providers. So what are you going to do new in 2024 that you haven’t been doing? Can you package up something you do now differently so your offerings seem different from what everyone else does? Do you have to create some new roles or move people inside the company to dedicate resources to the new stuff? Do you need to hire one or more people with different skills and backgrounds than you have now to be able to do something new? Do you need to buy or merge with another company? Do you need to make accounting changes so you can track the new revenue versus the old, and show everyone in the firm how important it is? How can you get your team behind the “new?” Marketing experimentation. Again, the longer I have been in this business (and other businesses, I might add – we aren’t unique!), the more convinced I am that as much as everything is constantly changing, the discipline and tactics of marketing need to change even more. It’s crazy how something that only a short time ago made the phone ring and emails come in can suddenly just stop working. Marketing today requires commitment of significant amounts of money and staff time, and continuous experimentation if you are going to become more and more successful over time. I hate to say it but it’s not all going to come from us older people. Younger folks may be more in-tune with the media and messaging that other younger people respond to, plus they know specific technologies and tactics some of us old-timers may not be versed in. Better bring them into the marketing discussion! Knowing your numbers. It never ceases to amaze me how many companies do not share their financial performance metrics with all of their employees. Instead, they rely on their partners and second tier managers to pass the word down to all of their people. But here’s the problem – they don’t all do that well – and some don’t even do it at all. Not only that, the numbers top management gets in the first place may be wrong or inadequate. There is still a lot of confusion in the differences in cash and accrual accounting that people don’t get. It takes many firms too long to close out their months. And then we don’t have enough predictive data that shows where we are heading before we get there. Good accounting and sharing the numbers so every single employee knows what is important and how they can influence the results is of paramount importance. Becoming a better place to work. With the continued shortage of people who have technical or design skills, plus can manage people and clients and sell work, I just don’t think you can ever stop thinking about how you will make your company a better place to work. The best people don’t need a job. They have to be sold to join the business and stay there. That takes a real vigilance on the part of all of your leaders to make sure they are really doing what they should be to make sure no one feels the company is anything less than a fantastic place for high achievers who live a life of purpose and excellence. Keep working on how to make your company the place the best people in this business want to work. Shedding the baggage of the past. All of us – and I do mean all of us – can make a choice to not live in the past and dwell on mistakes we have made that hurt our businesses and ourselves. Sure, it’s great to be honest with yourself and acknowledge these things so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again. But then you have to stop beating yourself up and put those things in the rearview mirror and ask yourself what you need to do going forward. It’s kind of like driving a car. You had best be looking ahead and not behind you, because if you keep looking back you are bound to run into something that won’t be good to run into! Personal changes to be more effective. One thing I learned after a nearly 20 year marriage to someone who was addicted to alcohol and drugs (the first of three – third time is the charm!) is that you cannot change another person’s behavior. All you can do is change your own behavior and your own response to whatever the situation is that you are in. Take the addictions of other people out of the equation and nothing really changes. We all have the capacity to change our OWN actions, behaviors, and attitudes, and that’s where the real opportunity for improvement is. I am not the same person I was five years ago, and I won’t be the same person I am today five years from now. Keep learning. Keep evolving. You are never done until YOU decide you are done. So there you have it – my best thoughts for the year ahead. I hope each and every one of you finds 2024 is a year for growth, success, health, and personal development! And remember – Zweig Group is here to help if you need it! Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." }, { "title": "Investing in employee experience", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/investing-in-employee-experience", "summary": "Investing in the employee experience, celebrating wins, and fostering a strong culture boosts morale, retention, and organizational success. Employees are an organization’s greatest asset, and, for most businesses, they are their biggest investment. They can also be your most effective promotional tool. From client meetings to casual community conversations, your employees are the face of your organization, and the experiences and messages they share during these interactions pay dividends in recruitment, retention, and business development efforts. It’s more important now than ever to invest in the employee experience, because, according to a recent survey, 54 percent of U.S. workers have chosen to stay in a role simply because they feel appreciated. When your employees feel valued, they are more likely to stay, increasing retention and your bottom line. Investing in the employee experience can come in many forms: Designing modern workspaces Providing top-notch technology and resources Practicing performance coaching Creating growth opportunities Celebrating the wins According to Zweig Group’s 2023 Best Firms To Work For employee survey, 93 percent of ISG employee-owners report overall employee satisfaction. So, how do we do it? Investing in the employee experience and celebrating the wins, big or small, boosts employee morale and builds a strong organizational culture that people want to be a part of. Something to celebrate. In 2023, ISG reached 50 years of doing business. To celebrate with our employee-owners, ISG hosted an event at the recently-renovated La Crosse Convention Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The space, designed by more than 80 of our employee-owners, is a testament to how we live our mission of making a difference for our clients and communities and made the perfect backdrop to come together with our peers to celebrate a milestone year and a milestone project. The experience. More than 500 employee owners and their guests were able to come together at the La Crosse Center. Each element of the event was carefully thought out to achieve an impactful employee experience, down to the signature cocktails, which were named after original poems authored by the firm founder and often shared throughout the early years of ISG. Interactive exhibits showcased ISG’s growth over 50 years and the evolution of the La Crosse Center project. Videos and company photos that highlight our firm’s culture painted a picture of years past and played throughout the corridor. A dessert table accented with a 50th anniversary ice sculpture set the tone of the night, yet paled in comparison to the scenic views of the Mississippi River. A formal banquet was kicked off with a lively music video featuring employees. The video transitioned into a showstopping live entrance from the program’s emcee, followed by thoughtful words from firm leaders and an award ceremony. The Making A Difference Awards had three employee-nominated categories tied to our mission and gave employees the opportunity to recognize their colleagues for the amazing work they do every day. After dinner, a band entertained guests as they conversed and danced the night away. Many didn’t want the evening to end, opting to gather at local establishments to continue the celebration and camaraderie. The results. The energy at the anniversary celebration was unsurmountable. Laughter and excitement filled the halls and the ballroom. The energy and momentum continue today, months later. There is a buzz among the offices, and our team is invigorated. Employee-owners who attended the event walk a little taller – proud of their firm, its history, and its future. Seeing their firm invest in employees empowers them to continue to invest in themselves as proud owners, eager to roll up their sleeves and tackle the next project. Sometimes, it’s the little things. While achieving milestones is notable, it is important to regularly remind employees that their contributions are important and they are valued. Our employees agree that ISG provides meaningful opportunities for socializing and celebrating special events. Celebrating small wins daily with shoutouts, intranet posts, employee spotlights, happy hours, employee contests, and team gatherings also drives culture and motivates people to maintain momentum. Strategize how you can celebrate on a smaller scale more frequently and pair the daily wins with the larger celebrations to increase retention and loyalty. Many times, it’s the small gestures that make the greatest impact.  Lynn Bruns, PE is CEO of ISG, a nationally recognized architecture, engineering, environmental, and planning firm. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Cultivating company culture", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/cultivating-company-culture", "summary": "Define and nurture a strong company culture by articulating a concise core purpose, aligning actions with values, and embracing consistency. I love sourdough bread. The scent when you cut into a loaf and the tangy flavor can make me giddy. You probably know that those qualities come from the starter used to make the bread. Regardless of whether someone gives you the starter or you make your own, it’s essential for that perfect loaf. And they take work, because starters require feeding and attention to continue to grow. The wonder about these starters is that they’re alive. They’re home to a community of bacteria and yeast microbes, fermenting the flour carbohydrates and producing carbon dioxide. Their labor makes the bread rise and gives it that wonderful tang. That base culture is essential to the baker’s success, but it results from intentional acts of care and attention. It doesn’t happen by accident. Companies are like sourdough: The secret to success is creating and nurturing a great culture. My experience – and that of our firm – is you get to the heart of your company’s culture by first defining your core purpose. It’s why you do what you do, your shared purpose for being. That should be easy to state, but it takes real soul-searching to flesh out. When you hit it, though, you’ll know it. It will resonate with you and with your firm. But how do you transfer that to everyone in the company? How do you keep it alive? Here are some thoughts: Be clear. It’s critical to concisely articulate your core purpose and the values, processes, and behaviors your company uses in that pursuit. Share that information with everyone, then share it again and again. The essence of your purpose and values should be simple enough for every employee to be able to recite them. Please don’t add a bunch of words like we technical types like to do. Make it short, sweet, and to the point.When putting this information together, be sure to look at how you expect things to be done both internally with staff and externally with clients. If you wish your team to be responsive to their clients’ needs, define how that responsiveness should take place between team members and with other groups in the office. Remember this: your brand ultimately isn’t what you say you are. It’s what you do. My favorite definition of a brand is that it’s a promise kept. If you can’t keep the promise, it ain’t your brand. Be intentional. Your core culture needs to permeate everything you do. It should be reflected – and recognized – with every interaction that every person has with your firm. Whether it’s your employees, clients, or recruits, all should see who you are every time. When you recruit, recruit toward your core purpose and values. Onboarding? Core purpose and values. Project management? Ditto. Employee life? Ditto ditto.By focusing the intention of everything you do on your core culture, it proves to people that it matters. That you believe in it. That you won’t compromise it. And in turn, that builds loyalty and respect. It’s an added value that your clients and employees will value, even if they can’t precisely put their finger on it. Be consistent. The last time I checked, people were still humans. They have different ways of reacting and interacting. It’s OK if offices or departments have different personalities because that’s how people interact in groups. But they can’t have their own culture.At Wallace, we’ve been fortunate to grow significantly over the last few years, both geographically and in service offerings. We’ve made special efforts to understand the issues of those joining us and make sure that we’re letting them know who we are and what we stand for. We’ve engaged people across the company in updating standards, tweaking policies, recruiting, and more. But we’ve done it by embracing differences while stressing our common core. Consistency of messaging is a huge part of that process. Know thyself, and be able to affirm that. Be bold. Every company is different. Every person is different. Successful companies with happy employees define themselves and proudly promote it. Find what makes your firm tick and embrace it. If, in the process, you find you’re not happy with something, change it. People want to feel like they’re part of something greater. So be greater.  Brad Thurman, PE, FSMPS, CPSM is a principal and chief marketing officer of Wallace Design Collective, a professional consulting firm offering structural and civil engineering, landscape architecture, surveying and assessments. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Mastering CAD efficiency", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-07", "url": "/blogs/news/mastering-cad-efficiency", "summary": "Four ways to use CAD efficiently in a small to mid-size engineering firm. CAD has been used by many engineering firms to great effect, but by others has been neglected – labeled as too difficult or lacking in value. I have been using CAD for over twenty-two years, serving in roles that have included Cadastral Drafting Technician, Senior CAD Technician, Senior Survey Technician, CAD Manager, CAD & IT Manager, CADD Services Director, and Senior Civil Technical Specialist (Consultant). From my extensive experience, I believe CAD can be a great tool to ensure consistent quality and efficiency when delivering a product to a client. When under-utilized, it can potentially lead to projects that take longer with hasty results pushed out the door at the end, as well as internal confusion and other signs of disfunction. In addition, the reality is that CAD is being used whether the user knows it or not. The key is how to use it to the best effect. I have come up with the following four (4) ways to make CAD a success and a priority in an engineering firm, no matter the skill level or title of the CAD techs. Number 1: Talk about it! This may seem basic, but one common complaint I hear from fellow CAD users is that “I was assigned a task to do in CAD, and I have no clue what is going on.” Rather than assume the details of a project are common knowledge, I suggest starting a project with a CAD Kickoff meeting. This meeting should include at least the project engineer, any assistant engineer, and the primary CAD tech. Here are recommendations about what to talk about in the CAD Kickoff meeting: Talk about the project: Who is the client, where is the project located, what is the scope of work. Talk about any special needs or requirements: For example, are you using specific agency standards or a custom border, a certain plot setting, data from GIS, etc. Talk about everyone’s role in the project and the team expectations: Who is doing what and when. What is the plan. What are the deadlines and how does everyone’s role contribute to making these dates. Talking as a team about the project helps instill ownership of the project in all involved. Personal ownership can increase efficiency and collaboration. Everyone becomes more invested in the project too, increasing its chances of success, as well as morale. Number 2: Make your CAD standards accessible. The best CAD standards are standards people use without knowing they are using them. Making CAD standards easily accessible decreases the inclination to avoid them or find ways around fully using them. CAD doesn’t have to be painful to use, but it may take some upfront work to ensure the consistency that CAD can provide. Here are some ways to make your CAD standards more accessible: Start the company CAD profile when you click the CAD icon: You can modify the target of the icon on your desktop to automatically load a specific CAD profile, ensuring the CAD user always starts with the proper template and standards. Flesh out your styles: If using a version of CAD that uses styles to view your objects, take the time to make sure everything is pointing to the correct layer and using the correct font and text size. If properly set up, your CAD user will never have to worry about these settings and can just make sure everything is set to the correct style. Number 3: Customization. Configure icons on your CAD ribbon interface to load a custom script or lisp routine. CAD forums and simply searching online can provide ways to do this, though it’s true this can be a daunting task; the rewards, however, are worth it. Such customizations can provide CAD users with easy, one-click options that take the place of multiple steps. Some examples of what custom coding can allow the CAD user to do: Quickly insert title blocks and reference files into drawings. Drop in sets of layers that are not commonly used. Change the address of the letterhead if you have multiple office locations. There are numerous other ways too that you can use custom coding to help make everyday tasks easier for the CAD user. Number 4: Quality Control. Another way to help make sure your CAD is successful is to have a CAD Manager or Senior CAD tech perform Quality Control/Assurance on a project. This serves several purposes: They can identify consistency issues or CAD issues before a project is delivered to a client. They can identify issues with EIT’s or lower-level CAD staff that could lead to a much-needed training exercise or even point to bigger issues. This process can also help to keep your CAD team billable if the workload is light or they are waiting for projects to come back from review. By implementing these four processes, you are putting your CAD team in a better position to be successful and more efficient. CAD doesn’t need to be difficult or hard to use. There are many ways to make it easier and more user-friendly. I just touched on a few ways that could help, but there are many more tips and tricks out there. Dedicate some time to exploring some of these ideas or talk to your local CAD consultant or CAD reseller to see if they offer any of these services. Spending some time on how your company currently uses CAD could bring about some much-needed changes for the better. Chris Askins is CAD Manager at MKN. Connect with him on LinkedIn." }, { "title": "Texas-based JQ Engineering joins IMEG", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2024-01-03", "url": "/blogs/news/texas-based-jq-engineering-joins-imeg", "summary": "JQ Engineering, LLP, an award-winning Texas-based structural and civil engineering services firm, has joined IMEG, an employee-owned engineering design company made up of consulting engineers and specialists focusing on the built environment.. The year-end merger helps position both firms for continued growth in the Texas market. JQ Engineering has served clients since 1984, providing structural and civil engineering, land surveying, and facility assessment solutions in multiple market sectors including aviation, commercial, education, government, healthcare, hospitality, housing, science and technology, and sports and recreation. “We are extremely pleased to welcome JQ into our company,” said IMEG President/CEO Paul VanDuyne. “By blending JQ’s structural and civil expertise with IMEG’s full-service engineering portfolio and existing structural and MEP teams in Texas, we create a strong synergy for future growth.” JQ CEO Stephen H. Lucy said his firm is excited to become part of IMEG and help drive continued growth in the greater Texas region. “We built our strong reputation on being active members of project teams and delivering innovative design with forward-thinking leadership,” he said. “This philosophy blends well with IMEG’s client-centric, outcome-based approach, allowing us to leverage a broader base of market and technical expertise.”  The merger expands the firms’ Texas-based staff to more than 200 team members at offices in Austin, Bastrop, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Existing JQ teams will continue to operate from their existing locations, doing business as JQ now IMEG. Lucy and JQ Partner Chris Story will continue to serve as regional team leaders. Zweig Group – the leading research, publishing, and advisory services resource for firms in the AEC industry – represented JQ Engineering in this merger." }, { "title": "M&A Activity Report for the week of 12/25/2023 – 12/31/2023", "author": "Katelyn Dover", "date": "2024-01-02", "url": "/blogs/news/m-a-activity-report-for-the-week-of-12-25-2023-12-31-2023", "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: 12/14/2023 RMA Companies (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) (ENR #146) acquired geotechnical engineering, materials testing, and environmental services firm Rone Engineering (Dallas, TX). Link to Details. 12/21/2023 Civil and structural engineering company, Chayah Consulting Group (Loveland, CO), acquired Shear Engineering Corporation (Fort Collins, CO), a civil and structural engineering firm that serves the hotel, multi-family, and residential markets. Link to Details. 12/22/2023 Air emissions testing and monitoring solutions firm, Alliance Technical Group (Decatur, AL), acquired provider of analytical testing services for the identification and assessment of environmental contaminates, Chemtech Consulting Group (Mountainside, NJ).Link to Details.   International Transactions: 12/21/2023 Management consultancy Roland Berger (Munich, Germany) signed an agreement to acquire a strategic consulting firm, Amane Advisors (Oxford, UK), who specializes in water and resource and energy recovery. Link to Details. 12/22/2023 Private equity firm Sofindev (Diegem, Belgium), invested a majority stake in geospatial software, data, and services firm, Merkator Group (Zellik, Belgium). Link to Details. 12/22/2023 Norconsult Norge, a subsidiary of Norconsult (Sandvika, Norway), acquired 51% of the shares in SQM (Oslo, Norway), a project management and consultancy company. Link to Details." }, { "title": "Navigating corporate strategy", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2023-12-31", "url": "/blogs/news/navigating-corporate-strategy", "summary": "Effective corporate strategy requires defining a direction, fostering collaboration, and leveraging strengths for diversification. At Zweig Group, our goal as strategic planning consultants is to ask the right questions to help identify existing strengths that can be leveraged to present new opportunities. In other words, we help to facilitate a plan for strategic growth/diversification. We want to determine how we can grow to further leverage our existing strengths. If your firm works in multiple business domains, this happens through separate corporate and business level strategies. Business level strategies refer to activities a firm undertakes within its specific business units to gain an advantage over competitors in the marketplace. Typically, these take the form of multiple strategies determined by organizational structure. In the AEC industry, these are commonly based on market sector or geography. For example, Doe’s engineering firm employs two distinct business-level strategies. One for further market penetration into their existing K-12 vertical and another for diversification into the closely aligned higher education vertical. Two business units that may require different business level strategies to build a competitive advantage. Corporate strategy refers to the overall direction of the organization. Corporate strategy is what enables a firm’s internal groups (in whatever form these come in) to collaborate and leverage one another effectively. It is what makes an organization greater than the sum of its parts. Having an effective corporate level strategy means the organization is successfully competing in multiple business arenas and utilizing this diversification to strengthen each arm individually – whether these arenas be geographies, market sectors, services, or even multiple industries. In this case, Doe’s engineering firm has established a corporate strategy to leverage its existing K-12 expertise to expand into higher ed, with the eventual goal of using higher ed to further penetrate into the K-12 market. Outside of the AEC industry, Apple is a prime example of excellent corporate strategy. The $2.5 trillion organization operates in multiple business arenas – each collaborating and ultimately benefiting from one another. Apple conducts business all over the world with a diverse range of device offerings. Once you’ve purchased one of their products, Apple ensures that it’s more advantageous to buy another Apple product over a competitor due to frictionless interoperability between each product line. The iPhone works with the Mac, the Mac works with the headphones, and the headphones work with the watch. Corporate dictates this strategy and the company’s overall direction, requiring the interoperability between product lines and therefore departments. However, interoperability is only half of the equation. Corporate simultaneously needs each group to innovate within their own business unit, each developing their own business level strategy. This sounds great, but is easier said than done. A good corporate strategy requires complete dedication and needs to be ingrained in every decision a firm makes. In Apple’s case, it has devoted decades of effort and resources to furthering this piece of its corporate strategy. For instance, when Steve Jobs returned to the failing organization in 1997, he fired the general managers of all business units (in one day) and instituted one P&L for the entire business in an attempt to expel internal silos. Decisions made since have incorporated their corporate strategy of connecting seemingly independent divisions of the company. As a result, the market has deemed Apple greater than the sum of its parts. So what does corporate strategy look like within the AEC industry? Some examples include: Markets that translate to one another. Look for similarities that can be used in cross selling expertise. Innovative or unique offerings. For example, Zweig Group once worked with a firm whose corporate strategy was to develop a specialty in incorporating storm shelters – something that would make them uniquely qualified for specific projects. Ensuring each sector is operating in the same manner. This refers to consistency of client experience no matter which sector the client is working with – a simple, yet challenging objective. It also refers to consistent fee structure/value proposition – high fee, high quality – or cost competitive across the board. Finding ways to leverage experts in other business units. As Bobby Petrino, former head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, likes to say, “Feed the studs.” These are merely a handful of different approaches we see as AEC exclusive advisors. The most common corporate strategy found in our industry is one based on client relationships. While this is a legitimate strategy and the most prolific approach to a competitive advantage in our industry, its common to the point that it could be considered a baseline expectation. Additionally, if your corporate strategy is to compete on fee alone, as Michael Porter puts it, that becomes “a race to the bottom.” It’s a legitimate strategy but one that’s difficult to win in the long run. If you believe your firm could benefit from a rejuvenated corporate or business strategy, Zweig Group has a team of strategic advisors here to help. Click here to learn more.  Travis White is a strategy and operations advisor at Zweig Group. Contact him at twhite@zweiggroup.com. Virtual Project Management for aec professionals AEC project managers are often extensively trained in technical skills and less so in how to manage a team, and even less so in how to manage a project with a business mindset. This course will focus on building business intelligence so project managers can drive business performance. Join us starting January 10. Click here to learn more!" }, { "title": "Innovative initiatives", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2023-12-31", "url": "/blogs/news/innovative-initiatives", "summary": "Ensure employee growth and success by implementing innovative approaches to career development, like diverse training programs and leadership initiatives. One of the great things about working for a company like KSA is the ability to be creative and unique in our approach to firm management. As an example of that, I’d like to share about two unique programs we developed at KSA, which we believe advance our mission of “We Build People Who Build the Future.” Career development and training program. First, KSA has invested a great deal of time and resources to create a career development and training program that we call KSA University. Many companies in our industry have training programs, but at KSA, we run ours a bit differently. KSA University is run on a semester basis, with anywhere from seven to 15 courses being offered per semester. Since its inception in 2019, KSA University has offered or conducted a total of 230 classes. That’s an average of 46 classes per year. The classes are taught by a combination of KSA subject matter experts and outside professionals with topics that range from soft and technical skills to fun elective topics. Since 2019, KSAU instructors have dedicated more than 2,000 hours of preparation and instruction time for KSAU classes. Additionally, in that same period, and as shown in the infographic below, KSAU has documented more than 11,000 hours of student, instructor, and program management time. Past courses have included classes on ethics, design, technical writing, book clubs, Spanish, leadership, management, mentoring circles, and lighthearted topics such as how to smoke a brisket. All classes offered by KSAU are live instruction classes, some with assignments to be completed outside of class time. In fact, many of the KSAU classes have homework to be completed individually or in small groups. With our nine offices in three states, we have found that conducting these classes live and online using video meetings is a great way to introduce, familiarize, and build relationships with our staff in different locations and different professional disciplines. That familiarization is one benefit we didn’t really anticipate but has proven to be a game changer for our company. KSAU is one of two unique programs we have initiated within KSA over the last five years. Within KSA University, we have one program that I would also like to highlight. This program has a great potential to not only impact KSA today, but for many years to come. A board leadership training program. In the fall semester of 2023, KSA completed our Board Leadership Training (BLT) Program, a two-year series of classes offered through KSA University. KSA is very intentional about ownership and leadership transition, fulfilling one of our “future-focused” core values. Our BLT program was designed to assist with both of those transitions. Several years ago, our board recognized the need to develop a pool of potential future board members to replace retiring board members over the next five years. To help in that transition, we developed a two-year program that we agreed to make available to every KSA employee. It was interesting to see future leaders sign up for the program, as an indicator of interest in possibly becoming a board member. Being part of the BLT program is not a guarantee that you will become a board member at KSA and is not a requirement for being a future board member, but it has provided foundational training to develop a pool of potential candidates. Over the two-year period, the BLT program trained more than 20 employees on topics such as SWOT analysis, decision-making, strategic planning, financial management, HR topics, governance, legal issues, fiduciary responsibility, the purpose of a company, Robert’s Rules of Order, and many other relevant issues. The capstone course gave each participant the chance to develop a SWOT analysis for KSA as a whole and then use those strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to create strategic initiatives and policies designed to increase KSA’s competitiveness, just as they would do if they were members of the board of directors. I’m very proud of the employees who were part of the BLT program. The work they produced in the last semester was exemplary. In fact, we have shared all the SWOT analyses and strategic initiatives with our current board of directors, who are considering which of the ideas will be implemented within our firm. Bottom line: Invest in your people. The AEC industry is home to tens of thousands of companies, many of which are trying to develop their own unique brand and culture. With the recruiting and retention challenges that all of our firms are facing, investing heavily in our employees’ career development and job skills just makes good sense. I’m proud of the employees of KSA, the culture they have created, and their continual efforts to improve our company. It’s a great place to work and grow your career!  Mitch Fortner, P.E. is president and CEO of KSA. Contact him at mfortner@ksaeng.com." }, { "title": "Cliches are hurting your business", "author": "Zweig Group", "date": "2023-12-31", "url": "/blogs/news/cliches-are-hurting-your-business", "summary": "Stand out by steering clear of cliches, as they make firms seem generic and may push clients away. Anyone who follows me on LinkedIn knows that I frequently rail against the use of cliches by AEC firms. It just seems like a never-ending stream of “cost effective solutions providers” out there who are “pivoting” as they become better “story tellers” out of a desire to achieve “authenticity.” The problem with all this business-speak is twofold. First, you sound like everyone else. Secondly, you run the risk of turning off some of those who make up your audience (i.e., clients and potential clients). When you sound like everyone else, you are actually making it difficult for a client to hire you – unless your fee is lower than everyone else’s. That’s not the position you want to be in. Believe it or not, “plain speak” is a differentiator today because the use of cliches and glowing accolades from marketers in our business is so out of control. Now as far as turning off your audience goes, you may say, “Zweig is crazy. He is making a big deal about nothing – this stuff does nothing to me.” But you can’t look at the world only through YOUR eyes. You may not be inundated with this drivel like some of those who read proposal and qualification documents all day are. They could be more sensitive to it than you are. So why run the risk? Maybe it is time to look at all of your marketing material – your website, your social media posts, your brochures, and qualification documents – so you can see how rampant this problem is. Clean it all up. And while you are at it, check for use of acronyms with no explanation of what the initials stand for. We already have way too many firms whose names are initials. I sat in on a Zweig Group M&A consulting meeting the other day and was awestruck by all the firm names made up of initials – I couldn’t keep them straight. Also check for situations where you can substitute two syllable words for four syllable words. You will make everything easier to read and understand. You will differentiate yourselves over your competitors. And you won’t alienate anyone you want to do so business with. Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com." } ] }