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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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From the Chairman: Why we all hate timecards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Client Focus is a must

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

successful pm

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

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

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


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Change really is good!

Participate in the 2015 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey!Zweig Group’s #1 priority is to make sure we have the best, most up-to-date, and most useful information and products. With this in mind, we decided to update our surveys and offer our clients a better incentive to participate –after all, our products are dependent upon members of the AEC community sharing their viewpoints, experiences, and practices.

We’ve started something new with the 2015 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey.  This survey still has the same information people like you in the AEC industry have come to rely on, but we’ve added some relevant topics and made the entire process more user-friendly.

Here’s a few of the changes:

  • New survey platform –this makes the survey faster and easier to take, and will help us improve the final product.  You can even take the survey from your phone!   
  • Take this survey and get a discount on the full-price of ANY Zweig Group survey. In the past, participation discounts were only good on the final end-product of the survey someone participated in –while you certainly can still use this discount to purchase the final 2015 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey, you could also use it on any of our existing surveys and receive a PDF within minutes!  

Click here to take the 2015 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey: https://zweiggroup.com/p-2229-2015-policies-procedures-benefits-survey 

We value your input. If you have any feedback on the new survey or have any questions please contact Christina Zweig at czweig@zweiggroup.com or the research department at research@zweiggroup.com phone: 800.466.6275.


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Editorial: Success secrets of high achievers

Ten characteristics Mark Zweig has seen in high-flying AEC leaders.

High achievers in the AEC industry
Thirty five years as a student of human behavior – all concentrated in one industry (the AEC world) – coupled with an incredible amount of research on people, firms, the industry, and markets served by firms in this business have taught me a lot. In particular, I have seen how the high achievers in this business do it. Here are 10 observations on these people:

  1. They are big-picture. They see how everything works together (or doesn’t) and don’t get mired in the details at the expense of what’s really most critical.
  2. They are good communicators. It isn’t good enough to know what to do. You have to be able to sell those ideas and that vision to others.
  3. They are intelligent. As Larry the Cable Guy says, “You can’t fix stupid.” He’s right. Intelligent people are reasonable. You can discuss things with intelligent people.
  4. They stay ‘up.’ They know how their optimism affects everyone around them. And even if not up all of the time, they are at least even-keeled.
  5. They stay ‘on.’ They don’t shut down at night or all weekend long, or for weeks while on vacation. The most successful people I know are the most accessible and responsive. They are the least likely people to go “offline” at 5 o’clock and for long periods of time on other occasions.
  6. They work hard. There isn’t any substitute for it. They’ll get up early, stay up late, and do what they have to do to keep their commitments without many excuses. This, in turn, sets the “pace” for everyone else who works with/for/around them.
  7. They know how to treat people. ALL people. This is such a valuable skill. Why alienate people by being a jerk or acting like you think you are better than them? Treating people well makes others like you and increases their willingness to work for you/with you, or do business with you. It says a lot about the person’s character.
  8. They keep learning. High achievers know someone is always nipping at your heels. They want to stay up with their knowledge of what’s going on in their business, their discipline, and with the world as a whole. Learning is a way of life for them.
  9. They don’t let obstacles shut them down. They go over mountains or around mountains or through mountains but don’t let anything deter them from their course. This is such a crucial trait that distinguishes these people from the masses.
  10. They are good recruiters and team-builders. High achievers understand that all things they want to do takes a team. They are always looking for the next teammate and constantly working to refine their teams such that they have the best quality people working with them. Once again, this is essential if you are going to be a high achiever in this business.

So take a good look at yourself in the mirror? Are you acting like a high achiever or acting like someone else who clearly isn’t?


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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1089, originally published 2/2/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.


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Editorial: Wasting time in the office

Five types of unnecessary practices that are making you lose big bucks, Mark Zweig writes.

I’ve always thought there was a lot of time wasted in the typical AEC firm’s office, especially for the managers. This was glaringly apparent to me when I started Mark Zweig & Associates back in ’88. I suddenly had so much time I didn’t know what to do with it. This was after years of working in A/E firms in a variety of management jobs.

Wasted time is wasted money. It hurts morale, leads to job dissatisfaction, and reduces profitability – all bad things. Yet we continue to do the same time-wasting things year after year.

Here are some specific examples of what I am talking about:

  1. Timesheet review. No one will convince me this is necessary at all. Key it in. If an employee charges to a job they shouldn’t, point it out after the fact. It doesn’t happen that often and can be seen more easily on a job cost report later and corrected than trying to solve it before entry into the system. Ditto for using vacation or sick leave employees don’t have accrued. Most managers don’t even know this when they review and sign the timesheet anyway; they don’t keep track of those accruals, the payroll people do. Timesheet review is just one of those habits from the olden days that is hard to break.
  2. Pointless meetings. Meetings that you don’t need to be at. Meetings without agendas. Meetings that could have been replaced by a simple email or phone call. Engineers and architects claim to loathe bureaucracy yet your response to nearly every management problem or challenge is to hold a meeting. In many cases, problems or issues that need dealing with NOW are delayed until a meeting can be held, which is really crazy! Break yourself off this bad habit.
  3. Annual performance appraisals. I learned 25 years ago that these are just a dumb waste of time. Give people feedback when they need it – good or bad – and don’t store it up. And if someone wants to talk about their career or goals, talk to them when they or you want to talk about it. Filling out a silly form at a certain time of the year does nothing for you or the employee. And by the way, to the HR folks’ claim that we need this information for times of termination due to non- or poor performance, I always point out that nine times out of 10 these performance appraisals actually support a wrongful termination claim by the employee because managers are typically not honest and don’t confront people until the end.
  4. Too many emails. Whomever invented the “reply to all” button should be drawn and quartered. We have wasted billions of dollars of time in A/E firms from people who simply reply to all every time with simple “thanks,” or “happy b-days,” or whatever. This habit has to be broken! All the time people then waste reading/deleting/filing this stuff is never accounted for. Teach your people to reply to the person they need to reply to and only that person(s).
  5. Too many interruptions. This takes many forms – calls from salespeople, emails you didn’t need, others inside the firm who just want to plop down and gossip, etc. The main thing here is you have to take control of your time. Insist people come back. Take a message for the salespeople or have your switchboard operator screen them entirely. Don’t let constant interruptions keep you from accomplishing what you must because you have too many starts, stops, and restarts.

Yep, no doubt about it. Lots of time is wasted. I think almost every company could make more money and have happier people if they honestly worked to change the situation instead of accepting it as “normal.” Don’t you?

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

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

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Brand Building: Do you really have a marketing department?

Distinguishing between marketing and sales offers a true perspective of investment.

We have a problem in this industry. Many of us have a simple-minded perspective of “marketing.” For many firms, the marketing department is a group of people who spend most of their time responding to proposals and presentations. If that describes you, I have bad news. You do not have a marketing department, you have a sales support team. Part of this stems from how marketing departments tend to evolve in professional service firms. A common story is that as firms grow, they tend to add low-level administrative staff to help with proposals, reports, presentations and other similar needs.

Then they reach a point where some technical or design professional in the firm who expresses even the slightest interest or talent in marketing or sales gets assigned to lead the marketing team. At the end of the day, they have a support team for business development activities. Sound familiar? Regardless of your exact story and the makeup of your current marketing department, it is important to have a correct perspective of what marketing and sales is.

First of all, let’s define marketing and sales independently. Marketing is the process of finding out the needs of the client, then persuading them that your service meets their needs. Sales, or “business development,” is the process of persuading the client to actually buy your services. Marketing tells a broader group of potential buyers who you are and what your value proposition is; sales is a focused effort toward earning a specific sale. Confusion around marketing and sales runs rampant in our industry, causing a big problem. Existing structures perpetuate a reactive approach to building the business. We have so many resources dedicated to sales support that we do not have any bandwidth left for strategic marketing and initiatives. Additionally, “marketing” is already viewed negatively as a necessary evil from its inherent place in the overhead category. It creates a vicious cycle: As more opportunities present themselves to firms, they add more people to churn out proposals. If firms can interrupt that cycle long enough to invest in meaningful marketing, they will see that the rewards of strategic positioning and messaging. Those rewards are usually more wins with fewer proposals and a stronger, more resilient brand.

One of the single most important things a firm can do to set itself apart from the firms listed above is to invest in true marketing leadership. If you are a firm of 50 or more people, you need a full-time true marketing leader. This is a person who has training in marketing and sales and understands the professional services industry. This is almost never a design or technical professional who has a side interest in marketing. This is an individual who has made a career out of marketing and sales, a true marketing professional. Depending on the size of your firm, that leader then needs a cadre of marketing and sales professionals (see my article titled “Building a Competitive Marketing Department” in the Nov. 17, 2014 issue of THE ZWEIG LETTER, #1080, for more info on this). Sales and business development activities are critical for survival, but they should complement a well-orchestrated marketing program that defines your brand and leads you to the most profitable markets, clients, and opportunities. Investment in true marketing as we have defined it above is critical for any firm that has a strategic plan and a vision for the future. If you simply want to evolve, a support team of proposal writers will probably suffice. Marketing should play a key role in the execution of the strategic initiatives in your plan. Take a look at your marketing department and especially the leadership. Do you trust that your highest order initiatives are in good hands? If not, make changes and hire marketing professionals to help your organization grow and outperform your peers. Understanding the differences in marketing and sales and having a deliberate strategy and focused investment in each of those critical areas will go a long way toward making you a Hot Firm in 2015!

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

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

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Zweig Group is collecting responses for an important survey about leaders in the design industry

Zweig Group is looking for A/E/P and environmental firm presidents, CEOs, partners, principals, associates, or owners to respond to a short survey.  Survey participants are eligible for significant discounts on published survey products.

Zweig Group produces eighteen different surveys every year on topics relevant to every area of business in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industry.  Data is further broken down by firm type, staff size, region of headquarters, growth rate, and many other factors.  The performance statistics these surveys collect enable firm leaders to measure their position among competitors and peers in the industry.

The Principals, Partners & Owners Survey is a comprehensive and confidential study of leadership activities, ownership, stock appreciation, buy/sell agreements, non-compete agreements, voting rights, roles, responsibilities, perks, compensation, and more.  To take the survey visit: https://www.research.net/s/R6X9WFF

For more information on Zweig Group and a complete list of surveys go to: https://zweiggroup.com/survey.php

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Search Savvy: 5 steps to a successful candidate relocation

Avoid dropping the ball with that perfect out-of-town candidate.

I recently left a fairly comfortable existence in New England to relocate here to Fayetteville, Ark. the home office of the Zweig Group. I spent a lot of time mulling over the pros and cons of making the move and ultimately did so after taking a trip down to the area with my wife to visit and check out housing, schools (I have three boys under 10), and what kind of cultural life we would have here in the Northwest corner of the state. We were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

The homes were bigger and newer, the school system was also very good, with a number of ground-breaking educational programs in place, and there was a lot more to see and do than we ever thought possible. The lower cost of living was a significant factor as well.

These are just a few of the factors that played into my decision to relocate here.

When recruiting the best and brightest people you may have to look outside of your marketplace and that will most certainly mean that you may have to relocate someone to fill that critical MEP or Landscape Architect position you needed filled three months ago. It can be very frustrating to not find people in your own backyard but with a solid relocation plan in place you can be sure that you will always be able to put your best foot forward when entertaining and encouraging out-of-town candidates to come join your firm. As a recruiter, I’ve dealt with having to relocate candidates frequently and no two relocation efforts are the same – but there are some simple things that can be done to ensure that you have a great shot at landing that “Hot Shot!” recruit.

Here are five steps to a successful candidate relocation:

  1. Have a good Realtor on speed dial who knows your city well and can make themselves available to show your candidate, and if necessary their spouse or significant other, around town. Not the cheap tour, mind you, but the one that highlights why someone would enjoy living in your area. You are better off working with a Realtor who holds the CRP (Certified Relocation Professional) designation. When you choose the right one they can be worth their weight in gold… They can tell you what the candidate mentioned to them while driving around and you can learn even more about what they like and don’t like by the hours they spend with them in the car riding around. Invaluable!
  2. Make sure you prep the candidate about your area by sending them some information from your local Chamber of Commerce. I know a lot of this information is online but you can visit your local COC and pick out some choice items to share with the candidate and send it to them with a note in a nice express package. It’s the little touches that matter. I know it sounds like a lot of work but once you go over these steps you will find that automating them is fairly simple.
  3. Make the travel arrangements for the candidate’s visit as easy as possible. Find out their travel schedule and pull everything together for them (air, hotel, car) and send it along in a nice package with an itinerary. Another nice touch if the out-of-town candidate is not renting a car is to have one of the people in the office pick them up or hire a car service to do this. The more you lighten their load from a logistics standpoint the more they can focus on the opportunity before them.
  4. If a candidate is married make sure you include the spouse in the process and take some time to find out their interests. We do this all of the time for our clients when helping them hire an out of town candidate. We will go so far as to even line up potential interviews and discuss employment opportunities in their line of work. Again, I know it sounds like a lot of work if you are doing this yourself but you can always find the most resourceful admin in your office to help you with some of this or even a good local recruiter may be of assistance.
  5. If your candidate has children, especially older ones, don’t forget them! Nowadays it’s harder to get folks to relocate because maybe a musical or athletic program their child participates in is not available in your area. You may need to get this information beforehand to ensure that you can address these issues before they arise.

Relocating is a family decision. You may be offering a great opportunity, good salary, and benefits package but you will miss the mark every time if that’s your only focus when dealing with the perfect out-of-town client.

If you need some help with this issue or ideas to help you overcome a challenging work location feel free to email me and I will do what I can to help you out.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1087, originally published 1/19/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: A look at charismatic leaders

Despite what the pundits say, Mark Zweig believes that magnetic leaders aren’t such a bad thing.

“Charisma” – some people have it and some don’t. It has been defined as a special charm or appeal that causes people to feel attracted and excited by someone (such as a politician); a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (such as a political leader); a special magnetic charm or appeal.

There’s a shortage of charisma in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry. Many of those who go into professions like these do so because of their interest in the work itself – not because of an interest in business, or leadership, or in building some great enterprise. Yet, when you do run into those rare charismatic leaders in firms in this business you will also often see they’re great marketers and sellers, running tremendously successful firms. I see charisma as a positive trait – one we need to cultivate.

“Good to Great” followers (in many cases, zealots – sorry!) don’t necessarily see charisma as a good thing. In fact, charisma is not on Jim Collins’ list of requirements to be what he termed a “level 5 leader” (the highest level of leadership one can attain, in Collins’ view). In any case, Collins believes there are some major differences between
a level 4 leader and a level 5 leader. Collins says a level 5 leader is highly driven for the success of his company. He wants his company to succeed no matter who is leading it as CEO. On the other hand, Collins thinks level 4 leaders don’t care so much about what happens to the company once they are gone. They get high performance out of the company during his or her reign, but (supposedly) aren’t so concerned about what comes after. The premise is that level 4 leaders care more about their own “greatness” than that of the company. One of my problems with oft-rabid preachers of Collins’ gospel is that all his research involved mega-organizations – be they either publicly traded multi-billion dollar companies or other huge organizations – so who is to say this all applies to mostly smaller- and mid-sized or even larger privately held professional service firms?

If you poke around on the Internet on this subject (I find myself doing this sort of thing occasionally), you will find all kinds of articles, blog posts, etc., from people who actually stake out the territory that charisma is a bad thing for firm leaders to have. That’s ludicrous. Steve Jobs (Apple) and Elon Musk (Tesla) have been cited as examples by a number of authors and management and leadership “experts” of (bad?) charismatic leaders. Wow. Apple is one of if not the single most valuable technology company in the world and Tesla is the only successful new car company (much less electric car company) in about 100 years. So now we have people who have done nothing in the way of building companies themselves criticizing some of the greatest company-builders in modern history because they aren’t what an academic (Jim Collins) considers a level 5 leader. That’s just plain bizarre!

The charisma critics will claim that in the long term companies run by charismatic leaders have problems. There certainly are examples of imploding charismatic leaders such as Paula Dean, Leona Helmsley or Martha Stewart, or companies melting down post-charismatic leader, such as Chrysler after Lee Iacocca. But overall, my belief is the charismatic leaders have done far more good than damage. On top of that, who is to talk about long term? Most companies morph, merge and change so quickly these days it is hard to talk about long term. One thing is for sure, you won’t have a long term if you don’t survive the short term.

If I were you, I’d be looking for charismatic leaders at all levels in the firm. And I would also be supportive of the ones you already have – with one caveat that you don’t let their pay, perks, and egos get too far out of control!

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1087, originally published 1/19/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.


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Marketing Excellence Awards: “We make buildings work”

Expert message

Barton BartonAssociates (York, PA), a 57-person MEP engineering firm, created a marketing campaign to target their two niche markets: education and healthcare. The campaign took home fourth place in Zweig Group’s Marketing Excellence Awards in the Integrated Marketing category.

Barton set out to reach high level decision makers in the higher education, healthcare and architectural industry in four-month-long campaign. Each marketing piece was further designed to target specialized submarkets that exist within each of the two niche markets. The comprehensive campaign was comprised of a combination of direct mail, email, website improvements and social media efforts.

The firm began by researching master-plans for higher education facilities as well as future trends in healthcare facilities. Two separate campaigns focused on specific types of education and healthcare facilities that would be most meaningful to a specific client base.

Next, the firm determined what kind of marketing communication would work best for clients by researching B2B content marketing, SMPS resources, and the marketing efforts of competitors. Ultimately, Barton determined that a mix of print and digital methods would extend the reach of the campaign. James Holtzapple, vice president of business development and marketing specialist at Barton Associates, developed the idea and professional engineers at the firm wrote all the marketing content, focusing on providing clients with useful and specific information about each sub-market.

Barton Associates began with sending out a postcard, followed by an e-engineer newsletter just one week later. The newsletter contained website links that also had a downloadable brochure. The newsletter was also posted on the firm’s website and LinkedIn company page.

The simple postcards had descriptive text, photos of past projects and the firm’s tagline, “We Make Buildings Work.”

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Editorial: Two types of necessary people

Your job is to instill harmony between those who thrive on change and those who prefer the status quo.

After working with A/E firms for about 35 years, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of managers/leaders working in most firms. Everyone seems to fall into two camps. It is either the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp or the “If it ain’t broke, break it” camp. Both types of managers/leaders are necessary but neither of them is right ALL of the time.

Those who think things aren’t broken and should be left alone to operate as-is may very well be correct, but only under certain conditions. First, whatever area of the business you are talking about truly has to be unbroken and you can’t just be rationalizing for your laziness or complacency in not dealing with what actually is a problem. Second, the risk of changing it and screwing up what it does contribute is, in your judgment, greater than the benefits you could accrue by “fixing” it. And third, there are other areas or opportunities for improvement inside the firm that are a better use of your time and other resources. All of these conditions have to be met but there certainly are some good cases for concluding that this area is NOT where your focus needs to be at this time. Having people from this camp can be essential to keeping peace and harmony inside the firm and to keeping you focused on the highest priorities. The harshest critics will accuse these people of settling for less than they should and holding the company back, and in some cases they may very well be right.

It is true that those who think things can always be done better (the “If it’s not broke, break it” camp), may be the ones who actually make some real breakthroughs that ultimately make the firm a lot more successful. There really is something to be said for being in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the way things are at present. No dissatisfaction equates to no motivation to make things better. These natural optimizers just “see” opportunities to improve everything. And the truth is, in my experience, everything in most AEC firms CAN be done better. That said, they aren’t always fun to be with and can cause quite a bit of stress and discomfort to top management at times.

Both of these types of managers/leaders are needed in your firm. It’s kind of like an orchestra – you need different instruments. Pull any one of them out and the composition doesn’t sound so good. Your job as the “orchestra leader” is to decide when “good enough” really is good enough and when changes need to be made to make things better. It takes a balance, a constant reassessment of priorities and available resources, and continuous judgments about who you can make uncomfortable or potentially demotivate with too much or too little change. This is just one more aspect of the “art of leadership,” and part of what makes your job a continuous learning experience…

Happy New Year, All!

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1086, originally published 1/12/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.



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From the Chairman: Losing valuable people?

A test of your staff’s commitment to you so you know what to fix.

Architects and engineers are seeing increased activity in the marketplace and firms are hiring. This is not news to most of you, I suspect. It certainly is the case with the firms I’m working with today. In fact, some firms have a voracious appetite for additional talent and are aggressively poaching from other firms. How secure and committed to your firm are your employees?

I’ve frequently mentioned the Gallup book, “First Break All the Rules” and am reminded daily of the pertinence of their 12 key questions regarding workplace moral. Their message is simple. If your people answer yes to these 12 questions, they are “deeply committed” to their work, and by extension, deeply committed to the firm that they are a part of. Here they are:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? (Do my team members have clear job descriptions, and clarity around projects, tasks and expectations?)
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? (Do they have the resources they need to succeed in their role?)
  3. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday? (Do you have people in the right jobs, where they can use and build on their strengths?)*
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work? (When was the last time you praised the individuals in your team? If it wasn’t in the last week, it’s not regular enough. People crave recognition – your role as leader is to encourage and cheerlead your team.)
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person? (Do you know who your team members are as people, not as employees?)
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? (Do you provide opportunities for your staff to learn new skills and feel like they are moving forward?)
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? (People leave managers, not jobs. What structure do you have in place for your team members to provide their feedback? And do you listen when it’s given?)
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? (Do your team members know how their role fits into the bigger picture?)
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? (Are you letting poor performers set the standard or are you encouraging people to lift the bar? The standard your walk past is the standard you set. Good performers can be demoralized if poor standards are accepted in others.)
  10. Do I have a best friend at work? (Are you providing opportunities for your team to grow supportive relationships at work? Work is a big part of their lives, so it’s vital for people to have fun and friendship.)
  11. In the last 6 months, has someone talked to me about my progress? (Are you providing regular reviews and feedback to help people with a sense of direction at work?)
  12. This last year, have I had the opportunity at work to learn and grow? (Are you providing opportunities for advancement?)

I’ve used these questions with firms I’ve worked with to help leaders determine how well they’re doing. Buy the book, use SurveyMonkey to poll your staff, and you’ll learn very quickly how vulnerable you may be. If anyone who is part of your leadership team thinks this is nonsense, perhaps it’s time for new leadership, because people who answer yes to each of these questions are simply not interested in going somewhere else. Environments that foster a culture built around each of these ideas won’t easily be found elsewhere. If your people know that it is your intent to build your firm on these principles, they’ll also be more likely to explore what it’s like in the firm that’s trying to lure them away.

* I also highly recommend another Gallup book titled “Now Discover Your Strengths,” which elaborates on point 3 above.

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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Editorial: What to pay a new employee

As hiring picks up in 2015, make sure you are taking all factors into consideration, Mark Zweig writes.

Some years ago, I got a call from a good client and friend of mine. He ran a good-sized A/E firm in the Midwest and needed some help with recruiting. They desperately required a strong engineering project manager with a healthcare HVAC design background. He wasn’t happy with the capabilities of the five other PMs they had with HVAC backgrounds. None of them were strong enough to handle the big project they’d just landed (according to him).

We discussed all the requirements for the job and then I asked him what they would be willing to pay. His response was $90,000 max base pay because that’s how much they paid the other people there (the ones he wasn’t happy with, mind you!). I asked him why he thought we would be able to find someone better than the five he already had and entice him or her away from their present employer for the same pay he’s giving others who aren’t as good. He didn’t really realize the low probability of that occurring until I pointed it out to him!

Determining what to pay someone you’re trying to hire is always a thorny subject. What they make currently, what others in the firm make, what their expectations are, relative cost of living where they are now versus where you will put them – there are many factors to consider.

Finding out what they currently make is crucial but many firms don’t even ask for it. The best way is to just come out and ask. When the person says, “I make $100K,” the next questions out of your mouth should be, “How does that break down? What portion of that is base pay? Bonus? Overtime? Benefits?” You may very well find out they actually earn a base salary of $80K, which could radically affect your assessment of that person’s value to you and prospects of accepting an offer of $95K.

Looking at your existing staff honestly is another factor. If you love them you’d better consider the risk of bringing someone in from outside at a higher price. If you think you need to upgrade, be ready to pay a higher price than what you’re paying everyone else now. And here’s the truth of it: It will be hard to hire someone as good as the people you have now without paying that person more than you pay everyone else because their current employer probably values them similarly to how you value your other similar-capability staffers.

Salary surveys are one way to get some external data reference beyond what the person says they are currently making and beyond what you are currently paying your similar people. But beware. The geographic groupings they put people in may not make sense or reflect where you are. “Southern States,” for example, would include Atlanta but could also include Greenwood, Miss. The price tags for people with similar backgrounds could be quite different in those two locations. So looking at what people with an architectural degree, registration, and 10 years of experience “earn” could be an apples to oranges comparison.

Cost of living is yet another factor. Yes, it is a lot more expensive to live in San Francisco than it is the DFW area. But “no,” the salaries in the Bay Area are not correspondingly higher over the DFW area. So salaries do NOT automatically go up in higher cost areas. Yet, this is bound to be a factor for anyone considering a new job.

There are many factors to consider in what to pay someone. We haven’t even discussed bonuses, benefits, and relocation packages. The best companies are going to be throwing all kinds of “deals” out there but will pay the greatest attention to base pay. Base pay is what someone can count on and is always the most important number in anyone’s compensation package. Not to mention higher salaries make it harder for people to leave your employ because other companies can’t afford ’em. My guess is you’ll be doing a lot of hiring in 2015. I hope this helps!

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



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Marketing Excellence Award Winner: A gingerbread video project

The holidays are a great time for fun and creative marketing pieces. Taking home second place in Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Excellence Awards in the Online Marketing Category, Clark Patterson Lee (Rochester, NY), a 220-person multidisciplinary firm, combined the traditions of making gingerbread houses and sending holiday cards into a sweet marketing piece that spread holiday cheer inside and outside the company.

The firm began the process with a brainstorming session three months before the targeted send date of an e-card on Dec. 20. The firm decided to make a video of the process of creating a gingerbread structure, and to make things even more A/E industry-themed, the process of creating the ginger structure was made to mirror the steps taken in responding to a request for proposals. The video emphasized the creative process, which captured all the steps from receiving RFP through completion and ribbon-cutting.

Project teams and individuals were encouraged to submit a proposal. A committee selected the winning design, choosing to incorporate elements from all submittals.

The team selected a digital platform to distribute the video e-card due to cost and flexibility. The recording captured the design process in real-life, resulting in a time-lapse video set to music, resulting in a fascinating and engaging visual.

The process of creating the card and gingerbread structure remained collaborative: the e-card was created and executed entirely by internal staff, who expressed pride and joy in the project. Architects, engineers, and interior designers used their talents to design, plan and execute the structure constructed solely from edible food materials. The firm produced an outtakes video from the bloopers as a bonus feature to encourage further engagement.

The e-card was posted on YouTube, shared on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and linked back to the firm’s website as a part of an inbound marketing campaign.

Clark Patterson Lee set a few simple goals for the marketing piece: showcase their creativity to clients and friends in a way that evokes the holiday spirit, promote firm culture by working collaboratively on a project that generates firm-wide excitement, and increase traffic to the website and increase name and brand awareness among a broader audience.

The target audience was broad and included over 1,800 friends, colleagues and clients along the eastern seaboard. The video was also embedded on the firm’s website, with a link emailed to contacts. Traffic was driven to the website to increase SEO.

The firm set a modest budget of $1,500, though the actual cost ended up being even less in accountable hours of time from marketing staff and cost of food supplies. Non-marketing staff volunteered time to build the ginger structure. The firm used camera, equipment and computer programs they already owned.

The 1,800-contact send-list generated 4,168 page views, 1,725 unique views, and had only a 0.6 percent bounce rate. The video garnered 1,508 views on YouTube and was shared by many recipients, with countless positive comments: “An extended member of the CPL family, in southern N.H. loved this! The ribbon cutting and the gingerbread man upside down in the ‘pond’ were innovative touches” – Lyndy Burnham. “The BEST holiday card of the year!” – Timothy J. DeBuse, national corrections market leader, HEERY DESIGN.

The marketing piece also won the Smartegies A/E/C Full-Service Marketing Agency Holiday Card Contest in Atlanta and placed in the SMPS 2014 Marketing Communication Awards.b1ea7958cffa64011d56d0e61405ad64

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Editorial: Know your margins

Which units are performing and which are not? Do a little research; allocate your investment appropriately.

I’m all for holistic thinking – always have been. I’ve seen a lot of silly (make that stupid) stuff done in AEC firms when they run offices or departments as profit centers. One group is hiring while another is firing, cross-selling isn’t happening, and managers are fighting with each other in senseless turf wars.

That said, sometimes you HAVE to look at how units are performing profit-wise compared to one another. If you don’t, you don’t know where you should be investing and where you should be cutting. Resources are limited. Management time, money, marketing dollars, training dollars, technology dollars – these things must be deployed where best used.

Many companies don’t ever do a margin analysis between offices, divisions, market sector groups, clients, or studios and teams. This is critical information and it should potentially affect virtually every decision made by management.

For example, one time I was asked to do a marketing plan for a client who had multiple separate and distinct market sector groups they were organized around. I had their CFO do a complete analysis of each unit – something they had never done before. When the results came in we saw that they were spending more money on the worst performing units and less money on the best performing units. It was the exact opposite of what a logical and dispassionate management team should do. Yet this is a typical scenario.

The reason this happens is that we tend to focus on our problems. They command our attention and resources. Instead of investing in what works, we do the opposite. We ignore the good and devote our energies to the bad. And that then results in throwing good money after bad and wasting months or years. Then we wonder why our businesses aren’t profitable or growing. This phenomenon is certainly one reason why…

Of course, you have to be smart about your analysis and look at longer-term performance versus just shorter-term. We do have different units and areas of business for good reasons. Sometimes they are countercyclical. That’s ok. But be sure when the cycle is right their contributions exceed their costs when the cycle is off. Some things never make money. Several times, I worked for companies in this business where we studied project performance over a 15- to 20-year period. In one case, we discovered that all of our higher education projects over the life of the company, when totaled, lost money. This certainly was good information to have, influencing our marketing efforts going forward. Another company I worked for discovered that claims paid ate all profits in one project category they worked in over a 20-year period. That told us to get out of that market.

I always say: before business planning is a good time for a little research. Have you done your homework?

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1084, originally published 12/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Brand Building: ’Tis the season for giving

Marketing is the area of your business intended for giving to others.

I was on-site with a client recently and we were discussing a business development strategy for their new planning group. One of the senior leaders made a key observation that I think is important to share. He said: “We need to make sure we do not apply our traditional utilization targets to this group.” You may not think that comment is profound, but too many firms do try to start a new group to add value for their clients and then do not really give the group the flexibility and resources to adequately succeed. Firms find it difficult to not apply their refined management systems to all groups in order to keep an eye on them.

I believe the comment brought up a very good point that we can all learn from – marketing and business development is a business of giving. It requires a great deal of faith that, by giving to others, you will eventually get something in return. There are some things that require a completely different set of rules and measures for accountability. For this firm, adding a planning group would add value to their clients; something to set them apart from their other general engineering competitors in the area. Here are tips for taking a leap of faith in marketing and business development without completely losing control of those precious marketing and BD dollars:

  1. For new areas of business, whether developing expertise or a new geographic area, set realistic expectations for revenues and costs based on specific information and research you gather. At the same time, do not buy into commonly circulated myths – i.e. “all new offices take three years to become profitable.” There are many situations when, if executed right, you can become profitable almost right way. There are other situations where it may take five years to become profitable. Keep your expectations (and faith) based on what you know related to the specific investments you are making. Do lots of research!
  2. Be willing to give a lot to get a little. This ties in with the season. Marketing and BD is all about offering information and services to current and potential clients in order to earn that very important quality – trust. Anywhere you can offer to help a client upfront before a project opportunity exists is a tremendous way to build trust and loyalty. Offering to help write the RFQ, scope the project and provide cost estimates, provide ideas for saving money or even suggesting alternate projects are just some of the ways you can offer your expertise and advance your chances of becoming a preferred provider in the future. Give to others!
  3. Be ROI minded. Return on investment is, at the end of the day, what marketing and BD is all about. This concept is applicable even in this season of giving. We give to others in order to provide them with a benefit now or in the future. And giving to others always comes back to the giver in a positive way. A/E firms certainly must manage utilization carefully and not invest wildly in marketing and BD without any accountability or strategy. However, firms must also realize that new ventures need different rules and mechanisms for accountability. Investing in something where returns may not be realized for years down the road can be hard for our utilization-obsessed industry to embrace. Consider all of your marketing expenditures and where to best spend those dollars and realize that giving something of real value to clients, like your time, is at the top of the effective list. Many firms waste tens of thousand of dollars on worthless marketing giveaways like pens, koozies and other junk that does not make near the impact that an hour of your time does. Focus on activities and investments where you have the greatest chance of return. Be ROI minded!

Any decision of giving or investment should be guided by a strong business plan. As we close out an outstanding year of recovery for our industry, every firm should be taking a hard look at its strategic plans. Much has changed and lots of opportunity exists at this time. The firm that spends time developing a thoughtful plan for the future will be the one that outperforms its peers. Decide what you want to be and who you want to be with you and start giving to them in a smart and deliberate way.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1084, originally published 12/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: I love this business!

An ode to the A/E profession, from Mark Zweig.

Being in the construction and development business through Mark Zweig, Inc., and getting exposure to many other businesses and industries as a professor teaching entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, I have gained a whole new appreciation for the A/E and environmental consulting business. I love it!

Sometimes I think it’s good to remind ourselves why we do what we do, and why it is such a great business to be in.

First off, the people who work in A/E firms are some of the most honest, ethical, and hardworking people you can find anywhere. The standard of ethical behavior in this business is higher than any other I’m aware of – helped, in part, by professions that have strict ethical codes of conduct.

The people in this business are also intelligent and creative. What could be better than that? We all have to spend a lot of time with our co-workers so why not work with people we can learn from and who inspire us? There’s nothing better!

Another great aspect of this industry is that the companies that make it up are by and large doing good stuff for society versus just selling junk food or tobacco, or overpriced garments or unneeded financial products. The work of firms in this business directly impacts the quality of life for all of us.

The work itself is fun and gratifying. Designing construction projects and then seeing them built in life-size, 3D is incredibly gratifying. And doing something where you get to continue to learn new things is also great. The advances in software and other technologies people get to use every day keep things fresh.

Being able to move around during the day is also great. Whether it’s getting in the car and driving to a job site, or getting on a plane and going to an exotic location, the opportunity for people working in this business to not be stuck behind a desk all day is real.

The point is, we all have a lot to be thankful for and feel really good about working in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business.

So let’s use some of these points as the underpinnings of our own daily affirmations to create a positive attitude for ourselves and our people as we move into 2015.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1083, originally published 12/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Search Savvy: Change is good!

Five ways to increase your digital footprint in branding and recruiting the best and brightest in 2015.

As we approach the end of 2014, I’m amazed at how much has changed in such a short period of time. Let me preface this by saying this year was unlike any other for me. I stepped down from a position I had been in for almost five years; after hearing a profound EntreLeadership Podcast (EntreLeadership.com) featuring a story about two men who had the opportunity to be mentored by Peter Drucker – arguably one of the greatest minds on Wall Street – and then reaching out to my own version of Peter Drucker in one Mark Zweig, for mentoring.

Based on the time I spent with Mark, I decided to take the plunge and get back into management consulting in a way that I haven’t done in years; since my first “tour of duty” with Zweig White & Associates. Back then, I was one of those associates given plenty of rope to make things happen.

When I left the industry, the technology that we take for granted today was in its infancy – we had a couple of career websites but that was it! There was no Twitter, Facebook,  LinkedIn, etc. If I remember correctly, Napster was the biggest game in town online and you were hip if you had an AOL account. In the Executive Search group at ZWA we got on the phone and made call after call after call. We sourced all the people we could find, recruited everyone who would speak to us and secretly hoped that the fax machine had enough paper in it for the résumé you were about to receive. Those were the days…

But they are long gone.

The A/E industry is all grown up now and more mature then ever. Just like every industry, profession, or discipline, HR and recruiting has had to come to grips with the changes in how we do things, workplace education and development, source candidates, call on clients, and recruit the best and brightest people.

Tools like LinkedIn and Twitter and even Facebook have changed the way we work. Information flow is more instantaneous and if you don’t know how to parse and process this information you could get left behind. Having spent time outside the A/E industry and seeing information and data manipulated in new and profound ways has given me a unique perspective on things.

Today, it’s no big deal for a company to develop and run cost-effective, simple software that allows them to operate more efficiently or provide a better bridge to a program that is the backbone of what they do or manage (Think Deltek or Salesforce or any other project management program). Inexpensive technology is everywhere.

Here are five ways for you to increase your digital footprint in branding and recruiting the best and brightest to join your firm in 2015.

  1. Let social media be ‘social’ and not ‘so-cold!’ Don’t create a bunch of canned responses that make it look like you have a robot monitoring your social media accounts. There are great programs out there – HootSuite (Hootsuite.com), Buffer (Buffer.com), and Sprout Social (SproutSocial.com) to name a few. With proper planning and a thoughtful approach these social media dashboards can make things so much easier for you to have genuine conversations with clients and candidates, for that matter.
  2. Make sure that your brand message is consistent across multiple social media platforms. Your logo, tagline, vision, mission statement, or whatever you are known for should exist somewhere on all of your social media profiles. More and more AEC candidates are spending time online doing research and talking to peers through multiple social media channels before making job changes. It hurts rather than helps you to not have an active and organic presence online. Nowadays a website is just not enough.
  3. Tell your story the only way you can. Use video and audio to brand yourself and your message properly. When trying to attract the best talent you always have to put your best foot forward. Consider creating a series of short videos or podcasts that capture the essence of who your firm is, what it means to be a team member, and maybe even the benefits of working with your company. I learned an expression a long time ago: “It’s a pitiful frog who doesn’t praise his own pond!”
  4. Keep an electronic database or CRM on all prospective candidates who respond to any job postings or come in the office for an interview. Many firms may want to have their HR department keep a separate simple CRM to refer back when ready to hire. There are several FREE ones out there, including ZOHO Recruit (Zoho.com/Recruit) and Insightly (insightly.com). As recruiters, our database is our lifeline. You have to make sure that you have an adequate database in place to keep track of all of the amazing candidates you run across over time. Maybe someone you really like isn’t a fit now. Sticking their business card in the bottom on your drawer may not work so well for you nowadays. You need to keep that person’s information in an electronic format and if there is an opportunity to engage with them through social media you should consider that as well. You never know when you might be ready to hire that person and if you remain engaged with them even on the simplest of social media levels that call to recruit them down the road is much warmer.
  5. Don’t make social media and marketing your brand for recruitment purposes a chore. Keep the message on point and have some fun with it. Keep relevant data about your firm, your growth, and the project mix nearby so that you can always make it available through social media to potential clients and candidates alike.

Everyone is under a microscope to perform. But clients and candidates can see thru a smokescreen. Whether your firm is working with a recruiter or not you may only have one shot at a great candidate. Make sure it’s your best.

Happy Holidays!

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1083, originally published 12/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Keys to success in 2015

Build a better, more sustainable company with these suggestions from Mark Zweig.

2015 is shaping up to be a FANTASTIC year for firms in this business. It’s really fun to see how many firms are doing exceedingly well in terms of growth, profits, and backlog, and to observe the renewed optimism and sense of possibility for their owners.

Now is your chance, if there ever was one, to build a better, more sustainable company and to grab the proverbial “brass ring.” It’s really up to you – as a leader – in how you shape your firm and the people in it, as to whether or not you’ll capitalize on the opportunity that is before you. As usual, I predict there will be some winners and some losers…

Here are what I see as some keys to your success in 2015 and beyond:

  • Purpose. Everyone needs it. Few can sustain working for the money alone over the long haul. A clear definition of your firm’s purpose is essential to sustaining individual motivation levels throughout the firm. While this may seem like an impossible task for some firms, it is necessary.
  • Commitment to growth. I have been criticized before for being too growth-oriented. If so, I accept that willingly. There is no alternative. You are either growing or declining. Growth is necessary for so many reasons – to keep people motivated, to improve capabilities, to increase firm value, to support investments in the future, and much, much more. Don’t rationalize that it is ok to not grow. It isn’t.
  • Successors. You need your successor. Everyone who reports to you needs their successors. All those successors need their own successors. Forcing people to do this – working hard on finding successors for everyone in the firm – will greatly increase your chances for success.
  • Working together. We’re in a complex business. We don’t need solo performers. We need team players who get the idea that cooperation is required if they want to accomplish what’s truly possible. Tear down the walls inside your organization (perhaps literally) and reinforce this idea through your own actions.
  • More creativity in marketing. It all gets stale faster than ever. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting bombarded with marketing messages through so many different channels today that keeping everything fresh is more essential than ever. Mix things up. Use all of the channels available to you. Get younger people involved. Build your brand.
  • Selling. Everyone MUST understand that selling work is one of the most important things in the firm. The firm has to be a “selling machine” if it is going to survive and prosper. Everyone has to contribute to this in some way through lead identification, fee estimating, proposal and presentation preparation, and closing.
  • Responsiveness. There simply is no substitute for being super-fast to respond to calls and emails if you want to create a good impression on clients and everyone else you work with today. Those who are responsive will win more jobs and keep more clients than those who don’t. Yes, that tether can create stress in your life. You have to learn how to manage it.
  • Doing. Don’t forget that your firm must deliver quality work and no amount of marketing or responsiveness will make up for bad quality. Those who “do” have to be recognized and rewarded if you want them to ultimately perform as you need them to.
  • Recruiting. People are getting harder and harder to find, despite the popularity of social networking sites such as LinkedIn. You must devote time, money, and other resources to recruiting if you’re going to be able to survive the battle for talent in the years ahead.
  • Investing. Everything takes an investment mentality. If you are one of those firms that functions as an “income club” (a term I first heard used by Paul Greeenhagen, CEO of Westwood Professional Services and one I really like), then you’re going to have to make some changes. Growth takes cash. You need money to invest in marketing, people, technology, research and development, new ventures, acquisitions, and more. You cannot strip it all out like we used to in the good ol’ days.
  • Fueling the fires that burn. One of the most dramatic successes I ever witnessed in this business was with a design firm that I helped with their marketing. I forced them to look at marketing costs by market sector. What we found was the lowest cost of marketing as a percentage of revenue was in their largest sector, and their highest cost as a percentage of revenue in their smallest sector. I convinced them to cut off all marketing to the three worst performers and instead spend that money on the top three performers. They exploded with growth in the years that followed.
  • Construction. You have to get closer to it. I can’t tell you how exactly, other than the lack of construction knowledge, costs to build, and design-build is probably hurting you. Contractors are increasingly powerful competition for design-only firms and more clients are going to them first when they want to do something. That’s a threat to you.
  • Communication. There’s no substitute for it. No communication will result in misunderstandings. These inevitably crop up between busy people who travel a lot or people who work in different offices, departments, or locations. Your job as a leader is to mitigate these problems through every means possible.
  • Just being nice. Everything goes down better if it has a little sugar on it. Be a nice person and people will treat you better. Avoid gossip, don’t seek vengeance, be friendly to everyone – especially those lower down in the pecking order, and you won’t have (as many) people wanting to shoot you in the back.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1082, originally published 12/8/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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