Good, small firms

Some firms want to stay small; here’s some advice for them, and they’re welcome to ask for more. bonsai-316573_640

Small firms … small businesses … entrepreneurial businesses: Are they all the same thing? No!

Some firms are small because they haven’t grown large yet. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow. Yet, some other small firms – the majority of ’em – are small because their owners don’t want to grow.

There may be good reasons to remain small. It’s more controllable. It’s more relaxed. You can be pickier about your clients and projects. You know everyone. It’s all about “you.” Once you commit to a vision and plan for growth, it’s a whole different ballgame. You cannot comingle your business and personal stuff – there may be other owners involved. Debt may be necessary. That requires signing personal guarantees that you might not want to sign. And, with more people comes more problems.

Anyone who has read The Zweig Letter over the years or been to one of our seminars or worked with me as a consultant knows I am a fan of growth. It’s just easier to keep everyone motivated and be profitable when you work in a growing company. Along with size you get better people – people who are more specialized in the areas you need them to function in. And that makes your job easier. Not to mention growing firms – larger firms – are worth more than small, declining companies. And it’s nice to have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But hey, I’m a realist. Not everyone beats to my drum. Some folks want to have a small company, and that’s the way it is. If you are one of those people, let me give you my best advice. Here it is:

  1. Get a really good person to help you. This could be your COO, yourCFO, or even a really good administrative assistant. But the bottom line is you need someone you can absolutely rely on to channel your thinking and act on your behalf when you need them to. And you will need them to!
  2. Get a good accountant. Taxes – and how to avoid them – are a big part of small business management. You want to work with someone who truly understands what you are trying to do and gives you good advice that maximizes what you can take out of the business.
  3. Get a good attorney. Problems are going to crop up with contracts, clients who don’t pay, and other things. A good small business attorney will take a lot of this load off your back. Find someone who is young enough to work with you and won’t retire before you.
  4. Get a good accounting system. You don’t need to have a mega system, but even small firms can benefit from good project cost accounting and integrated timesheet and expense reporting – at a minimum – not to mention automated invoicing. This isn’t expensive, and you don’t want to have to make up something on your own.
  5. Set some reasonable hours to be at the office. Even though you are small, you’ll have other people working with you. It’s important they don’t see you as lazy or unmotivated. Or, guess what? They will become lazy and unmotivated. “Do as I do” is always the best practice.
  6. Look like a successful firm. It’s one thing to be small. It’s another thing to look like a loser. No good client wants to work with losers. You have to maintain some minimum standard with your clothes, vehicle, and office – basically, anything that other people see.
  7. Keep learning. Take classes. Go to seminars. Be active in your professional society or association. Read. You cannot allow yourself to stop learning just because you don’t want to have a large firm.
  8. Keep teaching others. It’s one of the best ways for you to learn and stay fresh. But, besides that, it is a good way to help other people feel like they didn’t sell their own careers short to work in a small firm, because you let them learn. One of the best aspects of working in a small company SHOULD be role-diversity and the ability to learn. Make sure that’s real in your firm.
  9. Don’t get too greedy. You may not have many employees, but the ones you have depend on you to provide them with a decent living. Respect that and treat them accordingly. And the people who really make your life better and easier? Reward them!

I’ve got tons of advice for small firm owners. If you have any specific questions that you are struggling with, email me. I’d be glad to try to help!

Mark Zweig is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

Did you know Zweig Group produces a survey about firms with under 50 people? You can find out more info here…

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Looking ahead is crucial to success

iphone 537Quantitative and qualitative data provide industry leaders with valuable information for making decisions.

One of the distinctions of companies that do well over the long-haul, versus those who enjoy only a limited period of growth and prosperity, is top management that looks ahead. You have to look into the future, and, even though it is impossible to predict accurately 100 percent of the time, you can use some tools to help you foresee both problems and opportunities.

There are many “tools” at your disposal. Some of the more commonly used quantitative ones include:

    1. Website hits. How many unique hits you get each month on your website – and whether or not this number is growing or decreasing – is one of the earliest indicators you can monitor to see what’s going to be happening workload-wise in the future. Your website is the first place new clients go to learn about your firm. Better make it good!
    1. Incoming opportunities, in terms of numbers and dollar value. Getting the number of new opportunities isn’t hard, but getting the dollar value of them is. People in the firm resist putting a number on an opportunity in terms of its dollar value, but it is necessary nevertheless. I always say: “Give us your best guess on what kind of fee this project would earn for us.” And, if it proves wrong, we can always increase or decrease it in the future.
    1. Proposals made. Easy to track. Valuable only if you look at one month compared to other months or the trend of monthly opportunities. NOT valuable to look at as a total number,
      because it is never cleaned out and always shows a bigger number than it should.
    1. Sales of new work. How else can you track backlog without knowing new work sold. “Sold” has a couple of different definitions. Some consider a job “sold” at selection, whereas more firms consider it “sold” once they have a notice to proceed and can actually work on it. I fall into the second camp.  Selection doesn’t mean a lot if you can’t work on it, although some folks consider this “soft backlog.”
  1. Backlog. Here is your best predictor of future revenues and profits but many firms – particularly smaller ones – don’t even bother to track it. I find that bizarre. You NEED this information.

But as good as these are, there are other sources of information – qualitative ones – that you need to be capturing and distributing, as well. Some of these include:

  1. Client interviews. What are their plans for the coming months and years? You need to know this, so you can plan for growing or shrinking demand. This info is crucial from your biggest and best clients. And gathering it is a good time to sell more work. But don’t keep what you learn under wraps. Share it inside the company.
  2. Business planning done by market leaders. These people should be in touch with their markets and whether demand is increasing or decreasing. Talk with them. What are they telling you? Share their prognostications and predictions with the rest of the company.
  3. Employee polling. Your rank-and-file employees have a good sense of what’s happening. Are things getting better or worse? Is demand increasing or decreasing? Much like how the government tracks consumer confidence, you might want to monitor “employee confidence.” It’s good information that could affect your decision making.

Looking ahead affects everything. Should you be hunkering down or expanding your staff? Getting bigger offices? Buying other firms? Spending money on expensive software or equipment? Adding more shareholders? Paying bigger or smaller bonuses? All of these decisions — and more — will be impacted by your collective assessment of the future.

Mark Zweig is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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Why should you participate in a Zweig Group Survey?

DSCN5668We are determined to be the preeminent source of knowledge in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry. Your thoughts, opinions & data are an incredibly valuable part of that process. Make your voice heard!

The following surveys are now open for participation

1. Principals, Partners & Owners Survey – closing soon!

• Get the final report for only $95! It’s the least expensive Zweig Group survey in existence!
• FREE one page preview summary report with some key data points, released prior to publication

2. Policies, Procedures & Benefits 

• Get 65% off the regular price of any Zweig Group Survey.
• ALL NEW. This survey is shorter, easier to take, and can even be taken from your cellphone.

3. Financial Performance

• Get 65% off the regular price of any Zweig Group Survey.
• FREE one page preview summary report with some key data points, released prior to publication
• ALL NEW. This survey is shorter, easier to take, and can even be taken from your cellphone.

Learn more about other Zweig Group surveys here.

 

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Constantly adjust your priorities

810Asking five questions can help competent men and women prioritize their endless workloads.

When you look at those people working in A/E firms who seem to get a lot done, you find one of their unique abilities is that of being able to continuously reevaluate and adjust their priorities. It’s not good enough to just be a hard worker who is organized and diligent. You have to work on the RIGHT problems.

This isn’t easy. It’s been said before that “work flows to the competent man” (or woman), and in design and environmental firms, this is surely the case. That means all your best people are constantly in a state of overload – i.e., they have more to do than they CAN (reasonably be expected to) get done. This makes evaluation of what is most critical an ongoing process and an important one.

Here’s a logical set of questions you can ask yourself to help establish priorities:

  1. Is a client depending on getting something from you? We work in client-driven, project-driven enterprises. For better or worse, client work HAS to dictate our highest priorities to some extent. Of course, this varies by client, as well. More than one may need something and you may not be able to please everyone. In these cases, you best be able to discern who the most critical clients are and please them as your first priority over the others. But don’t give up too easily. If you can effectively delegate, you may actually be able to keep everyone happy. That should be your goal.
  2. Is your superior counting on getting something from you?  If so, you best be prepared to deliver it, and if you aren’t going to be able to, give plenty of warning to whomever it is that you report to, so he or she can make other arrangements. You don’t want to make them look bad to whomever they are making promises to. It will hurt your career and reputation.
  3. Is someone who works for you counting on getting something from you? It’s critical that you deliver. If you don’t, you are setting a horrible example of how not to perform for everyone you count on to do things for you. If changing priorities affect prior promises, warnings and ideas for other sources or ways to help will undoubtedly be appreciated. No one wants to be treated as if their stuff isn’t important.
  4. Are you putting out fires? If so, is this the biggest fire? There are always a zillion problems to attend to. Your job is to work on the ones that are most critical and would be the most costly to the firm if not attended to.
  5. Are these fires ones that shouldn’t have started? If so, what are you going to change/do differently so you don’t have the same problem in the future? You can always act like the hero of the day and swoop in for a rescue, but is that the way you want to live your daily worklife?  Maybe you are overloaded because you aren’t dealing with things on a more fundamental level.  Maybe if you deal with the source of the problems, versus the problems themselves, you would find setting your daily priorities is a lot easier.

Remember: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Mark Zweig, is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.
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Making marketing manageable

Christy on MoonIn an industry with constant news and needs, following a few simple tips can keep your messages efficient and effective.

In today’s world, there’s an endless array of marketing that could or should be developed for your A/E/P and environmental consulting firm. From a letter to a prospective client to a press release or a post on social media to a detailed response to an RFP, managing the outflow of materials and messages is a sizeable task. Getting input from the right people is a vital part of the process, but involving too many people or having unclear roles can grind all marketing to a halt.

Here are a few tips to keep your marketing running like a well-oiled machine:

  • Get input from the right people. Have someone in your marketing department who can solicit input from the people who might know more than he/she about the topic at hand. It’s important that this person knows when he/she should get input and how to take direction.
  • Know your chain of command. Everyone who is involved in marketing the firm should know he/her role, and how long he/she has to perform it! If Bob is in charge of writing a press release and he has to get quotes from Fred and Stacy and then get the final draft approved by Sam, Fred can’t take two weeks to come up with a good one-liner!
  • While the above statement is true, it’s also important to have someone in the firm who is allowed to pull the trigger on something without involving a committee. The industry can move quickly, and if a new marketing piece or proposal needs to be put together for a potential client on the fly, then it’s important to have someone who can act with speed and accuracy – and do so alone. This is especially true when it comes to news and press releases. Putting out vital news too late is as bad as not getting it out there at all.
  • Be reasonable. Five people shouldn’t have to review a Facebook post or tweet before it’s sent out — that’s just waste of time. If you can’t trust whoever is managing your firm’s social media to put together 140 characters, then he/she shouldn’t have that role.
  • Don’t let too many cooks spoil the pot. Even for simple things, such as an e-blast, soliciting input from too many people can quickly leave the creator juggling polar opposite ideas. Trying to please multiple people – especially those that have opposing tastes – can ruin an effort’s look or message.
  • Leave some things out. Yes, that’s right: Don’t be afraid to omit. Not every detail of every project needs to be included on every marketing piece – the goal should be to catch the attention of your intended audience and give them the resources to find out more on their own.

CHRISTINA ZWEIG is a Zweig Group marketing and management consultant. Contact her at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Bad résumés, Skype, and doing favors

Bad résumés, Skype, and doing favors

Why flexibility is key when hiring your next top employee.

By Randy Wilburn
Recruiting Notes

Image courtesy of Flanzingo https://www.flazingo.com/creativecommons

Image courtesy of Flanzingo https://www.flazingo.com/creativecommons

One of the things that always stands out to me is architectural and engineering client firms that totally understand the process of attracting and hiring great employees. Some view it as a crapshoot – and I guess you could take that position – but I’ve learned over time that those that properly plan for the future, especially when it comes to an ever-evolving HR and recruitment process, will always be ready. The challenge is the preparation and execution.

Finding and hiring the best talent for your firm cannot be done in a vacuum, nor can it be relegated to second place – behind your marketing and sales efforts. I mean, come on! Who’s going to run things for your office? Some project management software tool that allows you to be more efficient both internally and externally? While those resources are great, it takes extraordinary talent to take your firm to the next level. That’s talent with a capital “T;” it’s not always easy to come by, which is why you need to be able to do a few key things to make sure you are attracting the best and brightest to your firm.

Bad résumés may not be a deal breaker. Many hiring managers put too much emphasis on the résumé. This is also a hindrance in finding good people for your firm. There is only so much you can glean from a résumé. If you rely solely in reviewing résumés as a hiring manager, then you need to rethink your hiring process. There are great candidates out there whose résumés leave more to be desired. Sometimes “bad” résumés are submitted by folks who have been busy working. Penalize those candidates at your own peril.

I have presented tons of candidates to my clients sans résumé, and many of those folks ended up being hired. We have to figure out a way to look past this perceived lack of information and develop a better litmus test for screening candidates.

At Zweig Group, we have clients give us the best questions they would like answers to, and when we do our preliminary interview and assessment with candidates, we ask those questions and try to incorporate that information into the profile that we send to our clients. We’ve found this to be a huge timesaver.

You say you’re too busy… use the Internet to your advantage. Consider offering scheduled online interviews via GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, or some other method of meeting with a potential candidate. This digital face-to-face approach can be a time saver, and you can keep things simple by following a script and asking questions germane to the position you are trying to fill. Though you will not be able to judge body language 100 percent of the time, you will have a better sense of things than if you had a phone conversation. An agenda is key to making sure you have a successful online interview. Just because you are a great conversationalist doesn’t absolve you from preparing for the interview. Trust me, if you try this with an agenda/script, you will thank me later.

The online interview goes well, now what? Once you have some compelling information on a candidate, you need to figure out a way to make yourself available to meet with this individual in person. I cannot tell you the number of times we’ve had to help clients understand that top candidates in today’s market, especially those that are not necessarily looking, have their pick of the litter when it comes to job opportunities. You may think your firm and opportunity are special, but there is always a bigger better deal waiting just around the corner. So, if you think you can put off a candidate interview until your schedule permits, you are highly mistaken. The biggest problem we see with most firms’ hiring processes is that they are set up in a manner where they make the candidate feel like they are doing them a favor.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the AEC industry, we deal with a fairly well educated and savvy marketplace of candidates, who know their value and are willing to wait for the right opportunity. This is precisely why you need to put your best foot forward in every interview process and make sure you are moving things along at a pace that signifies your interest in the person, if there is interest.

It may sound like I beat this drum all of the time, and unfortunately I have to, because we are still seeing very successful firms (from a revenue or operations standpoint) make a multitude of mistakes when it comes to hiring. I just want everyone to know that the perfect candidate is not out there waiting to take your job opportunity. There are a few really good people who can fill the role you are looking to fill, if you would just meet with them.

The hiring process is not a simple one, and it definitely takes time to master. There are obviously better ways to improve our odds of landing the most talented individuals, but you have to approach this process with a plan in mind. Then you’ve got to be willing to be flexible and to consider ways to let technology be your friend when recruiting and hiring the best engineers and architects.

Randy Wilburn is the executive search director at Zweig Group. Contact him at rwilburn@zweiggroup.com.  

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Really know your clients

Hot buttons, communication preferences, politics are just a few elements to know how – or how not – to address.

It occurred to me the other day how crucial it is to really know your clients. It is absolutely one of the single most important keys to your success as an architect, engineer, or environmental consultant.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  1. Know their hot buttons. If they get excited about the use – or lack of use – of a particular design software, you need to know that. If they are all about money and cost savings, everything you do has to address that. If they are all about sustainability and being green, you better be conscious of that. Everyone on your team who interacts with this particular client needs to know what is important to them and what isn’t.
  2. Know their communication preferences. If you like to call, but the client always returns with a text, get tuned into that and start texting instead of calling. If the client rapid-fire responds to every single email you send, you better do that, too. If the client wants to have lunch with you once a month, set that up. If the client expects to see you in their Chicago office twice a year, set that up and follow through with it. You cannot force people to communicate with you when and how you want them to, especially when they are the ones paying the bill.
  3. Know their politics. You have to be really careful here. I had an architect working for my development company on a commercial project really blow this one. He and I were on a call one day, talking about the project, and he told me about a new client he had just started working with, who had a particularly radical political orientation that he wanted me to meet, because he thought “we’d have a lot in common.” Problem was, his politics were the exact opposite of mine, and I took offense to his thinking that’s what I was into. I’m sorry – I think politics is something that you have to be EXTREMELY careful with. I would not share mine with anyone unless I was 100 percent certain I knew theirs and we were compatible. It’s just too risky…
  4. Know their interests. Everyone appreciates it if their friends and business associates know what their hobbies are and what they are interested in. It gives you something good to talk about. Of course, most of the highly successful people we deal with tend to be most interested in and want to talk about their own businesses or organizations. Let them do that. Encourage them to do so. Ask some questions. This will all be helpful to your ability to serve them well.
  5. Know their pet peeves. And then be sure not to ignore them! If you knew 25 years ago, for example, that Ross Perot’s development company was not fond of people with beards, you wouldn’t have assigned someone to work on their job who was bearded. Now you may say to yourself, “that’s ridiculous” or “they shouldn’t care about that,” but really, your opinion doesn’t matter. Only theirs does. They are the client. You probably won’t change them, but you can lose a client if you don’t know their pet peeves!

Last but not least, don’t hesitate to share what you have learned about your clients with everyone in your firm. The more people who really “get it,” the better off you will be and the happier your clients will be with what you are doing for them. Talk to your people about this! See what they have learned, too, and share it.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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Editorial: The real purpose of marketing

home-1Four suggestions from Mark Zweig that will result in more work than you can handle.

It’s interesting to me to see how many architects, engineers, planners and environmental consultants really don’t understand marketing. Many either see it as something that you have to do “just to keep up” with other firms orsomething that’s pretty much a waste of time – a cost to be minimized.

Truth is, marketing is probably one of the most important ways to drive your firm’s success, because you can use your marketing to drive demand for your firm’s services beyond your ability to supply it. And when that happens, a lot of other good things happen. You grow. You can say “no” to clients who don’t pay their bills or those whose project will hurt your reputation. You can hire better people. Your value goes up. You can increase your prices. These things will transform you firm – and maybe even your outlook on life!It’s interesting to me to see how many architects, engineers, planners and environmental consultants really don’t understand marketing. Many either see it as something that you have to do “just to keep up” with other firms or something that’s pretty much a waste of time – a cost to be minimized.

So how can you – as someone in the A/E/P or environmental business – use marketing to drive demand for what you do beyond your ability to supply what you do? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Fix your website. Lately it seems like I have run into a whole bunch of firm websites that are the modern-day equivalent of a bad ’80s brochure. They aren’t dynamic, the information is static, and the graphics are horrible. With most clients finding new service providers through Google searches and then checking out their websites, and with the cost of websites being as low as it is today, why any company would have a bad website is beyond comprehension!
  2. Build your list. You cannot do anything promotion-wise without having a list of who you are trying to sell your services to. Yet so many companies – more than I can count – don’t even have a customer relationship management system. They cannot even send out a Christmas card to all of their clients and potential clients because they cannot print out a list. That’s ludicrous. No other business can get away with that.
  3. Promote ONE brand. I see many A/E firms that clearly don’t get this idea. They may be called “ABC Associates” but then have a company newsletter targeted at development clients, and this thing has a name of “Developer Insite” (catchy, huh?) with a completely different graphic image from the rest of the firm. This kind of stuff only dilutes your brand and I don’t understand why people in this business do it every day.
  4. Contact your targets frequently and use lots of different methods. That means you need to call them, go see them, email them, mail to them, see them at events, see them at tradeshows, give talks to them, have them view your videos, have them hear your podcasts, have them see articles on you in the media, and much more. It is all about getting your name in front of these clients and potential clients frequently – much more frequently than architects and engineers think is “normal” (probably 10 to 20 times more often than most firms do it now). We are generally scared to do this and worried that if someone complains, it proves it is a bad practice. No matter if you got 20 new clients from the efforts!

There’s a lot you can do marketing-wise to drive demand. One thing I know: It all costs time and money. Stop looking at it as an expense and instead think of it as an investment. CH2M-Hill, HOK, Walter P. Moore, EDSA – none of them became the brands they are by minimizing their marketing investments!

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1094, originally published 3/9/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Zweig Group announces brand new seminar for aspiring project managers

Zweig Group has launched an all new seminar series titled “Becoming a Better Project Manager,” targeted at new and aspiring project managers in the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting industry.

The course is presented by Howard Birnberg, president of Birnberg & Associates, a management consulting and association management firm.  Birnberg is one of the foremost experts in project management and in addition to being an instructor on the subject at the University of California-Berkeley Extension and at Embry-Riddle (Worldwide) University, he also has served as an instructor on project management in the Office of Executive Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and as an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan State University, College of Human Ecology.

Birnberg is the author of Project Management for Designers and Facilities Managers, 3rd ed. (J. Ross Publishing, 2008) which has a 4th edition scheduled to be published in Fall of 2015.  Birnberg is active in a number of PM-related organizations and has given hundreds of seminars to thousands of architects, engineers, planners and scientists over the years.

“We decided to do this seminar–Becoming a Better Project Manager– because the fact is, architects, engineers, planners and environmental scientists often get little or no training in project management. Yet, one day, most of them at some point get drafted into a PM role–one they are completely unequipped for,” said Mark C. Zweig, Zweig Group founder & CEO.

“At Zweig Group, our entire purpose is to help you and your people be more successful. We’ve got a tight agenda–great food–and convenient locations for the Becoming a Better Project Manager seminars. It will be time and money well-invested to attend,” said Zweig.

The first seminar is scheduled for May 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida.

For more information visit: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm/index.php

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Editorial: Entrepreneurial thinking

tiger-shark_w520Show paints difference between risk-takers and everyone else. Mark Zweig shares some additional food for thought.

Watching “Shark Tank” episodes back-to-back last night was a great case study in the differences between entrepreneurs and most other businesspeople. It really got me thinking of entrepreneurs versus managers in the AEC business.

If you’ve never watched the show, you should. The “Sharks” (Mark Cuban et al) listen to pitches from people who have businesses or products they are trying to get the sharks to invest in. The sharks then either destroy them because of the lunacy (or idiocy) of their request or make them an offer – with or without the cooperation of another shark or sharks. Pretty cool deal. The sharks all put their own money into these businesses. Although I’m sure some aspects of the show are staged (I don’t believe in reality TV that actually is reality), the main premise of the show is real. These sharks invest in business ideas pitched on the show.

One of the things you immediately notice about the sharks is they are quick to make a decision. Sure, they may ask a question or two, but they can decide whether or not they like a business or idea very quickly. Being quick to make a call is not how most people operate. They see that behavior as risky or irresponsible. But the sharks see any indecision as what it is (you can’t make a decision) and lose interest quickly when would-be investment partners cannot immediately respond to their offer or offers. Sometimes I really feel sorry for the people who couldn’t act when the opportunity was right in front of them.

Another thing you see with the sharks is they understand the value of a proven concept versus an untested one. When people who have actually gotten their businesses off the ground and running at a profit show up they are usually much more interested in them than in those who just have a product or idea. Credibility comes from what you have done. Regular businessfolk are often seduced by an idea or person. Sharks are more skeptical. They can be seduced – by performance.

The sharks aren’t afraid to buck a trend. Just because four sharks may say “no” to someone doesn’t mean a fifth shark won’t say “yes.” They are each very independent thinkers and can do their own thing. While they clearly have some respect for one another they don’t shy away from disagreement. Nor are they shattered or disturbed if the other sharks don’t go along with them.

The sharks are also very free with their opinions. Most of them aren’t going to hold back whatever is on their mind – good or bad. Sure, that makes for good reality TV. But I don’t think these people are acting. “Regular” businesspeople are typically much more reserved and fearful of hurting someone’s feelings than these sharks are.

If you are reading this column, there’s a good chance you could be a “shark” in what you perceive to be a tank full of other kinds of fish. It may be frustrating to you at times that the other folks you work with don’t react as quickly as you do, or can’t make a decision on something, or seem to be more worried about others’ feelings than they are getting something done. Or maybe they just get easily seduced by unproven concepts that sound exciting. Whatever the case is, unless you are the majority owner and undisputed dictator in your firm you can’t just push a button and make things happen (Hell, you can’t do that even when you are the “dictator”). People have free will, they are intelligent, and they need to be convinced.

Even though you may have a stellar track record in every single thing you’ve done, not everyone is wired like you. The skeptics may see your success in spite of brashness more as a function of luck than skill. You need to sell them every single day on your vision and your ideas. Here are some thoughts:

  • Data helps. People like information. Find the information that helps articulate the problem or opportunity at hand and share it.
  • Time helps. The time you spend with people better allows you to share your logic and put it all together for those who may not see it.
  • Validation helps. Small tests – and small successes – help build credibility. Big successes even more so! Look for validation and don’t be afraid to share it.
  • Freedom of expression helps. As the leader, it’s your job to create that culture – and not just for yourself but for everyone. Everyone needs to know they can air their opinions. If they are wildly divergent from yours, you have to tolerate them, just as they have to tolerate your opinions. This culture of openness is essential to moving forward in spite of differences.
  • Recruiting more “sharks” helps. Getting a critical mass of people who understand that growth is a mandate and not just something you do when everything else is perfect is also going to make life easier for you. It isn’t easy – but you have to keep recruiting. Entrepreneurial thinking really can spread; it is something people can learn. I’ve witnessed firms in this business go through a complete metamorphosis.

An important point: Contrary to pop culture’s generally accepted conventional wisdom, entrepreneurs are not better or superior human beings. They are different and like all individuals, each have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s kind of like the tools in your toolbox. A box-end ratchet isn’t an inherently better tool than a visegrip pliers. Different tools serve different purposes and we need many kinds of “tools” (i.e., “people”) in our tool chests. Entrepreneurs are simply often better equipped to run growing enterprises in a rapidly changing dynamic environment than more traditional managers. In my experience, we all need more entrepreneurial thinking!

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1093, originally published 3/2/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Entrepreneurship and reaction time

JellyfishFive things that differentiate entrepreneurs from the rest of the people in the world.

I was watching a show on Netflix the other night with my eight-year-old daughter. It was all about humans with superhuman powers or capabilities.

One old fellow they featured on that particular episode was the “fastest gun alive.” He could draw his gun, cock it, aim it and fire so fast that he could actually shoot twice at two completely different targets – and to the human ear, it sounded like one shot. It truly was amazing how fast he could react.

With the speed of business today, your ability to react to things quickly is going to be critical to your success. But this is not something engineers and many architects are wired to do. They tend to be more deliberate and studied in their responses to things. When I see those leaders who can react (and act quickly), they tend to do really well. Reaction time is especially critical when it comes to principals who aspire to be entrepreneurs (not everyone who is in business is an entrepreneur). Here are some places where speed can really make a difference:

  1. Acquiring other firms. I always like to tell the story of what it was like to work with Jerry Allen back when he was alive and growing Carter & Burgess, and buying lots of companies. I could call him with a firm I thought he’d be interested in on Tuesday. He would call the sellers the same day, get on a plane to go see them the next day, and have a deal struck a day or two after that – calling to tell me all about it during his trip home. He didn’t fool around with endless board meetings and due diligence. He was all about his gut feeling, the financial risk he perceived was part of the deal versus potential return, and the agreements themselves that would protect him. His ability to act quickly allowed him to grow the firm by about 1,400 percent in 10 years and make the C&B stockholders lots of money, all while most of C&B’s competitors were asleep.
  2. Hiring. This is another area where you can either fool around endlessly, procrastinate and not get positions filled, or act quickly and get someone working on the particular problem or opportunity you need them working on quickly. Our executive search group has had annual recruiting engagements with several firms in this business. The differences in how these individual firms can react to and make a decision on job candidates is really interesting. Firm “A” may be able to respond quickly to any candidate presented – either saying “yay” or “nay” – and then call them the same day, quickly getting them in to see them, and making offers that get accepted, all within a week or two. Firm “B” takes days or even weeks to respond to a candidate, weeks to set up a phone discussion, and then months, in some cases, to set up a committee and arrange a time for a face-to-face session. Extending an actual offer, too, could be super difficult with the layers of approvals required or just a habit of acting slowly. Time marches on… and the candidates pull themselves out of contention or turn down the offer that may eventually result from this process.
  3. Selling/business development and client service. If there was ever a place where rapid decision-making and the ability to think on your feet pays off it is in selling and business development. You may need to switch your approach mid-presentation and come up with a new idea to make the sale. Can you make that call or do you blindly stick to script like a mindless robot? And clients who have questions need answers. The person who can give the answer quickly often is the winner. Deal negotiation, dealing with scope creep, processing questions and requests – all of these are enhanced by those who can react quickly and hampered by those who can’t.
  4. Dealing with personnel problems. This is yet another area where acting swiftly and immediately can head off problems. Whether it is a sexual harassment claim or someone who isn’t giving a good client the attention they really deserve, speed of reaction is of the essence! You have to investigate and confront before these problems grow. Ignore them and your inability to act could cost your firm big bucks or, worse.
  5. Keeping the people who work for you motivated and engaged. When your people come up with an idea and bring it to you, how long does it take for you to react? Or how long does it take for you to implement whatever it is that needs doing? My experience is that no matter how busy you are, your people want a reaction. Not reacting almost immediately will destroy their motivation and morale and convince them you don’t care about fixing something or cashing in on an opportunity. This is devastating to their morale!

One thing I know. Although I am only days away from turning 57 and no longer interested in riding motorcycles 150 mph on a track, my reaction time in business today is probably faster than it ever has been. Of course I don’t bat 1,000 in all my decisions but if I make a really bad one I can act quickly and make a new decision. I really think this is a big part of what differentiates entrepreneurs from the rest of the people in the world.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1092, originally published 2/23/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

 

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Brand Building: Who’s minding the ship?

January 2015 [ocs 129The manager-producer dilemma and how it can affect your course.

I am reflecting on the month of January as I write this. I was in the office for one business day and on the road for the rest of the month. A conversation about my hectic month with a friend led to a debate about the manager-producer dilemma; that struggle for senior leaders who vacillate between producing revenue and managing people and the organization. The manager-producer dilemma is common in service-related roles but tends to be enhanced in professional service firms. The manager-producer dilemma neatly illustrates a bigger problem for professional service firms: balancing short- and long-term focus.

Depending on the size and make-up of your organization, it may be necessary for senior leaders to have to play both roles. Then the question of what the right balance is comes to the surface. That’s tough to answer but for most firms, having adequate resources focused on the organization is critical regardless of other factors. One of the biggest problems we observe in firms is inadequate focus on the organization and the long-term objectives. Playing the producer role has many benefits; most short term, nevertheless. The immediate gratification of money earned for effort expended is addicting. Furthermore, leaders spent most of their careers being judged on how billable they were, so it’s a hard habit to break for many. The manager-producer dilemma can be a big problem because the tradeoffs are bigger as you climb the organizational chart. Not focusing properly on the company and your managerial responsibilities allows all kinds of organizational liabilities to pile up. When you are not minding the ship, it can easily start going off course. Your people get frustrated when leadership is absent and they are not getting adequate direction or feedback. There may be market conditions coming that you are not properly preparing the organization for. You are not focused on the resources the company needs to grow and thrive. The list goes on and on. If you find yourself battling the manager producer dilemma, consider these important points:

  • The producer role is not a scalable activity. There is only so much time in the day so you can only bill so much in a month. As I hit my limit in January I realized all of the important marketing items I had not accomplished back home. Business development and billable work is important, but marketing is critical if you are in a top leadership role. Building a brand and focusing the company on profitable markets allows you to scale up your company and make more money than spending all of your time as a producer.
  • Clients are important, so is everybody else. This dilemma represents a struggle between clients and your own people. Both need attention. Spending too much time in the producer role means you may not be available to address those critical needs internally. This can really cause big problems, such as demotivation and retention issues. Being at the top of the org chart is a huge responsibility and requires your attention on everyone who depends on you. That includes your staff, your family, and yes, definitely your clients.
  • Strategic plans require execution and that is your job. Actually it is everybody’s job, but it starts with you. Assuming you have a plan, delegation and intense focus on accomplishing the plan is required. When you are in the producer role, these longer-term and seemingly non-urgent initiatives go to the bottom of the stack of to-do items. It’s a big problem in this industry. There are too many firms that call us asking for assistance with a plan that is sometimes five or 10 years old. A firm without a yearly business plan being executed daily is a rudderless ship. The producer role is demanding and creates a short-term focus, which is the enemy of the strategic plan.

Whether you are the directional leader of your company, the leader of a business unit or an up-and-coming future leader, the manager producer dilemma likely to is or will affect you. Proper attention toward the higher order long-term needs of your team and company is essential for long-term success. You must also, however, have happy clients to stay in business. It’s all about striking the right balance. I may have spent the entire month out of the office but I have been working on some really exciting projects with some great clients. I have enjoyed it! And the rewards my clients will reap from our work together will also surely pay off in the future for our business and brand. Being a producer is rewarding and provides our company with much needed revenue. But again, one must always recognize the importance of the manager role and minding the ship back home. For those of you that have stints of intense client work, make sure you have good people back home with clear accountability for steering the company. Both the manager and producer roles are critical for a healthy company. You need people rowing and steering. Consider where you spend you time today. Do you need to be spending more time in the captain’s quarters looking ahead and steering your ship?

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1092, originally published 2/23/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Why should you enter the Marketing Excellence Awards?

Debating entering Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards? Here’s a few reasons why you should enter this year:

1) Double your marketing efforts. The Marketing Excellence Award winners get a lot of attention:

  • The list of winners is published in The Zweig Letter, Zweig Group’s weekly management publication.  
  • Individual entries will be highlighted throughout the year in individual write-ups with images.
  • The top three winners from each category will be on display at the Hot Firm & A/E Industry Awards Conference in Boston, MA on September 3-4, 2015 where judging on the “People’s Choice” award will occur. 
  • Zweig Group will send out a press release about the award winners to thousands of contacts in the AEC Industry. 
  • Social media posts will announce and celebrate the winners.
  • What a great thing to be able to announce and display on your firm’s website & social media!

2) Refine your process. The entry application will walk you through the steps your firm took to develop, distribute, and gauge the effectiveness of your marketing campaign –it’s a great way to look at your marketing methods from a different perspective, and record this process so you can look back on it in the future. 

3) Develop new ideas. Entering the awards, sharing the marketing piece development with other firm members, and viewing other award entries is a surefire way to come up with new ideas.

4) Win an award.  Be proud of your hard work!  Join the other award winners at Zweig Group’s 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference and participate in the special awards ceremony luncheon on September 4th. Hang the award in your office lobby, put the Marketing Excellence Awards logo on your website, and share your marketing achievements with everyone!

To apply or see a list of previous winners click here.  

Be sure to check out some of last year’s winners on the blog:  More    More

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Recruiting Notes: Finish strong from the start

Tulsa Tough 2010 Day 2 - Brady Village - Men's Cat 3 Race - FiniThree ideas to help you implement a successful HR recruiting program.

I sit here writing this article the day after Super Bowl 49. I’m neither a Patriots nor Seahawks fan but it was an exciting game to say the least – and one that reminds me that, “It isn’t over until the final whistle!” This reminds me of the importance in recruiting of seeing something through to completion and not leaving things to chance, especially when dealing with human beings. The beauty of engineering and architecture are the several absolutes tied to the technical aspects of a job. However, when you are dealing with trying to hire the best and brightest people for your office you cannot afford to make too many mistakes and still have a successful recruiting program.

If you are running your recruiting program on a whim and things happen on a reactive rather than proactive basis, you may be in trouble if you are hoping to grow your firm.

Here are three ideas that, if systematically implemented, can help you and your HR department always operate from a position of strength.

First off, you need to have a strategic hiring plan in place for how you will systematically source, recruit, and hire the best people for your company. You cannot leave this to chance or hope that LinkedIn will provide for you as your projects increase. The most successful firms in our industry don’t drop the ball in this area. Recently, I’ve witnessed more HR departments hire in-house recruiters or outsource some or all of their recruiting needs to an executive search firm. You have to be intentional about this and you also need to understand your current capacity for getting things done from an HR perspective. Many firms have great HR managers but they don’t have great HR recruiters. You have to identify the strongest sellers of the company ethos and brand and utilize them throughout the recruitment process. A good outside recruiter can handle some of this for you but you will still need someone internally who can meet with candidates, articulate the features and benefits of working with your firm and ultimately help candidates understand why they should be working there. It’s not rocket science but I see many firms with good names still making mistakes in this area and missing out on the next superstar PM. Every phase of the recruitment process needs to have a caretaker who can “own it!” This may not be just one person and if it’s a committee of people everyone has to be in agreement about the process of recruiting in your firm. Who will candidates speak with, meet with, dine with, etc.?

Second, you need to develop a relocation plan that speaks very clearly to the benefits and challenges of moving to your neck of the woods. I recently wrote an article about this subject that gives some very clear instructions on what you can do to ensure a successful relocation (THE ZWEIG LETTER, Jan. 19, 2015, issue #1087). Every office location has pluses and minuses about it and you just have to figure out what those are and learn what to accentuate and what to acknowledge as a deficiency. Trust me! Candidates will appreciate you pointing these things out and if nothing else you will at least attract a person who knows full well what they are getting themselves into, instead of being surprised about how hot the summers can be because they visited your firm in the middle of winter. This is a very simplistic example but you want your new hires to be “all in!” and not griping about a situation that could have been avoided.

Lastly, you need to develop a metric for keeping track of your recruitment process. If you don’t know how many people you are sourcing, calling, interviewing, making offers to, etc., you will find it difficult to track your success. If you are a smaller firm and you don’t have an HR department to do this, you need to have someone in your office who’s good at keeping track of things. We keep track of this information for our clients in our executive search group for everything we do. These metrics tell us where we run into problems in the recruiting process and where we have success.

This sounds like a lot but in order to hire the best people you need to have a strong HR recruiting system in place. I would be more than happy to speak with you further about some of the challenges you are having from a recruiting perspective. Sometimes an outside perspective makes all of the difference in the world.

Randy Wilburn is director of Executive Search with Zweig Group. Contact him at rwilburn@zweiggroup.com or find him on Twitter at @RandyWilburn and @ZGRecruiting.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1091, originally published 2/16/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: HR in 2015

IMG_1267Are you getting all you need from HR today? Three suggestions from Mark Zweig.

Human resources management often gets a bad rap.

That isn’t without cause. In my experience, too many HR managers forget whose side they are on. They often are in the job because they “like people.” They can often be easily seduced away from their role as a company manager and are instead tempted into filling the role of employee ombudsman and labor representative against “evil management.” While I am not going to say there is no such thing as an “evil company” (Does Doctor Evil have an evil enterprise?), I can assure you I have never run into one in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business. Yours are good companies, by and large run by good people who are genuinely trying their best to give their people good jobs.

The other thing HR managers do that hurts their effectiveness is to focus too much on employment-related liability issues. Their fear of lawsuits surrounding discrimination or sexual harassment claims drives all of their input to management. Management then dislikes them and sees them (the HR people) as their problem – more so than the problem itself. This reduces their opportunities to make meaningful contributions to firm strategy and management and relegates them to a second-class role. Then, even if they do have good ideas on how to do things, they have no audience to voice them to.

So what should the role of HR management be, right now, today? Here are my thoughts on the three “big things” HR people should be working on today:

  1. Recruiting. Show me a business that isn’t having a hard time finding enough quality people to fill every opening and I will show you one that either isn’t growing or has low standards. Recruiting has to be one of the top priorities for HR. Recruiters literally feed the business every bit as much as those who sell whatever the business creates. It’s an important job, and HR needs to do it!
  2. Career development. Providing meaningful training and growth opportunities for your staff is critical because you need your people to grow and adapt to a changing field. But beyond that, good people want to feel like they are learning and if not, will become disenchanted and leave. You cannot count on your technical and professional staff to do what they need to do to train their people. They are busy and usually have other priorities. In some cases, they will even resist training people because of fear they won’t be needed if someone else knows what they know. HR needs to help here.
  3. Morale/turnover. Good morale is essential to productivity, teamwork, and good client service. If you don’t have it, people become demotivated, work less, care less about quality, and hurt your profitability. HR has to provide input on the state of employee morale overall as well as specific strategies to make it better.

So the bottom line is that we need GOOD human resources management. In fact, it is essential today. Are you getting what you need from your HR people today?

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1091, originally published 2/16/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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2014 Marketing Excellence Awards: Anniversary Campaign

FINLEYcaptureFINLEY (Tallahassee, FL), celebrated their 10-year anniversary in a campaign that landed them the fourth place in Zweig Group’s Marketing Excellence Awards in the Special Event category.

Craig Finley, Jr., president and founder, and Ann Schiola, marketing director of the 20-person engineering firm, worked together to develop the campaign. The firm integrated an anniversary message into all printed advertisements, websites, press releases, email signatures and social media sites in order to let the public know about this event. The firm also designed a T-shirt for staff and spouses/significant others and planned an in-house celebration.

Emails were sent to over 3,600 contacts, an animated card was posted on FINLEY’s website, an anniversary banner was created and displayed on marketing materials, and full page advertisements were printed in the American Segmental Bridge Institute Directory, the American Segmental Bridge Institute Annual Convention Program, and the Bridge Design and Engineering IBC Awards Brochure. The firm also sent out e-blasts, a press release, and created an anniversary timeline.

What works

  • Bringing it home: FINLEY mailed the anniversary newsletter to employee’s residences, bringing families into the celebration as well.
  • No stone unturned: FINLEY put their anniversary message on almost everything and got the message out in a multitude of ways.

Results
FINLEY achieved results for every component of their campaign, including a 100 percent increase in Facebook likes, a strong increase in LinkedIn followers, an 18.07 percent click-through late on a holiday card sent out on Jan. 1 (not a work day), and a 52.27 percent returning user rate on their website.

Westwood launches refreshed brand
Westwood Professional Services (Minneapolis, MN) launched a refreshed corporate brand encompassing a simplified version of its existing logo, and a new look to its website (westwoodps.com) and print materials. The firm also introduced a new corporate video and fresh approach to how Westwood communicates its value to the industries through its brand promise of “Better people. Better results.”

Westwood’s fresh brand message reflects its dedication to client satisfaction by cultivating an environment where its employees are provided professional and personal growth opportunities. This commitment is founded on the firm’s belief that its people are its greatest asset.

President/CEO Paul Greenhagen said, “The reason our clients come back to Westwood is because we have the people they trust to get their projects done on schedule and according to plan. Our people are without a doubt the secret to our success.”

Greenhagen says the brand refresh clearly articulates the firm’s value to the markets it serves. “Our clients need a firm that is looking out for their best interests and helping them realize their vision. At Westwood, we focus on building a better team because having the expertise and tools to complete tough projects is how our clients, our employees, and our company achieve better results. Westwood’s fresh message hits the mark in regard to how we provide value.”

The firm strives to be a national leader in delivering professional surveying and engineering services in the markets they serve. As a multi-disciplined surveying and engineering firm, Westwood provides services to support the development of commercial, residential, wind, solar, power delivery, and oil, gas, and pipeline projects nationwide.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1088, originally published 1/26/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Love your people

HeartsIt may sound cheesy, but it applies to both personal and professional relationships.

There’s so much written these days about how to be a great leader. It’s everywhere. A million ideas and things one should do if they want to win the hearts and minds of their people.

This fascination for leadership is well merited, especially in a business like the one we work in. Architects, engineers, scientists, planners, and other related professionals are NOT easy people to “lead.” As highly intelligent professionals, they value their independence and may resist any attempts to guide them, viewing compliance as weakness. But the fact is this: If you can get everyone working together in a common direction amazing things can happen. Great projects are an incredibly complex team effort that requires extraordinary effort and cooperation.

One of the keys to leadership that is NOT often discussed is that of love – love for the people you work with. It sounds kinda cheesy and a little too new-age to talk about “love” in a business publication but believe me, it’s critical to you. If you can show your love and win over people’s hearts and minds, they’ll move mountains for you.

Love for your people is shown through:

  • Time. Whom you spend time with is one very important way to share love. Whom do you talk to? Whom do you go out to lunch with? Whom do you go see at the end of the day? Time equates love. Never spend time with someone and they will think you don’t love them.
  • Recognition. Who gets the promotions? Whom do you talk about/talk up? Recognition is one important way to show love. Ignore people and how they contribute and they will think you don’t love them.
  • Appreciation. Whom do you thank? Public thanks or private thanks are both critical in terms of showing love for someone. Do more thanking and you’ll be showing more love.
  • Money. I hate to say it but money does equate love – whether that refers to employees, subconstultants, and others you do business with. The more money you give someone, the more love you show for them.
  • Tolerance. When you love someone you tolerate their idiosyncrasies. When you don’t, these things become reason to talk about people behind their backs or worse, to make them feel unloved. Same thing applies to performance blips or mistakes. Tolerance means love. No tolerance means “no love.”
  • Forgiveness. If you love someone you forgive them. Even when they do you wrong or cause big problems. Forgiveness is one of the key elements of love. If you can’t forgive someone for something they said or did, you aren’t showing them love and can’t expect to get it back.
  • Compassion. Can you empathize with other people or put yourself in their shoes? Compassion breeds understanding. Understanding equates love. If you are unsympathetic, people will think you don’t care – and not just the ones you are unsympathetic toward.

As the song says, “If you want to get love you have to give love.” It is every bit as true in the workplace as it is in your personal life. Think about it. Better yet, use it to your advantage and for the good of all.

Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1090, originally published 2/9/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

 

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Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston announced as the location for Zweig Group’s 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference

Web-Photo1(1)FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (February 5, 2015) – Zweig Group announces the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston as the venue for the 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference held on September 3-4, 2015.  As the industry’s largest and most comprehensive business conference for leaders and aspiring leaders of AEC firms in the U.S, the Fairmont Copley Plaza was carefully chosen due to its luxury amenities, architectural heritage, and central location.

This Boston landmark hotel has been a symbol of the city’s rich history and elegance since its construction in 1912.  The hotel features 23,000 square feet of Renaissance-inspired meeting space and 383 individually designed guest rooms and suites, well-appointed with lavish decor and thoughtful amenities created specifically for business and pleasure. Centrally located in Boston’s historic Back Bay, The Fairmont Copley Plaza sits steps away from the Boston Public Library, historic Beacon Hill, and the Freedom Trail. Our historic landmark Back Bay hotel is located only a few blocks from the Hynes Convention Center, Copley Place Mall and the boutiques of Newbury Street.  The Fairmont Copley is also home to one of the hottest drinking and dining destinations in the city, OAK Long Bar + Kitchen.

fairmont-copley-plaza-review

The Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference agenda includes topics on technology, leadership challenges, business planning, marketing methods, recruiting and retention, and growth strategies.  A special awards luncheon on day two of the conference will celebrate the Zweig Group 2015 Marketing Excellence Award winners, and the conference will culminate with a black-tie awards banquet and ceremony in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Grand Ballroom where awards will be presented to firms on the 2015 Hot Firm List and the 2015 Best Firms To Work For ranking, and the Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award winner.

“It’s great to be back in Boston with our flagship conference. This is where we started our company back in 1988 and we love it!” said Mark Zweig, firm founder.

For more information on the Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference please visit: www.hotfirm.com

For more information on the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel please visit: http://www.fairmont.com/copley-plaza-boston/

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From the Chairman: Why we all hate timecards

Have a conversation about project details and fees so you can staff them right and finish work on time, preferably below the allocated fee.

On the architecture and engineering professions, we measure everything by time. We contract for services in a variety of ways, but it all boils down to the bottom line – paying our staff, ourselves, and our overhead from the fees we negotiate, based on a scope of services. This means we have to continually allocate and monitor time against services, measuring whether we’re spending more or less to accomplish the work than the fees under contract.

Lately, I’ve listened to more examples of frustration, procrastination, and confusion about timecards, time-keeping and budgeting in general. I’ve had a few clients ask, “How should we determine utilization rates when people are working on both billable and non-billable work, such as competitions, proposals and overhead tasks?”

“As design professionals, we just want to design. Doesn’t anyone understand that?” Sorry, folks, you also have to run a business… or not, which is why profitability and compensation have remained a challenge in our profession.

Let’s start with some basics. I think we can all agree that we do better when both the manager and the person assigned a task have discussed and agreed upon the time and effort to be applied to a component of the work for which we’ve contracted. But how often does this happen? Judging from my observations, the answer is, “Not very.” A staff member is typically told to start working on something with very little conversation about how much of the fee converted to hours has been allocated to complete the task.

Why is this? Quite simply, many managers in our profession are really designers or technical staff who have migrated into a manager role, having no desire (and frequently no training) to actually manage. They may enjoy directing others but haven’t developed the skill to do so effectively.

Compounding this are team members who just want to take action, who have little skill in planning their work, estimating how long it will take, or how to utilize shortcuts. Those shortcuts might include referencing similar work, only doing what is really needed rather than what “I’d like to explore,” and so forth. There’s little thought given to whether or not the length of time projected exceeds the fee available. Sound familiar?

So, what skills are needed? Let’s start with a mandate that no work begins without a discussion between the project manager and the team doing the work about the scope and, more importantly, the process to address it, exploring alternative methods that might accomplish the same end in less time. Add to this an agreement between all parties that the methods to be utilized are acceptable. This is not about a manager telling someone how long they have to accomplish something; it’s a negotiation that will only be successful if all parties are in agreement.

Next, all parties must accept responsibility to say, “This is not working. Let’s figure out how to get back on track.” In other words, the project manager is not just giving orders and the team is not just taking them. Together, they’re collaborating in designing and then adjusting the process by which they’ll do their best work within the fee available; or better – below the fee allocated. Yes, we have a profit margin built into our standard billing rates, but that doesn’t mean we have to utilize every hour the contracted fee adds up to. This is exactly why some firms are much more profitable than others.

My philosophy has always been: get on the job, do your best work and then get off the job. But never start working until you’ve planned it as a team in alignment with the contract with the client.

Now let’s talk about “utilization,” the percentage of billable time a person at each level is expected to achieve. Typical staff utilization usually runs quite high (90 to 95 percent), while a leadership principal might be 50 percent and a design or technical principal 75 percent.

In practice, at Gensler we depended heavily on the good judgment of our studio directors and project managers to give guidance and make commitments on this sort of thing. We found it way too difficult to institutionalize this in hard numbers and formulas. It was a target, one to be monitored, certainly, with recommendations about how to get closer to the objective, while at the same time understanding that utilization will vary from time to time because of workload, or particular overhead assignments that we wanted to accomplish.

Then there’s the issue of dealing with marketing time, i.e, the “free” work we often do to get a job or to participate in a competition. Here, we work to carefully assess the risk first (what are our odds of winning the project?) and to budget accordingly. When we make a decision to proceed, we analyze what needs to be done. Designers and architects tend to work on prospective projects as if such projects were already won and real, rather than figuring out how to do only what is necessary and important to the client so you get chosen over the competition. Success is never found through doing more work, but always in presenting an innovative response to a client’s issues.

This marketing time is documented so that if a project proceeds, it is added onto the job cost record. In other words, speculative time to get the job is considered a part of the fee that delivers value to the client.

All of this depends on good judgment on the part of your leaders, designers and technical staff, careful budgeting of what you undertake, and careful monitoring of the team as it works through an assignment.

Are you training your leadership to foster this approach to their work? Has it become a part of your culture, such that no one would even think of working otherwise?

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with ZweigWhite and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zweiggroup.com.


This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1090, originally published 2/9/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Client Focus is a must

(The following is an excerpt from the book Successful Project Management for A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms, by Ernest Burden)

successful pm

Client service. Client-focused. Client-driven. Client-centered. Every A/E/P and environmental consulting firm includes these words in their mission statement, promotional literature, or proposals and presentations. It’s a well-established industry belief that clients pay as much attention to the service they receive, i.e., accessibility to principals, responsiveness, attentiveness and attitude, as they do to technical quality of the work performed. Even when the project manager is paying careful attention to service considerations, satisfying clients is not easy. You have to walk-the-walk with client focus–breathe it, demonstrate it, and stop merely talking about it. As a result of client service:

• The business development budget will be transformed into a client retention budget.
• Your firm enters the competition arena as a preferred or even sole source provider.
• Your firm obtains more follow-on client-requested scope and budget expansion.
• Your staff enjoys increased job satisfaction because their importance is recognized.
• You firm spends less on proposals, contracts, and project execution.
• Your hit rate increases, since you avoid losses associated with responding to “over the transom” RFPs from non-committal clients.

In a client-sensitive organization, business development and project delivery are naturally integrated. However, since project delivery personnel spend more time with clients than anyone else, they should be the top client-service people. Project managers should not disappear when contracted work is completed, only to surface again when the next project is identified. They should remain focused on that client’s needs at every stage of the relationship.
Assigning a single person to the role of client service manager or client advocate will help mitigate the risk and capitalize on the opportunities. Everyone on the client service team needs to share their planned activities and information gained with that person. When disagreement occurs on client service issues internally, the client advocate should always be the final arbiter.

 

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