Being strategic about marketing

Diverse firms can implement rules-of-thumb to establish priorities and see results for years to come.

140By Andrea Bennett
Managing Editor

A/E/P and environmental firms have several items on their to-do lists at any given time: RFPs to consider; go/no-go evaluations to make; constant communications with past, current, and potential clients; not to mention HR and other internal priorities. On top of all of that, savvy firms know that in order to keep business coming in, they must continue putting their message out through continuous marketing of their services and successes. Though the actual means and message will vary by firm and industry, Zweig Group’s Executive Vice President Chad Clinehens says that most A/E/P and environmental organizations can utilize some basic principles and strategies to ensure that they stay at the top of their marketing games – and ahead of their competitors.

For starters, Clinehens says, it is essential that firms stop thinking of marketing as another overhead expense.

“Marketing is an essential business-building function,” he says. “It should always be viewed separately from support services like payroll and other general overhead functions. The healthy perspective is: ‘With every dollar I spend on marketing, I should expect to get some return in the future.’ Growth starts with marketing.”

Though there is no specific formula or ideal media mix that can be implemented across-the-board, Clinehens says that firms can use some rules of thumb to determine their ideal budgets and channels.

“In general, firms spend an average of 3.8 percent of their net service revenue on marketing, and we suggest that firms outspend their peers by at least 30 percent to gain a measurable competitive advantage,” he says. “There is not a generally accepted ranking of activities that all firms should use to prioritize their investment. Rather, the priorities should be defined by that firm’s unique position in the market and its strategic plan for modifying or expanding that position. Firms, in general, however, need to make sure that they distinguish what is true marketing, versus what is business-development.

“Regardless of size, firms need one person that is solely accountable for driving return on marketing investment. In smaller firms, that could be the CEO, but, as firms grow, having someone specifically tasked with marketing is crucial. We normally recommend this for firms with 50 or more people. Firms should also carefully consider who has this role: Understanding the unique spects of this industry, combined with creativity, is a must.”

As far as where to look to begin making these decisions and distinctions: Clinehens says that it all goes back to the strategic plan.

“Firms must have a clear and concise strategic plan that is updated yearly,” he says. “Have goals and activities in that plan that are designed to advance the firm and its vision. Then provide adequate resources to accomplish the short- and long-term goals in that plan. The marketing priorities included in the plan should be set by a clear vision and mission for the firm.

“At the end of the day, everyone is looking for measurable results. Measurable results, however, are particularly difficult to define in our industries, because we do not sell products in the retail sense, where a sale can be tracked to a specific activity. Rather, marketing activities in firms aim to build a brand, which results in purchases for possibly years out. This is why marketing is an essential business function, not an overhead expense.&rdquo

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Common business problems

Many lessons from ‘Small Enterprise Management’ can be applied to A/E/P and environmental firms.

As most readers know, one of my “other” jobs is that of a college professor, teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas’ main campus in Fayetteville. Each Spring, I teach two sections of “Small Enterprise Management,” a class where my students work with a privately held company’s owners to improve their growth, profitability, value, and reduce their risk.

While I give them suggestions, I let each student use any means they want to gather information on the business. One requirement is to share their financials with the class. Doing this for 12 years and having 90-plus students a year – each working with a different company – has given me an incredible view into the successes and failures of privately held businesses of all types. It is so interesting to see who is making money, who is losing money, and why. Of course, I always get ideas for new businesses I want to start (or never start!) based on what I learn. Here are some of my observations – and I think there are lessons for A/E/P and environmental firms here:

  • Marketing is the No. 1 problem for small businesses. Most of ‘em don’t do anything. They over rely on “word of mouth.” Most small business owners think marketing is too expensive or a waste of time and, as a result, spend almost nothing on it. Then their businesses don’t grow and their response is to either keep doing nothing or to work on building a better mousetrap – but rarely is it to start marketing! Most owners of AEC firms – in spite of countless examples of firms who have been incredibly successful through sustained marketing investments – operate the same way.
  • Transition planning is frequently ignored. Most small business owners build organizations that are entirely too dependent on them and then don’t get anyone else in there who could take over one day soon enough to have a transition. As a result, the majority of these businesses will start and end with their first owners. Same situation in the AEC world – no transition and a firmly rooted belief that the company won’t be worth anything anyway.
    Family businesses have many special problems. The majority of small businesses have more than one family member working in them. In some cases, the payroll is loaded with family members who aren’t doing anything and who all act like they own the business and can tell anyone else what to do. In other cases, sons and daughters – and sons and daughters OF sons and daughters – are all working together under one roof, and there’s lot of frustration with an aging founder who won’t adopt technologies needed and who doesn’t want to invest in the business so it will grow. Family business is tough and, in my mind, most relatives should start at the bottom and prove themselves or work somewhere else and come back. No family member should automatically get a job. We have seen plenty of these issues in the AEC world over the years.
  • Many businesses are ill-conceived from the get-go. Who really needs another stained glass company, or the 41st undifferentiated Mexican restaurant in a city that already has 40 of them, or a screen printing T-shirt business? AEC firms are much the same. The engineer or architect who starts the business hangs their shingle out with little thought of what will differentiate them from other similar businesses and how they will be set up so the probabilities are in their favor for success.
  • So many small and private businesses have terrible accounting! It’s crazy. I have learned about companies – some of them doing millions of dollars of business annually – with NO accounting. The owners throw everything into a shoebox or run the show from their checking accounts. It’s really crazy. You have to have good numbers to know what is going well and what needs fixing, as well as what could be going wrong soon! We have seen some of this same nonsense in AEC firms, believe it or not. I knew a guy once who ran a second-generation A/E firm as the sole owner. He had 14 different checking accounts and boxes full of paper but never knew how he was really doing.

In any industry or market, some people are a lot more successful than others. The difference that these companies achieve may be two, five, 10, 20, or even 50 times better than the “norm.” You won’t get better results by doing everything the same way everyone else does it in your business, either! Don’t fall into these common small-business/private-business traps.

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

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Spotlight on Strategy – Brand Building: ‘It’s ours to lose’

OpenResponseSuccessOver-confidence going into a proposal or interview can create a self-fulfilling prophecy; front-runners must be sure to wow clients.

We have all been there. We find out we are short-listed for that project that we feel really good about winning. We did our homework, met with the client before the RFQ was released, and have relationships at the levels of the client organization that we believe we should have. We start discussing the interview presentation and someone says: “It’s ours to lose.”  I wonder if there is a mental effect of saying that out loud that causes a subconscious adjustment of strategy or level of effort toward the presentation.

Whether officially notified that you are the front-runner or you found out otherwise, take note of what your reaction should be. It should be that now you must try harder and invest even more into the last phase of the selection process. Do not allow that sense of accomplishment to distract you into fantasies of receiving that congrats letter and running down the hall and high-fiving your colleagues. Being the front-runner means one thing: The client will expect more from your team.

I recently saw the results of a survey that ranked influencers on decisions-makers when selecting professional services firms. The respondents ranked personality and attitude as the top influencer, then team culture, then project approach, and lastly related experience. These same respondents stated that they find it easy to differentiate firms. I think that statement might surprise many of you who work on the consultant side of the equation.

We constantly obsess over becoming a commodity, as, from our vantage point, firms look very much alike. But when you sit on the client’s side of the table, and personality, attitude, and team culture are your top concerns, then firms really do look quite different. This presents a real paradox for firm leaders. The things we focus on in the interview development are project approach and experience, because we think that distinguishes us from the firm down the street. That focus influences a number of decisions that ultimately lead to an interview that looks just like everyone else’s.

Front runner or not, everyone needs to start looking at project selection processes as more than just a data dump of your qualifications but rather the opportunity to create an experience for your clients. Here are some pointers that everyone can use to close the sale:

  • Choose your team carefully. From the first client contact, match your people with your clients in a way that considers how likely it is they can work together. Don’t look at just the most qualified in the firm; you will always choose the most senior person, and that could really be a bad idea. When putting this in the context of an interview presentation, choose those who attend the interview just as carefully. When personality, attitude, and team culture are being judged, you must make sure the team has chemistry. This is a rare opportunity to show a client who the team really is and how they get along and communicate with each other. A team that is assembled with only the technical merits considered could be an awkward pairing of individuals, and a client is sure to sense that.
  • Take risks. The conservative wiring of technical professionals often keeps them from being bold when it comes to marketing and business-development. Whether you are in first or last place, taking risks and being bold is critical to standing out. Do something memorable and impactful in your proposals and interviews. If you shy away from this, you will only be able to provide cost-effective, innovative solutions to your clients — the same things your competitors are offering. Don’t be afraid to show your clients who you really are.
  • Never assume anything. Assuming that being in first place is an opportunity to relax and even save some money on the interview because the odds are for you, is the quickest way to go to second place.  In the famous words of Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” There is only one spot where being in first place matters, and that is at the finish line. Nothing that happens in the race before that matters. Other assumptions that matter include assuming your client does not care how you or your team is dressed, assuming that your team cannot outnumber the people on the selection committee, assuming that the client is not keenly aware of the chemistry of your team, and assuming that the client will strictly follow the scoring sheet that you so cleverly got a copy of.

All of these things are important for firms to be mindful of as they market themselves and attempt to close sales. It is also important to view business-development holistically. It is a courtship that starts with an introduction and may result in a winning interview. It is about project experience and expertise, but it’s also about team culture and your unique personality. Whether you are in first or last place at any point in the race, never take your eye off the finish line, and run as hard as you can.

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

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Stop being afraid to be different!

elephantsEmbracing marketing to set you apart from everyone else can change your business – and your life – for the better.

Good marketing has the power to change your firm – and your life. If you can figure out how to drive demand for what your firm does – beyond your ability to supply it – everything changes. There’s no need to work for bad clients who won’t pay good fees. Say “goodbye” to slow-pay clients; a not-so-fond “farewell” to clients who abuse you and your staff; and “hello” to your ability to attract and retain a quality staff of competent people who always get the job done, a fatter bank account, and a lot less stress.

But, we have a problem: Those of us working in the A/E/P and environmental business – for the most part – when it comes to marketing, are conformists. We’re all doing the same thing – living our stereotypical roles and getting about the same results. What do I mean?

  • Most architectural marketing is about the same. Architects tend to focus on pretty pictures of unoccupied buildings. Or, even worse, pretty drawings of buildings that haven’t been built yet. Either way, the buildings either aren’t being used by people (people are messy) or haven’t been built (nothing screams disconnect from construction costs more loudly than selling a design that isn’t built). These kinds of images, coupled with text full of architectural-speak gobbledy-gook – and you all know what I mean: big multi-syllable words strung together in meaningless diatribes (with a subtle implication of how ignorant the readers must be by comparison) – and, you get the picture. Then, add to this kind of material limitless design competitions, messy offices, and a penchant for odd-looking glasses, and the stereotype is fully fleshed out.
  • Engineers, by comparison, have their own unique tendencies that tend to show in their marketing efforts. They love to use technical terminology and acronyms that those of us who are non-engineers don’t understand, as well as overwhelm readers and listeners with way too much information and way too many details. That 10,000-square-foot commercial building is often over-described down to the type of foundation, size of structural bays, roof spans to the inch, HVAC loads and capacities, and so on. Engineers often get so mired down in detail that they forget what they are doing and why. Couple this with a lack of confidence in face-to-face meetings, ill-fitting sport coats, and a love for gadgets, and the stereotype is well-established.
  • Both architects and engineers, as well as other allied disciplines, are handling their marketing similarly.Way too much effort is expended reacting to opportunities to submit proposals and qualification packages with little thought. Branding efforts are largely ignored. Direct mail/ e-marketing is infrequently used. There’s no good central database of clients and potential clients for each market served. Even sending a Christmas card is difficult, due to the lack of a good list. And there’s way too much overreliance on a few people who are good sellers and who have relationships with clients.

Firms who break out of the stereotypes and get off the well-worn cow paths established by other firms, from a marketing standpoint, really are doing things differently and taking some risks. They build a brand – that makes the phone ring and emails come in with new opportunities that they can carefully evaluate and follow up on IF they are compatible with the firm’s mission and goals.

But to build a brand, you first have to believe it is possible. Take a look at HOK, Gensler, CH2M-Hill, Figg Engineers,Arquitectonica, EDSA, and others. They did it. How did they do it? By focusing on what they are good at. By being consistent in how they use their names and logos. By hiring real experts. By being unwilling to work for low fees so they can actually DO a good job and spend money on people, technology and marketing – so the “virtuous cycle” repeats. By not viewing marketing expenses as overhead but, instead, as an investment in the firm. By being selective about the work they do and who they do it for. And by everyone else in their space doing lots of things differently – from proposals, to presentations, to the actual work itself.

Yes – this is ALL part of marketing. It is a wide-ranging activity that touches every single aspect of your company. It can change your future, and it can change your life. Embrace it – instead of fighting it – if you want to break out of your geographic bounds and make it to the big leagues.

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

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Making recruitment a priority

A/E/P and environmental firms have tons to juggle, but ensuring that your company is finding the best candidates to fill openings should top the list.

Recruitment is important to the health of a company, and, if you are not seeking the best and brightest to join your team, you are making a mistake. Most AEC firms don’t prioritize recruiting the way that they should. It is usually an afterthought or a knee-jerk reaction to seek the help of recruiting specialists, and, once a fee is generated for the service, many firms opt to go it alone.

According to Zweig Group Executive Search Director Randy Wilburn, good recruiters make their clients more successful by helping them overcome shortcomings in creating the narrative for why a potential employee should work for them or any objections that come up during the hiring process and easing the transition process for the candidate.

“Especially in the AEC industry, where firms want to hire the best and brightest, they have to take this approach,” Wilburn says. “Most of the people that we recruit are happy where they are, but it is incumbent on me, as a recruiter, to get them to change their minds. When I work with a firm that understands this, we almost always succeed in making a successful placement.”

Wilburn says it’s crucial that A/E/P and environmental firms make recruitment a priority and a consistent line-item in their budgets. Firms can determine how much to budget for recruiting based on their needs, staff turnover rates, and growth projections.

“For instance, if a company currently has 200 people and an average turnover rate of 8-10 percent – near the industry average – it can expect to lose 16-20 people each year. If that firm wants to grow by 15 percent annually, it will need to hire 30 people, plus make up for the 16-20 that will likely be lost through attrition. This equates to a total of 46-50 people the firm needs to hire over a 12-month period,” he says. “If the firm has a strong HR apparatus in place that can hire and onboard all of those people in that timeframe, it should be OK. But, the average AEC firm is not set up for this and needs additional help.”

The HR department and hiring managers should coordinate their efforts to ensure that the latest technology, social media, and techniques are being utilized in searches, Wilburn says. In addition to implemented targeted social media campaigns, savvy firms should make sure that they are projecting a strong digital footprint though their website, videos, podcasts, and any other online media they produce.

“Does your online presence make clear the benefits you offer employees and why working at your firm is enjoyable? Too many AEC firms don’t take the time to accentuate their organizations as positive places to work via easy-to-use infographics or gratifying digital spaces, where so many candidates go first for information,” he says.

It’s also paramount that firms’ websites are mobile-friendly.

“More than 40 percent of job seekers are getting information on their smartphones,” Wilburn says. “Not optimizing your website for mobile is a recipe for disaster! This is an additional cost, but, as we evolve and entertain younger and savvier candidates, firms have to be on the cutting-edge of delivering their value in a way that caters to how candidates obtain information.”

Lastly, Wilburn emphasizes prioritizing interviewing.

“Flying good candidates in is also important,” he says. “Don’t vacillate on whether to spend the money to bring in that all-important candidate for a position that’s been open for the last eight months! That’s the kind of short-sighted thinking that will keep that position open. A good candidate is a good candidate, and if they are willing to come visit you, that’s half the battle. Always be willing to put your best foot forward with a good candidate, and, if that means spending a little money to get them physically in front of you, I highly recommend it.”

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The needle in the haystack

Niche positions sometimes require out-of-the-box thinking, increased diligence, and willingness to pivot in order to fill them.

Finding the best and brightest people to work at your firm may require you to think outside the box and even move outside of your comfort zone. Lately, I’ve become all too familiar with the expression, “Finding that type of – fill in the blank with an engineer or architect – is going to be tough.”  I heard that sentiment this past fall, when a client contacted Zweig Group to find a specialized structural engineer with a background in a type of engineering that is the exception rather than the norm. I’m being somewhat vague to protect the innocent, but you know the type of positions that I’m talking about: a clean room design mechanical engineer or a higher education architect with 10 years’ experience. These can be very, very, tough positions to fill.

Good People are hard to find. When you have an important and exclusive engineering or architectural need, you only want the best for those positions. Most of the people that you are looking for are usually well established in their current firm, properly compensated, and satisfied with the amount and kind of work that they are doing.  These are the “good” people, and it may be tough to pull them away from their current employer. This is all the more reason why you should work hard to get these people aboard as quickly as possible. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, don’t sit around hoping that you can review three or four candidates for an extremely difficult-to-fill open position. If you find a great fit for your opening, hire them!  Don’t tell you HR manager or recruiter: “So-and-So is great, but we’d like to see other people before we make up our mind.” I get it! We all like variety and options, but, in our industry, that doesn’t always happen, which means you should be ready to pull the trigger on a good candidate soon after you meet with them and determine that they are a fit for your needs, work-wise and cultural.

You have to try different avenues to achieve your objectives. Sometimes finding that perfect niche-discipline candidate may prove somewhat elusive, and this is when you have to put your “thinking cap” on and figure out creative ways to find the person you are looking for. I know … I know: It would be great to just go post a job on Monster or on LinkedIn and tap a few keys and voila, but, alas, it doesn’t work that way.

Recently, while working on a difficult search, I attended an industry event for the position I was working on. Mind you, this is a very niche area of engineering, but being at this meeting really helped me to see how challenging the position was to fill. The great thing about attending this event was that I made several contacts that could benefit my client, both now and in the future. You may have to go to specialized industry events to find the person you are looking for. Organizations such as ASHRAE, IEEE, Woodworks, Land/Water Sustainability Forum, among many others, hold events several times a year. A lot of these organizations can be found online, and almost all have meetings, both regionally and nationally. These niche engineering and architecture groups can be a great place to start when looking for that hard-to-find candidate. Grab as many cards and make as many contacts as you can; you never know who you may talk to at these events that may be a fit now or in the future or know someone who is.

Maintain an open line of communication. When you have a difficult need to fill, besides looking under every rock that you can and attending events that may hold the key to finding that missing piece to the puzzle, you need to make sure that you keep an open line of communication with your team. Keep everyone involved with the search, including, HR, the hiring manager, the recruiter – if there is one, and anyone else, up-to-date on how things are going and what the next steps should be, so that you don’t allow a lack of candidates to become discouraging. This especially holds true when dealing with a recruiter: You need to let them know if you decide to change the search. Talk to them before you make any drastic decisions, because a good recruiter can provide insights that maybe you never thought of.

You have to be willing to pivot when a position or positions cannot be filled. Figure out the best scenario and go with it. Of course, if all else fails, you can decide to pivot on the need and come up with another option or a closely related position that you might have an easier time filling. In this instance, conversations with a recruiter and others in your firm may prove invaluable. The more proactive you are, the quicker you can get things done and figure out ways to react to a difficult-to-fill search that may be going nowhere fast. The firms that can change direction the quickest and focus on another need will end up faring better than those who dig their heels in and decide to wait until you-know-what freezes over before they modify the position they want to fill. It’s a tough call, but difficult recruiting times call for difficult recruiting measures.

As always, if I can be of help in any way, in regards to brainstorming a challenging recruiting issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I can be found on Twitter @randywilburn and @ZGRecruiting, in addition to my email.

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

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The PM conundrum

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nFlaws in current system can be overcome through strategic adjustments.

Being a project manager in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm is rarely easy. Think about it: In most firms in this business, it is a role that gets assigned to someone in addition to all of their “normal” responsibilities as an engineer, architect, department manager, principal, or something else. And then, on top of it, the majority of PMs have little or no staff reporting directly to them. They have to negotiate with technical department heads and office managers, who control the actual human resources they need to fulfill their responsibilities to their clients. It’s really a pretty bad deal, and one we don’t often talk about.

The fact that PMs rarely have the staff they need to do jobs directly reporting to them is a real conundrum. It’s the fundamental reason why we don’t blame PMs for poor project performance, too. If you agree with me that this is a problem, let me give you some ways to cope with it:

  1. Have less PMs. Not everyone is good at project management and getting the most out of people who don’t actually work for them. Those who have proven to be effective PMs should get more projects to manage. Those who have proven ineffective PMs should not be managing jobs. Most companies could reduce the number of PMs by about half and improve their overall PM performance.
  2. Get the RIGHT people in your PM roles. This isn’t necessarily the best technical person or designer nor the most senior employee. It is someone who knows how to deal with people inside and outside of the firm, someone who knows how to treat a client, someone who can juggle a lot of stuff at once, and someone who can overcome obstacles. These aren’t the skills most companies even consider the first time they assign someone to a PM role; they’re inclined to worry more about degrees and registrations and years of experience than anything else.
  3. Consider changing your organizational structure. You don’t HAVE to accept the matrix as a way of life. There are other structures – standing teams, studios, market-sector based groups – that minimize work across departments and give PMs direct control of more resources than other structures. You’ll never have enough people who are just good PMs in spite of a structure that minimizes their power. Fix it.
  4. Publish PM performance metrics and share them firm-wide. If you do nothing else, doing just this will improve your PM effectiveness. Budgets to actual variance. Client service ratings. Average collection periods. WIP write offs. Total volume of work managed. Effective multipliers. There are MANY different metrics you can set goals for. Track how you’re doing and share with everyone in the firm. Do it.

Yes – project management, as we know it, is a flawed discipline. But that doesn’t mean we can give up on the idea of doing it better!

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

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Zweig Group announces Triton Stormwater Solutions as 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference Silver Sponsor

Triton-Logo_WEB (2)Zweig Group is proud to announce Triton Stormwater Solutions as the Silver Sponsor of the 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference held on September 3-4, 2015, at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, Mass.

Triton Stormwater Solutions has answered the call for a stronger, lightweight, comprehensive underground storm water chamber management solution that effectively addresses the maintenance issues associated with underground systems.  Triton Stormwater Solutions has also kept the environment in mind by producing a revolutionary new structural soy resin composite-based material for the chamber product. Triton Stormwater Solutions’ chamber system saves time, money and land, and offers greater LEED potential than other systems.

Triton Stormwater Solutions provide a multitude of benefits and the greatest value-engineering of any underground storm water retention/detention system available in today’s market. Triton Stormwater Solutions systems are lighter, larger, stronger, more cost effective, and easier to install than other systems.  These systems also are assembled more quickly and easily than other systems, and can be double stacked.  A 700 S-29 storm water chamber system (equivalent to 800 linear feet of 60 inch diameter pipe) can be installed in one day.

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.

“We have some outstanding speakers and sponsors for this year’s conference, each of them is bringing a valuable and diverse perspective that will really enhance the experience of this event,” said Mark C. Zweig, Zweig Group founder & CEO.

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

Additional information about Triton Stormwater Solutions is available at www.tritonsws.com.

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Focusing on fundamentals

shutterstock_243798976Becoming a Better Project Manager aims to provide new, aspiring PMs with a knowledge base and toolbox to be successful in design, facilities management firms.

By Andrea Bennett
Managing Editor

On May 5, Zweig Group will present its inaugural Becoming a Better Project Manager seminar in Miami. Led by Howard Birnberg, the executive director of the Association for Project Managers and president of Birnberg & Associates, the one-day course is designed to equip new and aspiring project managers in architectural, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms with a fundamental understanding and specific tools they can use to be successful.

A single day is not a lot of time to train people on skills that many professionals spend their entire careers developing. So, Birnberg says he has designed the program to focus on the essentials.

“The greatest challenge to new and aspiring project managers today is really developing a concrete understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing, how they are supposed to do it, and the tools and resources available to them to accomplish their job,” he says. “The intent of Becoming a Better Project Manager is really to give attendees background on what a project manager should be doing in a design or facilities management firm. The program has a really strong focus on foundations and what the job is about.”

What, exactly, is the job about?

“Throughout the program, I must say ‘communications’ about 1,000 times,” Birnberg says. “Communication is the most important part of project management.”

Communication, he says, is the underlying element to the other “soft skills” associated with project management and the basis for success in the tasks of the job, including delegation, time management, and facilitating meetings. Communication also includes the all-important skills of effective writing and public speaking. Even the tools that attendees are provided with are related to communication.

“In the program, I talk about a variety of tools, including project management manuals and change-order tools, which are not just for documentation and record-keeping, but also for communications because they let other people know what’s going on,” Birnberg says.
Attendees also receive a bibliography of resources they can access for additional information – the same bibliography that Birnberg includes in his forthcoming publication, Project Management for Designers and Facilities Managers, fourth edition.

The impetus for Becoming a Successful Project Manager is two-fold. First, the defacto means by which most technical professionals become project managers in A/E/P and environmental firms doesn’t lend itself to much training, and, secondly, most programs – even those offered at universities and other institutions – tend to focus on technical, rather than management, skills.

“People don’t become engineers, architects, or facilities managers to become project managers,” Birnberg says. “A lot of times, they’re in an organization and, if they have any kind of aptitude for management skills, all of a sudden they find themselves doing more project management and less of the technical jobs they started out doing.”

“There are a lot of resources and ways for people to learn project management skills,” he says. “Most end up learning on the job, or, if they’re fortunate, they’re mentored by someone more experienced in their organization. And then some people have an innate aptitude for the communication and people skills necessary to be successful project managers.”

“I commend Zweig Group for taking this series on,” Birnberg says. “A lot of programs out there really don’t focus on project management, and I think there’s a real need for it.”

Registration is still open for the May 5 Becoming a Better Project Manager seminar in Miami. Additional courses will be held on May 7 in Dallas, May 19 in Philadelphia, May 20 in Chicago, June 9 in Los Angeles, and June 16 in San Francisco. For more information, visit zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm.

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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A client-centered approach

SucceSPM-4-14ssful Project Management for A/E/P and Environmental Firms, 2nd edition covers projects from inception to completion and beyond.

By Andrea Bennett
Managing Editor

On April 30, Zweig Group will release the second edition of its 2011 publication Successful
Project Management for A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms
.
Revised by the original publication’s author, Ernest Burden, Assoc. AIA and principal at AEC Advisors, the book presents an overview of the entire marketing and project-delivery process – covering topics related to how to win jobs to how to make sure they are successfully completed to how to obtain references and future work from clients, once the project is over – from a project manager’s perspective.

Successful Project Management begins with the project manager’s involvement in the proposal process, becoming the star of the client interview, and having the client’s ear throughout the project and beyond,” Burden says. “It outlines all of the tools and techniques necessary to carry out a project assignment, while keeping a finger on the pulse of the client and project through continuous feedback. Finally, it is the project manager’s job to secure future work and/or referrals from the client. This book covers it all.”

The first edition of Successful Project Management relied heavily on the 2011 Zweig Group Survey of Project Managers in A/E/P and Environmental Firms. Data from the study was referenced throughout the book and was used to substantiate claims made in the text about common aspects of project management. The revised second edition also includes Zweig Group data from project management surveys, but it has been completely updated, and a chapter outlining building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD) technology has been added.

“The second edition of Successful Project Management has a completely revised look and format from cover-to-cover, making for more educational reading,” Burden says. “Case studies have been made more prominent, and they include new photographs. Several new useful diagrams have been added, and photographs were added to the chapter openers to enhance the publication’s visual appeal.”

Among the features that set the second edition of Successful Project Management apart from the plethora of publications available on the topic is its case studies, which few technical publications have, and its emphasis on clients’ perspectives, Burden says.

Additionally, Successful Project Management is designed to cover a project from cradle to cradle, to use a BIM metaphor; therefore, this single book covers many topics that are normally dispersed among several publications.

“My past experience with project management – which includes a career in architecture, for which I attended numerous seminars, workshops, and training sessions with leading project management instructors – was altered severely when I became a consultant tasked with implementing image, satisfaction, and feedback surveys on behalf of AEC firms nationwide,” Burden says. “I discovered that clients had a totally different viewpoint on firms’ performance on a project than what the firms typically believed that their clients thought. I developed a client’s attitude in my approach, and many of their comments appear in the book verbatim from audio and videotape recordings.”

Zweig Group’s 2014 Study of Project Managers identifies managing client expectations (43 percent), the project manager’s time management (32 percent), the management of project team members (30 percent), and staying within the project budget (23 percent) as the four main challenges facing project managers.

“The first three items are covered in extensive detail in this book,” Burden says. “The fourth item is conditional and will come about if the first three are met.”

Though Successful Project Management covers the basics of project management, it is neither tailored nor only applicable to new and aspiring PMs. Several members of a firm, including owners and marketers, can benefit from the book’s content.

“First-time project managers will get a valuable overview of the entire integrated process in the book, not just a one-sided technical viewpoint,” Burden says. “They will see the benefits in getting involved early in the marketing process. They will benefit from an understanding of the client’s end-goal and will see that their job is to help them accomplish that with as few problems as possible.

“Veteran project managers, who already know what they are doing but may not know – at least for certain – what the client is doing, will benefit from the chapters on negotiation and client feedback. And, finally, marketing folks may find some new revelations in the client quotes regarding proposals and presentations.”

The second edition of Successful Project Management for A/E/P and Environmental Firms is available for purchase now at zweiggroup.com/books.php. For more information, please email info@zweiggroup.com.

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Being the new guy (or gal)

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nFour items of political savviness can help ensure organizational newcomers are accepted and successful.

A/E/P and environmental firms are in hiring-mode nationwide. This industry is booming, and we’re bringing on new people – some of them for mid- to upper-level jobs – at a faster rate than I have seen in years.

You may be one of these people, yourself – someone who has recently moved to a different company. When you first join a new organization, it’s critical that you be accepted. You don’t want to be the transplanted organ that’s rejected by the host.

It’s not always easy, but it’s crucial to your short-term survival and long-term success. The whole process is fraught with peril, especially if you are hired as a manager. On the one hand, the reason you were brought in could be that top management wants you to be a change agent. In those cases, you don’t want to let whatever is currently a dysfunctional culture ruin you, so that you become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. On the other hand, it’s still critical to be accepted by the troops, or they’ll “accidentally” shoot you in the back before you can fix the problems you were hired to solve.

Here are some thoughts for those who have just joined a new organization to help you survive the change and make you more effective sooner:

  • Make an effort to get acquainted with everyone there. Ask people to lunch. Make conversation. Get them talking about themselves, because everyone likes that. Also – get out to see them, as opposed to waiting for them to come to you. You’ll quickly make friends this way, and friends help you succeed.
  • Make a special effort to get to know the old-timers and figure out how you can help them achieve their goals. Seek out whomever has been there the longest and get them on your side, because they are bound to be the most skeptical of any change. They’ve already seen many failures and may be able to help you. Ask these people how you could help them and what would improve their daily lives and then work on doing it. You need these people supporting you and working to help you succeed.
  • Stop. Look. Listen. Then act. Don’t be too quick to make changes before clearing them with your supervisor(s) and going through a “sales” process. Change may be necessary, and it may need to happen quickly. But too much change too fast without adequate study is the marque of a neophyte who hasn’t worked in many organizations. And, when you do decide what you are going to do, inform/communicate/sell it to all. Selling means you have to build a case as to why change is necessary (data helps) and then show why your proposal will make things better.
  • Be helpful. Helping people is always the best way to get support. What can you do to make someone’s job better, easier, or to make them look better to the people they work with and for? Do these things, and you’ll be the hero of the day.

These kinds of political skills may seem unnecessary to some readers, but, believe me, they are critical to your success and the success of the new people you’re bringing in.

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

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Zweig Group announces Jamie Claire Kiser as new director of merger & acquisition services

jamiekiser_hoverJamie Claire Kiser has been hired by Zweig Group as the new director of merger & acquisition services, a rapidly growing area of Zweig Group’s business.  She is experienced in financial analysis, evaluating transactions, and providing clear solutions to the financial needs of businesses. Prior to joining the Zweig Group, Kiser worked in commercial banking, managing the bank’s credit department. She has transactional experience with businesses in all stages, from new firms with growth needs to established firms seeking to wind down.

Kiser holds a Masters of Business Administration, Juris Doctor, and Bachelors of Arts in History, all from the University of Arkansas. She is a licensed attorney with prior experience in law. Kiser’s business education and experience combined with her understanding of law makes her a tremendous resource for those involved in merger or acquisition transactions. In 2014, Kiser was recognized by Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as a member of the “Fast 15” for her business and leadership accomplishments.

Jamie Claire Kiser’s unique credentials in both finance and law allow her to provide comprehensive support to Zweig Group’s M & A clients.

“As an attorney and MBA graduate, Jamie Claire brings a wealth of expertise to an area of Zweig Group’s business with tremendous potential,” said Mark C. Zweig, founder & CEO.

MA-2015Zweig Group’s full scale Mergers & Acquisitions consulting team can assist in finding and evaluating M&A candidates and structuring the transaction – managing the complicated process from conception to the closing table.  Zweig Group has also recently published the 2015 Merger & Acquisition Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms.

Zweig Group’s flagship annual event, The 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference, will include sessions with speakers on topics relating to M & A and activity in the industry

For more information visit: https://zweiggroup.com/consulting/jamie-kiser.php

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Zweig Group survey finds increase in merger & acquisition interest.

Zweig Group’s recently released 2015 Merger & Acquisition Survey of A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms finds that the number of firms in the industry considering M&A activity is on the MA-2015rise.

The survey found that the percentage of firms considering buying another firm increased slightly this year to 42%, and more than two-thirds of firms (68%) report M&A is in their strategic plan for the next five years.  Among firms looking to make an acquisition, the highest-ranked reason for an acquisition is to enter new markets. Civil engineering services and firms working in the commercial development market, have the most demand, with half or more of potential buyers interested.

The 2015 Merger & Acquisition Survey of A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms is now in its 25th edition, and includes all the latest data on the state of merger and acquisition activity in the design and environmental consulting industry. In addition to valuable data about what today’s buyers are looking for, pricing, M&A motivations, and successful transactions, The 2015 Merger & Acquisition Survey goes beyond benchmarking statistics and provides descriptions of more than 300 transactions of AEC firms that have bought, merged, or sold since 2009– these descriptions include firm names, locations, staff size, revenues, firm services, and other important details about recent M&A activity in the industry.

For more information visit: https://zweiggroup.com/p-2220-merger_acquisition_survey_2015

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From the Chairman: Keeping morale high

Glassdoor comments provide opportunity for reflection on leaders’ role in fostering positive employee attitudes.

glass door

One of my clients was both frustrated and concerned about citations on his firm that he found on the glassdoor website (glassdoor.com). Glassdoor is an open collection point for employees to comment on their employers. This is a most interesting way to gain insight on the morale and attitudes in an enterprise.

My client was complaining that the citations were unfair and that, if the citations stood, they could encourage unhappy people to chime in and discourage those who were quite happy from commenting. He even suggested that glassdoor is a sham and that it is pitching to “clean up” the comments – for a fee, of course.

I suggested he not shoot the messenger but rather look more carefully to see if there might be some validity in what was being said. This led me to think about a leader’s role in forming the attitudes in his or her enterprise. Ideally, these attitudes would cause employees, if given the opportunity, to respond very favorably about the firm and even post a rebuttal to any negative review and encourage their colleagues to do likewise. I encourage leaders to take a look at the comments on their own firms.

So, what is “morale”? Here’s what dictionary.com says: “emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition, hardship, etc.”

Inspiring employees is the most important thing a leader can do. So, how does a leader go about shaping the morale in an organization? Here are ideas on three areas you, as a leader, can influence:

  • Positivity: Do you, even in the face of adversity, express a positive attitude? How often are you “down”? Did you just lose a project, have a large fee overrun on another, wake up in a bad mood, fight with your wife/husband/kids? People in your firm watch you closely. They will mirror your attitude when confronting a problem, whether you like it or not. It’s your job, as the leader of the enterprise, to display the attitude you want everyone in your firm to adopt. I’m not talking about being a “Pollyanna,” falsely saying that everything is just fine. Be realistic, but avoid anger or blame. Look carefully at the problem, be analytical about what happened, and take a positive attitude about learning from it, so it won’t repeat itself.
  • Optimism: Has the economy turned south? I led an office and then a firm through four recessions (so glad I was already retired before 2008) and learned how important my attitude was during those times. I had to carry the banner of optimism and, more importantly, engage the entire office and, later, the entire firm in reshaping our market strategy and work methodologies. If your folks are kept in the dark, they will speculate – and always negatively.

    In 1981, when our office in Los Angeles shrunk by 30 percent, I began having breakfast meetings at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings. My message was: “I can’t fix this alone, but I’m optimistic because of who we are and what can we do together to turn things around!” And we did … together.

  • Active listening: Sure, you spend a lot of time with clients, you’re busy selling work for your firm, dealing with problems, worrying about an HR issue or your line of credit. But job No. 1 is having your finger on the pulse of the people and teams in your firm.

You must develop a sixth sense for the buzz in the office, reading what things people are concerned, upset, or just curious about. Then, get involved with them to address the issues. If you do, your next tier of leadership will model your style, just as your people mirror your attitude. If you’re constantly asking how things are going and what you can do to make them better, you’ll reap the reward of terrific morale. The benefits to you and your firm are enormous. Your people will become more closely aligned with the direction you want to take. They’ll work more collaboratively and effectively as teams as your team leaders begin modeling your approach. You’ll find them speaking positively about the firm to outsiders as a great place to work, leading to new employee and client referrals.

These ideas just scratch the surface of what you, as a leader, can do in shaping the morale of your enterprise. Please let me know what other things you have found to be successful in enhancing morale in your company.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a Zweig Group consultant and former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zwieggroup.com.

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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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