2015 Fee & Billing Survey

The 2015 Fee & Billing Survey was created with information gathered from an online questionnaire that required participants to answer questions about their billing rates, fee structures, staff chargeability, and billing practices. The questionnaire was designed to be completed by the president, CEO, CFO, or person with the highest responsibility in the fee and billing division of the firm.nb,mbn
The purpose of the survey is to inform firms about industry standards on design fees, employee hourly billing rates, subconsultant procedures, and reimbursement policies so that fees, billing rates, and other contract fees can be competitively set internally.

The survey has information on a variety of topics that firms will find useful, like the percentage of firms that have standard billing rates for each position or status level (81 percent), and what percentage of firms have increased their billing rates over the past three years (94 percent).

Also, only 35 percent of firms have an attorney review every individual contract before it’s finalized; another 33 percent have an attorney review only nonstandard contracts.Untitled

Twenty-seven percent of firms charge a markup above cost for changes to the order, additional work, or scope changes; those that do most commonly charge a markup between 11-15 percent.

In addition to this information, the 2015 Fee & Billing Survey also includes the latest available data on fee structures for every major market type, ways firms usually charge for subconsultant fees and reimbursable expenses, how firms collect payment, billing rates and chargeability statistics for 33 levels of employees, and much more.

It’s important for firms to know industry norms so that they can understand what firms just like theirs are charging for the same types of services, and the 2015 Fee & Billing Survey is the best tool for that.

To buy the survey or for more information, click here.

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Successful Project Management

SPM-4-14The successful management of architectural and engineering projects in today’s challenging environment is something of a science that has been evolving over the centuries. Project management has existed in some form for thousands of years, where people have organized to plan and achieve specific objectives that would be defined as a project. It originated from the Latin word “projectum,” which means, “to throw something forward.” Thus, the word “project” originally meant “something that comes before anything else is done.” When the word was initially adopted, it referred to a plan of something, not to the act of carrying out that plan. Our modern-day interpretation refers to both the planning and management of projects in the creation of production drawings and specifications to produce the object and the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques applied to a broad range of activities to meet the requirements of that particular project, whether it’s a bridge, roadway, treatment plant, or building structure.

Project management is also a skill, and involves leadership abilities, communication techniques, collaboration with team members, and creativity. Both the science and skill qualities can be enhanced by a system of continuous client feedback, leading to the ultimate goal of obtaining the client’s next project in the future.

Successful Project Management for A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms integrates both the skill and science of managing projects and identifies the professions’ best practices through numerous examples, checklists, and case studies.

To buy the book or for more information, click here.

If you’re interested in a 6 CEU Seminar on Project Management led by Howard Birnberg, click here.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Sustainability Report

1. Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd.Klohn Crippen Berger (Vancouver, BC) – a 500-person international engineering, geoscience, and environmental consulting firm – is taking home first place in Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards in the External Newsletter category for its Sustainability Report.

KCB clients face an increasing challenge to address the growing body of international best practices covering a range of sustainability goals – especially in the resource sector, where building community trust and responsible environmental management are critical to clients’ success. The very nature of KCB’s work is to provide sustainable solutions to clients, but they didn’t talk about their work in that way. What brought the issue home to the KCB team was when they lost a job with a major client because they thought KCB couldn’t meet the requirements of the RFP with regards to sustainable business practices.

The KCB team realized that they needed to develop material that effectively communicated their commitment to sustainability. They wanted to be able to respond to RFPs in a consistent and meaningful way and incorporate sustainability messaging into all of their marketing channels.

KCB’s annual Sustainability Report was the solution. The process of reporting has allowed KCB staff to identify what they do well and look for opportunities for improvement, both in their operations and in their project work. In 2012, KCB defined their focus areas; developed processes to collect data on community involvement and environmental impacts; reported on health, safety, and sustainable aspects in their project work. Since launching the initiative they’ve noticed an increase in employee engagement, and an increase in community engagement. They’ve also seen information from the report used consistently in proposals and statements of qualifications.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: SSymposium

5. Sanderson Stewart..Sanderson Stewart (Billings, MT), a 65-person regional community development firm, is the fifth place winner in the Special Event category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its SSymposium event.

The purpose of SSymposium was to bring all of the Sanderson Stewart CSTP (Cool, Smart, Talented People) together for two meaningful days of learning, teaching, and team building. Firm leadership didn’t want the event to feel like another thing on its staff’s to-do list or like a long in-house lunch-and-learn. It was important to create a brand and marketing campaign that conveyed the significance and excitement of the event.

The goal of this marketing campaign was to educate and excite the firm’s CSTP about the event and attain 100 percent participation. To achieve this, Sanderson Stewart planned to reach its widespread audience electronically in the initial stage and in-person at the event.

Sanderson Stewart was fortunate to already have a branded, ongoing training program called Sanderson Stewart University. SSymposium was envisioned as a subsidiary of SSU and the logo was designed to continue the collegiate theme of the existing SSU brand. The event had a website to showcase the itinerary and guest speakers. Because many Sanderson Stewart staff work remotely, the website worked well for everyone to be able to check on events as they were posted. The event had its own SSymposium-branded print materials, including itineraries, nametags, and event posters. Firm leadership also felt it was important that, when their CSTP checked in at the conference, they received some standard conference goodies, including SSymposium-branded lanyards and insulated tumblers.

The Sanderson Stewart team’s established goals were achieved. SSymposium was enthusiastically received with 100 percent participation from staff. The firm measured its success by surveying participants about their experience at the event. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.


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Hot Firm or Best Firm to Work For?

zweig-001Conference confirms that when people like their jobs, the firm is usually more profitable; here are some things to consider.

On September 3 and 4, I had the pleasure of being at our annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Boston. What a great event! I was really proud of our people and how smoothly the whole thing went. Two days of presentations, parties, and ceremonies came together without a glitch.

Combining the Hot Firm Conference with our Best Firms to Work For Conference proved to be a good decision. The linkage between a company’s ability to grow and make a profit and having good people who like working there has never been more clear. Many firms at our conference were both Hot Firms AND Best Firms to Work For – double winners.

It’s absolutely critical to have the right workforce, and it’s getting harder than ever to hire and maintain them. Here are some things I would urge you to consider, if you are serious about competing for talent in this red-hot employment market:

  1. Have humble leaders who don’t have crazy perks. You all know what I’m talking about. One firm owner I met at our conference told me about how she came into a small company with about nine employees years ago that was really suffering. Meanwhile, the firm owner had a special garage at their office where he kept his company Bentley. This kind of stuff demotivates and demoralizes everyone. Humble leaders are tuned-in to these situations and work hard to not demoralize anyone.
  2. Get everyone involved in the business-planning process. Asking everyone for their opinions and input – and really trying to incorporate their thinking into the business plan – is certainly one of the cornerstones of effective management and leadership. People want to be involved and feel like they have some influence over their work environment and their futures.
  3. Institute some form of open-book management. It’s so critical to share your numbers with your employees – I cannot overemphasize it. Do it quickly, succinctly, and clearly. Give the numbers to everyone. Don’t share salary info – that is harmful. Do share info on revenues, profits, cash position, marketing stats, and more. This helps build trust between you and your people.
  4. Make your office cool. Most offices I see are not creative spaces. In fact, they might be the opposite! They are dark, dirty, messy, cramped, and filled with tiny cubicles. Collaboration is just a word or something you do electronically. That’s really crazy, especially when you consider what many firms in this business actually do for a living – in many cases, they design workspaces! Consider your office a tool – a place to help you SELL good employees (who always have other opportunities) on coming to work for your company.
  5. Have some fun. Everyone is too serious. If you do some fun stuff at the office – having something fun or funny happening – you WILL have happier people. Happier people will be positive. And positive people make good things happen. Most people in this business are just too serious. Best places to work are FUN places to be.
  6. Share the rewards. Spread the money around. Don’t be greedy. Firm owners, you know the difference in being greedy or not. Years ago, we worked with a small firm owner – he had about 28 employees. He paid himself $380,000 a year. His next highest paid employee made $75,000. They weren’t doing very well, and morale stunk. People sense huge gaps and disparity. And they really appreciate it if you share some of the spoils around the table.
  7. Get the right people in. The “right” people are those with the right attitude. They want to succeed, they’re nice, they don’t just move from one complaint or gripe to the next. They also want to learn and help out their fellow employees. Clients like them, other people in the firm like them, and you like them. They are good to work with. Competent, smart, and can-do in spirit. Good people want to work with other good people and bring them in.
  8. Move the bad apples out. The bad apples are the opposite of the right people described above. They’re negative or chronically unhappy, hard to work with, incompetent, angry, hostile, and more. Lazy, with bad attitudes, bad communicators, dishonest … what else can I say? They need to go. If bad people are allowed to stay, good people will leave.

I could go on and on: Your success is so tied to your people and leadership and management practices. It is really clear when you meet the leaders of our Hot Firms and Best Firms to Work For at our conference. The best aspect of this event is the people who come. Always an entrepreneurial, optimistic group, so many of them my personal friends – of 20 or 30 years in some cases. It is great to see these successful people in action. They’re smiling, they’re upbeat, they’re winners! And they make good things happen in their companies!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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Confrontation and conflict

We’re each leaving a trail behind us – our reputations and our effect on the world – as industry leaders, we should focus on making those as pleasant as possible.

If you have a leadership role in your organization – if you’re the place where the proverbial buck stops – you’re going to find yourself eyeball-to-eyeball with someone in-house, a client, or a consultant who is unhappy about something. The “something” could be work-related, or the person simply could have gotten into an argument at home before going to work and is itching for a fight.

<p”>You may be the boss and have the authority to say, “I don’t care what you think; this is the way it’s going to be,” but that is going to leave behind a very messy trail and reputation.

Why do more and more people today seem as if they’re “just itching for a fight”?

It’s nearly impossible to go into a meeting in any public forum from the United States Congress, a courtroom, a city council, or a planning commission meeting and not see the degradation of civility in our society. We witness it every day through examples of “road rage” on our streets and highways or fighting it out – horns honking and fists shaking – over a parking place at the shopping center. A bad attitude seems to be more common than not these days.

I have neither the knowledge nor the academic credentials to tell you why we’ve devolved to this state, but I’ve taken it upon myself to work at remedying it in my own encounters. I’m increasingly running across people, young and old, who are saying, “How do I get away from this?”

Returning to “the trail you leave behind” analogy, I believe this might be age-related. I’m finding older folks like me care; younger folks, less so. I’d like to make the case for why I think you should care, particularly if you’re young.

People have long memories and, if you’ve worked out your aggressions by pushing back when pushed on, you’re building a personal brand of being part of the problem. That brand, or reputation, will be very hard to shed, making your job of leadership increasingly difficult.

As I have become more conscious of these new rules of engagement, I’ve begun to watch for and study those who are pros at defusing conflict and reaching consensus on issues.

One tactic I’ve used for years and have observed in others when faced with someone who is angry or just being disagreeable is to ask the person to “tell me more about that” in a genuinely curious tone. It’s non-confrontational, slows down the heat of moment, and delivers a very clear statement that “I respect you and what you have to say.” It does not imply “I agree with you” nor “I am going to cave on my position,” but it does provide an opportunity to listen to why the other person feels the way he or she does. Who knows: I may learn something by listening to the way the other person thinks, causing me to shift my position. At the least, the exchange will help me gain insights into how we’re going to negotiate a compromise that is acceptable to both of us.

Then, there’s the termination discussion. This type of discussion doesn’t have to be about termination, as in dismissal. It could simply be an expression of concern when a person isn’t performing well. But the concepts and tone are the same.

The person is performing poorly at their tasks. He or she doesn’t seem engaged sufficiently with the work, the team or the firm to figure out why and do something about it. You’ve concluded that the person no longer belongs with your firm. How do you have the conversation? Do you hand them their final check and say, “you’re fired”? After all, what does it matter to you? Once the person is gone, your problem is solved, right? Wrong! Every person who leaves your firm is part of the trail you’re leaving. If the person walks away disgruntled and angry, he or she is going to tell a lot of people about it.

For years, prior to termination, I’ve used a very simple line, “You don’t seem happy here. Do you think you ought to look elsewhere?”

With this phrasing, I’ve shown respect for a person who is clearly unhappy about something, and we’ve usually been able to work out a mutually acceptable exit plan. Occasionally, I’ve learned that the person was having a genuine problem with something or someone in the firm that I was able to correct, keeping a newly valuable member.

When it is simply the end, I’ve reworded my line to say, “I can see you’re really not happy here. It’s time for you to find somewhere else where you will be happy. That’s what you deserve. Let’s work out how we’re going to make that happen.” Once again, I’ve shown respect for the person and offered to work out a gracious and honorable way for that person to move on.

I sincerely hope you’ll try these ideas. First of all, it’s about time that each of us began to exert an effort to reinstate civility in our own lives and for those around us. Secondly, you’ll be leaving a trail of respect that will serve you well as a leader.

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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Project Management needs help at many firms

shutterstock_259338482In a recent poll of project managers and firm leaders in the A/E industry, training/mentoring was ranked as the most important thing A/E firms could do to improve project management.  The poll also indicated that 65% of firms have no formal requirements to becoming a project manager.

We know that many architects, engineers, planners and environmental scientists are drafted into project management roles with little to no training, so we created this seminar to fill a desperate need in the industry.  This is the first PM seminar specifically tailored to new and aspiring PMs. This course has been approved for 6 CEUs/PDHs and will provide attendees with a fundamental understanding and some specific tools they can use to be more effective as project managers in an A/E/P or environmental firm.

We have a number of dates for October, November & December, throughout the U.S. You can see dates and locations here: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm/dates-locations.php

Our instructor, Howard Birnberg, offers specific examples based on real-life construction industry experience by a long-time industry consultant, trained as an architect. Birnberg is one of the foremost experts on the subject of project management and is the author of numerous project management books.  He 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 hold our seminars in nice hotels in convenient locations. Instead of being stuck in a dark basement room with bad coffee and stale donuts, we provide a comfortable light-filled environment with delicious full breakfast and lunch.  I promise no attendee will be disappointed.

Contact me or visit https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm/ if you have any questions.

Christina Zweig, Director of Research & Marketing, czweig@zweiggroup.com


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Bill Murphey joins Zweig Group as new director of education

Bill MurpheyBill Murphey has joined Zweig Group as the new director of education.  This new role will strategically expand Zweig Group’s seminars, webinars, and other forms of education. Additionally, Murphey brings experience that will aid Zweig Group’s consulting and surveys department.  Murphey brings 25-plus years’ experience in leading multi-unit organizations in strategic planning, communications, and logistics.

Most recently Murphey was Associate Director of Executive Education & Supply Chain Management Instructor for the Sam M. Walton College of Business for the University of Arkansas. His success there was evidenced by increasing program revenue 1100% during his tenure. As a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Murphey brings unique experience from an impressive career in the Air Force as a C-130 navigator, strategy development expert, logistics commander, and finally as the Air Force’s Executive Director of Strategic Communication and Assessments at the Pentagon.  Murphey holds a Master’s of Science of National Resource Strategy from National Defense University in Washington, DC; a Master of Arts in Military Operational Art and Science from Air University, Montgomery, AL; a Master of Arts in Organizational Management, George Washington University, Washington, DC; and a Bachelor of Science in marketing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

“Training and development is a continuous and growing need within the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry. We have to build our capabilities and offerings to meet this growing demand and bringing Bill on board is a cornerstone of that,” said Mark C. Zweig, CEO & Founder, Zweig Group.

Bill will be located in the Fayetteville office and available at bmurphey@zweiggroup.com

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It’s time to start preparing for 2016

Christy on MoonTake the last few months of 2015 to assess your clients and marketing.

Although 2015 won’t be over until the last day of December, September always feels like the start of something new. With the temperatures starting to cool, kids going back to school, and the culmination of a year’s hard work at the annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference, September is a great month for reflecting on the work of the previous year and planning for things to come.

Here are four points to ponder in order to revive your marketing in 2016:

  • Take a hard look at the work you are doing and who you are doing it for. Is your revenue stream heavily dependent on a few big clients? Is your market or geographical area one that has shrinking possibilities or that won’t be around forever? If so, now is the time to think about diversification or expansion. If you’re already heavily diversified, now is the time to focus on your strongest capabilities and the things that are the most profitable.
  • If you aren’t on social media, there’s no reason to wait any longer. It’s easy, it’s free, and it works. No, you probably won’t sell a job on Facebook, but marketing in 2016 will require you to touch prospective clients in multiple ways and at multiple times in order to win new work. You will need a strong online presence to attract the attention of the next generation of decision makers.
  • Marketing lists. Your marketing is only as good as the people you reach. Are you reminding past clients of your existence and current capabilities? Have you added new capabilities that they might not know about? If you aren’t carefully keeping track of this, now is the time to start. There are a variety of client relationship management programs on the market that can help with this. Getting new clients and new names to market to will be more important than ever in 2016 (see point No. 1). Events, trade shows, contests, social media, surveys, and even purchasing lists are all good ways to get new names.
  • Segment. This goes along with having good marketing lists. A key feature of marketing in 2016 will be the ability to target your audience in a personal way. Not everything you do needs to reach everyone, and not everyone wants to be reached in the same way.

With the heat of the summer cooling down, now is the perfect time to take a few simple steps forward to revive your marketing. This next year will be filled with new possibilities!

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

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Critical People

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nThough most everyone on your team is important, there are 4 major positions that no successful firm can do without.

Managing your business effectively means the business grows, makes a profit, and has good employees at all levels. It really is as much an art as it is a science.

If you’re the leader of an enterprise, you have a responsibility to manage it. The buck stops with you: If the business isn’t successful it’s your fault, period.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that, if you want to win the battle of business, you need to have the right people around you. Here are a few of the critical roles that have to be filled with strong people in order for you to succeed. Please don’t get hung up on the titles – each is followed by a description of what this person actually does:

  • CFO/Business Manager. This is one of the most critical people to your business. A strong CFO is much more than an accountant or controller – not just a historian – this person should positively impact all areas of the business. They’ll find ways for your business to make more from less. They’ll help keep you out of trouble by looking ahead. They’ll do all the things that no one else wants to do, has time to do, or is willing to do. They are a source of general business knowledge and can help tackle any problem the firm is facing. Finance, accounting, policy, board meetings, contract review, projections, ownership transition, and much more fall into this person’s domain. He or she should be one of your right-hand men – or women.
  • COO/Director of Operations. I see this person as your successor in-waiting. They run the line organization. That’s where all the money is made – it’s what the firm does for a living. This is one of, if not the, most important people in the firm. They should serve as a role model for all the other “doers” and managers of doers. An effective COO makes sure the business is doing the right things for the right clients and is making a profit in the process. He or she is also a great developer of people and an outstanding communicator who can jump in and solve any project- or client-related problem. If the CFO is your right-hand person, your COO is your left hand.
  • CMO/Director of Marketing. Yet another extremely critical individual to have on your top management team! Your CMO should be working to make your firm a top brand in whatever markets you serve. If they are doing their job, there should be more and better opportunities coming to the firm every single day. They set the stage, keep you in the limelight, and make every single thing you do look good to the clients you want to serve and the public at-large. Proposals, documents, brochures, direct mail, tradeshows, e-marketing campaigns, PR, original research, marketing database, photography, website, and much, much more are all managed and lead by your CMO/director of marketing. A really creative person here, who will also roll their sleeves up and do real work, is invaluable to you.
  • CIO/CTO. This person is so important, but not every CEO realizes just how important. He or she will keep you technologically in tune with the times – critical for your marketing, attracting and retaining top talent, and ability to work efficiently. The truth is, a really good CIO/CTO will give you a real competitive advantage over your competitors. On top of that, IT spending is a significant chunk of your potential profits, and it has to be managed or can easily get out of control. Your systems allow your people to communicate, facilitate working across a multi-office company, help reduce lost work, and increase institutional knowledge. All critical for your success!

There are plenty of other people who are crucial to your success. But these four are among your most critical. Choose them wisely. Nurture them. Counsel them. Seek their counsel. Reward them. They will reward you with a successful company.

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: The Game of ESOP

4. Harris & AssociatesHarris & Associates (Concord, CA), a 200-person engineering and construction management firm, is the fourth place winner in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its ownership campaign and the Game of ESOP.

In August 2012 leadership at Harris transitioned ownership of the company by purchasing shares from existing shareholders and converting to a 100 percent employee stock ownership plan S-corporation, securing a financially stable future for Harris. In 2014, Harris’ leadership became aware that many of the new employee-owners were uninformed of the requirements to enter the ESOP or how the ESOP functioned. Most importantly, the leadership wanted to emphasize the concept of ownership. They realized ownership was rarely mentioned in internal communications and there had been no communications on how employee-owners and company actions correlated to share price. The leadership, ESOP committee, and marketing and communications team joined forces to find a solution.

Research revealed that interactive and personalized approaches to the ESOP worked best. Thus, at the center of the campaign was a hands-on educational game – the Game of ESOP – designed in-house and customized to Harris’ culture. The game board evokes a construction and engineering theme – with miniature Harris pickup trucks for pawns. Harris leadership traveled to various company offices where employee-owners played the game in meetings and discussed the ESOP at Harris. Employee-owners were able to engage with one another, while learning about the ESOP and what it means to be an owner.

Testimonials from employee-owners show how much they learned about the ESOP and the spirit of ownership. Q&A sessions lasted 30 minutes to an hour after the game. Many employee-owners commented that they didn’t realize how their actions affected the share price. More than half of the firm was successfully engaged, with 56.8 percent of employee-owners participating in the game.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Louis Berger Employee Nexus

3. Louis BergerLouis Berger (Washington, DC), a professional services firm, is taking home third place in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for the Louis Berger Employee Nexus – a global intranet that provides more than 6,000 employees with company-related news and information.

As recently as mid-2012, Louis Berger employees had few ways of receiving news and information. There were a number of global change initiatives underway, but there was no communications infrastructure established to deliver messages. Sending all-employee emails was the most common practice for sharing news, but email distribution lists were manually compiled and missing human resources data. Research revealed that Louis Berger’s limited communications tools lacked frequency, strategic intent, and targeting to allow them to deliver messages to employees. It was clear that there was an immediate need for an intranet.

In late 2012, the company’s first intranet – Nexus News – was launched. The site – which was built using in-house resources – was the first time that news and information were consolidated into a single platform. The intranet provided access to employees of only one operating company, but was built as the test case for a corporate-wide intranet.

One year later, the Louis Berger Employee Nexus was launched. The first global intranet consolidated news and information for all operating companies and now serves as the single source of information.

Success of Nexus was measured in various ways, including the growth of the news pipeline. The number of news stories jumped from 126 to 320 (almost one story per day) in just one fiscal year, representing a nearly 250 percent growth of the news pipeline, and demonstrating an increased employee appetite for news and information.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Managing Expectations Through Clear Communication

My husband and I had dinner one evening last week at one of our favorite local restaurants, an upscale place with a gracious staff and fantastic fare. Or, at least, we went to the restaurant with the intention of having dinner. Our server took our orders and disappeared. An hour-and-a-half after we ordered, our wine glasses had been empty for 45 minutes and I had to take action – which is never pleasant to do in one of your favorite “usual” spots in a small town. We ended up cancelling our order, to the complete surprise of the server (“Are you serious?” she asked when I waved her over). The manager came over 10 minutes later and told us that the restaurant was unusually busy for a weeknight, and she was kind enough to tell us that she wasn’t going to charge us for the food. The reaction of the server and her manager, neither of whom apologized, was enough to put us off the restaurant for the near future.

As is my nature, I had to pick the incident apart over the next few days. What went wrong? Why did that happen? What’s the lesson? Naturally, my thought process spilled over from a restaurant experience to transactions in general and, finally, to mergers and acquisitions. My conclusion: Managing expectations through clear communication fosters effective transactions – whether you’re buying dinner or an architecture firm.

With that in mind, here are some simple rules you’ve heard 1,000 times, but that bear repeating because they’re true:

  1. There is no such thing as over-communicating. Communication among your team during the acquisition process is crucial to rapid and functional decision making. People often forget to share information or erroneously assume that everyone is in the loop. Send a weekly update email out to your team or schedule a recurring progress call.
  2. Communicating is a mix of giving and taking. Listening is a key component of communication. Pay attention to the concerns of various stakeholders. If someone cares enough about something to share it with you, don’t dismiss his/her concern. Show respect and keep quiet. In M&A, the listeners are often top executives who have a valuable set of skills. The downside to dealing with those in leadership is that they have developed a long-standing set of assumptions. M&A, however, is all about handling the unknown. Good listeners are able to relax their assumptions, process information critically, and consider new possibilities.
  3. Respond quickly and meaningfully. Respond to emails and other communication as fast as you can, but make sure that you are actually communicating and not just trying to throw the ball back into the court of the other party. If you can’t respond meaningfully to something in a short amount of time, make that your response — “I need some time to check into your question; I’ll respond to you before the end of the day tomorrow.” Process information in emails instead of firing off a poorly contemplated response as soon as it hits your inbox.
  4. Explain your understanding. I’m working on the initial due-diligence phase of a deal right now, and the potential buyer asked my client for information that seemed beyond the scope of what would normally be requested at this time. I eased any potential frustration by picking up the phone, calling the potential buyer, and asking if there was something that they were having a hard time understanding, or why they otherwise felt that this information was important. Understanding the motivation for the request changed my client’s perception. We got a reasonable explanation and moved forward.
  5. Lists are your friend. Before calls or meetings, write down a few things that you want to make sure that you share. I bring a pad of paper with me into calls to help me stay on track. Especially in an acquisition, where there are many moving parts, it’s important to have a method for making sure that your position is clearly articulated.

My dinner experience could have been fantastic, if the server had shared key information with us when it was available, instead of avoiding me and my husband: “I just wanted to let you know that a large table ordered ahead of you. Do you mind to wait for your food? We are happy to bring you a round of drinks or an appetizer on the house – sorry about that.” The server would have had two customers who were happy to be there and could adjust their evening plans based on a few pieces of the puzzle that were unknown to us when we were neglected. Think about how the people that you deal with could benefit from regular updates, and call me if you need restaurant recommendations in Northwest Arkansas.

Jamie Claire Kiser is leading a seminar, M&A In-A-Day on November 5, 2015. To learn more visit: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/maiad/

Jamie Claire Kiser is Director of M&A Services at Zweig Group. Contact her at jkiser@zweiggroup.com


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Time is on our side … or is it?

Technical professionals should appreciate the importance of timely and accurate time-sheets for determining appropriate project billing and more.

For most A/E/P firms, it is the talent, technical expertise, and experience that are sold to clients in the form of hours. The form of the agreement with the client is either a contract for time and materials, a fixed-fee contract, or some variation.

The only way that the firm can accurately track the contract performance is to evaluate how many hours were planned on the project (the project budget), how those hours are expended (the actual cost), and then how those hours compare from a performance perspective. Project managers are normally assessing the estimate to complete, which compares the performance of the contract to their assessment of work to be performed.

Critical to all of this is the capture of staff time in the form of a time card, or time-entry status. Most of the angst between the financial management staff and the technical staff is the continuing issue of getting the time in when it is due and required.

A/E/P firms offer their technical staff great salaries, direct deposit of paychecks, exceptional benefits, incentive compensation, free coffee, and fantastic work environments. Why is it so difficult to get a time card in return?

Project managers overseeing the multitude of tasks and responsibilities rely on accurate time-tracking to contracts to generate performance assessment on the project.

Without accurate and frequent entry of time to the tasks performed, the PM can be placed in a compromising position when the time cards are prepared days after tasks are performed. In fact, most project management systems – such as Deltek Vision and AJERA – allow for daily entry of time so that tracking of performance can be compared and viewed on the PM dashboard. Additionally, applications that allow for time entry into Apple iPhone, Android, and Windows devices create efficient ways for staff to never be too far away from providing a visible and quantifiable expression of the work they do!

We recently provided a project management and leadership training program to a firm that had used Deltek Vision and then integrated Newforma into its practice.

By creating one point of entry for information, accurately broken down into resources, hours, and schedule, this firm could predictively review staff hours, performance to budget, schedule of tasks, and even predictive cash flow. The critical component was daily entry of accurate time data.

From the president/CEO to the receptionist, everyone understood how important the entry of time was in this system, how critical it was for project managers to be able to evaluate project performance. One of the more important statements the president made to the PM was that “without frequent entry of time during the day, it is likely that we would be creating false records on our clients’ projects.

This firm was so committed to a high degree of project delivery that if someone input his or her time days after the task was completed, a call was made and a meeting was scheduled to review whether that recording of time was inaccurate or a false reflection of the task accomplished.

A further degree of concern on accurate time recording is when the firm enters into public sector work at the local, state, or federal level that is governed by state or federal acquisition regulations. Not only do these entities require detailed time cards and have the ability under contract terms to audit the firm’s time card records, but the inaccurate entry of time can distort overhead allocation. Especially under these types of contracts, the firm’s overhead rate is evaluated for the derivation of the overall fee and profit. If inaccurate labor is posted to overhead and not direct costs or projects, it distorts the overhead labor and ultimately the overhead rate!

So, what are some ways to get everyone in the firm to hit this critical deadline?

  • Lead by example. Senior leadership of the firm has to set the example, and they need to embrace the importance of daily entry. Those leaders could provide a great example by pulling out their mobile devices and asking projects managers as they visit – while practicing management by walking around – about the project task they would like their time to go to. They could then enter that data for the PM, in real-time!
  • Share the critical metrics. If the staff is given critical performance metrics and senior leadership presents them in a consistent format monthly, the importance of time card input becomes tangible to firm performance and project performance.
  • Ensure integrated data. The most powerful and useful tools are those that allow time card entry to impact resource allocation, budgets, schedules, and performance. By the firm investing in these highly valuable and time saving systems for the PMs, project management no longer requires hours of data manipulation to determine where the firm is headed.

BACK LOG PERFORMANCE – HOW PREDICTIVE? Backlog, or the value of fees remaining on projects, should be accessible with the push of a button in an integrated project management system. In most firms that we work with, when we ask to see backlog, it is one column of data. When we ask to see backlog over the year or life of the project, it is non-existent. When firms try to extract as a PM/staffing of resource exercise, it takes weeks, and upon review of the information, the data is no longer valid, projects have accelerated or been put on hold and the whole exercise has wasted valuable and precious time of PM and financial management staff!

So, as the song goes: “Time is on my side, yes it is.”*

In the A/E/P world it can only be if you capture it daily and accurately and use it to make predictive and forecasted decisions!

TED MAZIEJKA is a financial and management consultant for Zweig Group. Contact him attmaziejka@zweiggroup.com.

*Written by Norman Meade; performed by The Rolling Stones, 1964.

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Working in a cult of personality

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nInspiration is necessary for technical/design professionals and those who manage projects to be successful.

I watched an outstanding documentary recently on the life of Henry Ford. I learned a lot about him – and heard some of what I already knew, as well – but it got me thinking. He was undoubtedly a genius on some levels and incredibly successful. A “star” in business by any standard. Many of us who are lucky enough to have long careers in the A/E business will at one time or another either work for or with someone who is – like Henry Ford – incredibly charismatic.

If you are currently in a situation where you work for a “starchitect” or “starengineer” or some other charismatic (and often egocentric) leader, you know there are pluses – and minuses. It isn’t always easy! It can put you on an emotional roller-coaster, if you let it.

Let me give you some advice:

  1. Form relationships/alliances with the people the “star” respects. There are always people whom the star respects. It could be a long-term employee or another partner in the company or a trusted advisor. In any case, you should quickly figure out who these people are and form relationships with them, because you may need one of these people to run interference for you on something critical. The only way that›s going to happen is if you have a relationship with them. So, go see them. Ask them to lunch. Get their advice.
  2. Never directly challenge the star. Ask questions. Provide information. But don’t say “no.” The star will not respond well to a flat refusal to do something. He or she will see that as a personal rejection, and it will be a huge negative for you when it comes to your relationship. Things won’t likely turn out well for you if that happens.
  3. Learn from the star. They’ve got some magic; that’s why they are a star. You may initially be turned off by them and their big ego, but realize they provide you with an outstanding opportunity. Listen. Observe. Figure out how they became the star that they are. This experience could possibly change your life!
  4. Try to forgive their social lapses. They may not introduce you. Or they could forget to give you credit when it’s called for. Or they may just seem rude or aloof. If you let everything bother you, you’ll be likely to snap or otherwise misbehave and deprive yourself of a learning opportunity. And remember, just because someone acts a certain way doesn’t mean they think that way. You have got to be forgiving to work with or for a star.
  5. Figure out what drives them and always keep that front of mind. Is it their legacy? Is it their public image? Is it their need for control? Whatever it is, try to figure that out and then use it as a means to influence the star. Maybe this sounds too manipulative to you? Then, you don’t know how to work with a star!
  6. Show respect – always. Because their egos are big (often fueled by a deep-seated insecurity) – stars need a lot of respect. They may not always see the need to give it back – don’t get me wrong – but you have to give it. If the star wants to be addressed as “Ms. So-and-so,” don’t fight it. If she always needs to sit at the head of the table, plan on it. If he is always 10 minutes late for a meeting, be ready for it.
  7. Don’t cut the star out of the information-flow. He or she really hates being uninformed or caught off-guard. In fact, sometimes he or she may oppose a decision or stop something from happening JUST because he or she wasn’t uninformed and to show that he or she can do it. Paranoia is often part of the star’s personality. Don’t fuel it!

Got any other thoughts on this topic you’d like to share? If so, email me!

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

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The Human Side of an Acquisition

jamiekiser_hoverIn my line of work, I talk “big picture” about modeling acquisition outcomes and the pros and cons of stock swaps. But anyone who has worked in the M&A business long enough will be the first to say that we need to move toward a thought process that aligns strategic objectives with human performers. Especially in the AEC industry, in which the “asset” that we are really talking about in an acquisition is the people, we would all do well to remember the softer side of an acquisition.

No client I’ve ever spoken with seeks to acquire a firm in order to be merciless and cold. There is a recognition of talent, a passion to grow, and a mutual respect around the deal-making table. But how often does that extend to the folks down the chain? To the second-year architects? To the receptionist? The guy who just got hired last month?

Remember that only a handful of top brass is exposed to the details of the acquisition. Just a minuscule portion of firm leadership has shaken hands with the acquirer and feels comfortable that their people will be taken care of. For every other employee, when they hear that they are being acquired, they fear for their jobs and start packing up their offices. Take care of the human side of an acquisition, be enthusiastic about what you all can do together, consider your new staff to be your new teammates, and plan for a joint future. You will reap the rewards in a productive, loyal workforce.

For a great article on “The Human Factor” in surviving an acquisition, read David Wexler’s article here.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: “Social Network” Training Series

2. Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd. The Social Network Poster - HorrorKlohn Crippen Berger Ltd. (Vancouver, BC) – a 500-person international engineering, geoscience, and environmental consulting firm – is taking home second place in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its “Social Network” employee training series.

At KCB’s 2014 corporate strategy session, the marketing group identified a few key business risks – including a lack of brand awareness, retiring technical staff, and limited market penetration.

With that information, the marketing and human resources groups developed an internal training program that would help staff develop skills to act as brand ambassadors for recruitment and business development. To engage staff in the process, a fun, creative internal campaign featuring parody movie posters was developed to draw attention.

The goals of the training series included getting mid-level managers and junior staff more involved in conferences, associations, and community functions by providing them with the tools they need to navigate any networking activity. They also wanted to increase participation in social media – particularly LinkedIn – as a way to build personal brand and the brand of the firm. As a result of networking, they also hoped to develop client prospect lists and employee referrals.

The campaign was launched in KCB’s head office in Vancouver, which employs 193 people. A total of 168 staff members attended the training series, which included four sessions and a mock event. Feedback from attendees was very positive. KCB is already seeing an increase in activity on LinkedIn profiles as staff members implement tips and tricks they picked up. The training program is now being rolled out to all KCB locations.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Westwood

3. WestwoodWestwood Professional Services (Eden Prairie, MN), a 350-person professional services firm, is the third place winner in the Online Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its new website.

Before commencing with design concepts for the new website August Ash, Inc. – a web developer and Internet marketing consultant – conducted nine months of analysis on Westwood’s existing website. Feedback was gathered through meetings and surveys with Westwood’s key leaders to help deliver the best site design and layout to meet their needs.

Their research uncovered several issues. The Westwood team realized that they needed to clearly communicate their value and core services. They also needed to work on demonstrating their expertise in additional services without compromising their core services. They needed to enhance their jobs, office, and corporate pages to attract the right people to want to work at Westwood. Their new website needed to be more dynamic and mobile-responsive.

Westwood’s fresh brand image and message was effectively implemented into the company’s website and social channels. Results show that visits to their online sites have increased. Having analytics in place to make good, informed decisions for their online marketing has been a big advantage. They’re able to better understand visitor behaviors, and test and adjust design features that don’t work. As a result, they’ve found much success in both upward and downward trends. If something is trending down they can fix it. Additionally, focus on social engagement has increased referrals to the new website.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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A fresh look at employee evaluations

Architectural colleague shares new scale for assessing employees’ impact on the firm, community, world in areas of attitude, capability, performance.

I’ve always been skeptical of the “performance review” style of evaluating. I believe in a strengths-based method of casting – placing people in roles that take best advantage of each person’s unique mix of talents. Preparing for and then delivering (or receiving) a performance review seems about as pleasant as having a root canal.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with Don Clark, who runs the Reno-based architectural firm Cathexes. The name of the firm is the plural of cathexis, which is an investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea. And Don does exactly that in everything he undertakes and with everyone with whom he works. As we were talking the other day about people management, Don shared his employee evaluation form with me. My first response was skepticism, until he began to explain it.

Don uses three general areas of review; each has a few subcategories along with examples of how successful performance is to be evaluated. His categories are very much an inventory of culture and values. They are not granular, nor are they work-assignment specific. Since I’ve covered many of these issues, I’ve added short-hand descriptors from some of my previous columns in italics.


  • Assumes responsibility – set it and forget it; no need to check back
  • Work relationships – plays well with others; courteous, friendly, sincere
  • Professional outlook – takes responsibility to grow in the firm and profession
  • Attendance &ndash shows up and works with focus
  • Image – maintains an orderly work area and projects a professional image and appearance


  • Analytical ability – is a self-starter in research, concise and thorough with recommendations
  • Initiative – takes responsibility, recommends systemic improvements
  • Mental alertness – listens carefully, responds well to changes
  • Ability to represent firm – respectful toward clients, “lives” the firm culture, inspires confidence in the firm and team
  • Supervisory ability – inspires team, develops team members, obtains measurable results
  • Stability – projects calm in crisis, is consistent in performance, adapts to change
  • Overall competence – possesses technical/design skills, adds to the skill base of the firm, is an “expert” in something valuable to others in the firm


  • Dependability – completes assignments thoroughly without being monitored
  • Quantity of work – is consistent with skills and project needs
  • Quality of work – is consistently organized, coordinated, and accurate
  • Resourcefulness – seeks out best solutions, overcomes adversity
  • Communication – speaks, listens, writes, and responds clearly and thoroughly in a professional style

You can imagine that everyone at Cathexes has a clear idea of what the culture of the firm is. When this is the case, it fosters consistent and predictable behavior and attitude. But here’s where Don adds a unique twist that is both humorous and serious. Using a point system from 0 to 10, each person is rated in each category as follows:

  • 0. You died
  • 1. You’re fired
  • 2. Poor; need to relearn this concept
  • 3. Marginal; need to pay attention and improve
  • 4. Good; need some fine-tuning
  • 5. Perfect; all we askSo, where do people in the firm go from here?
  • 6. Perfect, and a little extra
  • 7. Performance is changing the office
  • 8. Performance is noticeable in the community
  • 9. Performance is changing the community
  • 10.Performance is changing the world

Both Don and the person being evaluated fill out the form with their numbers. The meeting is a comparison of how each sees performance. But, since the process has an aspirational character, no one is bothered by it. It’s all about expectations, and expectations like this require continual support from the firm to help people achieve their ambitions and passions to change the world. It also attracts others with such aspirations.

If people are working consistently to achieve this level of performance, their efforts affect their project work. The projects Don has on the boards right now in Reno are of a scale, scope, and thoughtfulness to place them squarely in the “9” category. If they are as successful as they have the potential to be and are emulated in other communities, Cathexes will score a clear and resounding “10.”

Don adds: “When you reach ‘10,’ erase the slate and start all over again!”

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

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Wanted – two kinds of people

Inspiration is necessary for technical/design professionals and those who manage projects to be successful.

​I’ve been saying for years that having two tracks – one for managerial and sales people, and one for design and technical people – is largely a myth in this business. My conclusion was based largely on money and supply-and-demand. There are less people who can sell and manage, and they are worth more than someone who only does project-related worth.

Now, I’m going to backpedal a little on that. I’ve always known that we need those technical and design people – particularly leaders – who turn out outstanding projects. It goes wrong when we don’t do a good job of communicating exactly what that standard is. It’s high.

What we need in these outstanding technical/design people and in those who manage projects is inspiration. They need to be able to inspire everyone else on the team to ever-greater performance. I define that performance from the client’s point of view: The project has to exceed their expectations. They should be calling and writing letters and emails to you expressing how great a job the firm and your people did for them. And the workers who report to these people should be coming to you on their own to express their admiration and appreciation for the outstanding leadership that has been provided to them.

See, the problem is, we act like project-related work isn’t important and, instead, only achieving certain business goals is. If you know anything about the best, most passionate, and creative architects, engineers, and planners, you know that only talking business with them is alienating to them. They want and need to know that what they are doing is important, worthwhile, and appreciated. Their heroic efforts cannot be consistently ignored if you expect them to be repeated. They do not just want to drive business results; they want to do projects and have relationships with clients that they can be proud of.

We need project leaders and discipline experts who demonstrate that they want to keep learning. We need project leaders and discipline experts who don’t act like they are superior to everyone else on their team and help others learn. We need project leaders and discipline experts who are responsive to questions and engaged and who know how to treat other people they work with. We also need project leaders and discipline experts who work hard and don’t act like unionized blue-collar workers. The expectations are high – even if you aren’t a big seller of work or manager of people and “just” a project person.

So, in this business, we desperately need good, inspired, passionate, and committed architects and engineers, who take tremendous pride in their work. We have to make sure we don’t only talk about business but also devote airtime to their project accomplishments, both inside and outside of the firm. We need hard-working leaders who love their work so much they have to be pried away from it. When we have people like this in design posts and project leadership roles, they will inspire others – Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Millennials – to work harder and longer and be better at what they do. That will produce even better projects and more accolades you can share and one more of the “virtuous cycles” of this business is established. This pattern will create a culture that leads to BUSINESS SUCCESS as well; it is the outcome of it.

The $50,000 question is: “Are you creating high enough expectations for all of your project staff?” If not, start now. And are you really touting their accomplishments? If not, start that now. You will be more successful if you do. Don’t let the design and technical track be a dumping ground for people who not only aren’t good managers or business developers, but also aren’t effective inspiration project leaders and team members.

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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