From the Chairman: Offer program management services?

Design firms may have a niche to fill in this area. After all, you can do it better than a dispassionate program manager.

Architects and engineers have long complained about their relationships with program managers. “They challenge us on our fees. They don’t understand the value we provide. As owners’ representatives, they don’t do very much. I come away from a meeting, and it seems as though they have distributed every task to someone other than themselves.”

Sound familiar?

Look at the origins and processes of program management as a professional service offering. I’ve seen two strong needs for a seasoned professional: 1) an owner or tenant, constructing a building or improving leased space, who does not have the expertise in-house to manage a construction team; 2) a corporation that has assembled a large bureaucracy to manage the procurement, design and construction of space, and then oversee its management and change over time.

Large real estate organizations, like CBRE and Jones Lang LaSalle, skilled in brokerage and facility management, saw a need among their clients for this service. They acted as an owner’s representative for individual projects. Eventually, they began to take over entire real estate departments from large corporations, proposing to reduce costs and assure professional staffing in each role. After all, no corporation is in the business of procuring, designing, constructing and managing real estate, and if it’s not part of the core business, why not outsource it?

These entities claimed they could achieve highly professional results, lower costs relative to an in-house department, as well as in construction, by using their broader leverage. And, relative to any other entity (like an architect, engineer or contractor), they maintained that they could remain unbiased with no conflict of interest. Their power grew to the point that architects and engineers feared that they would be “black-balled” if they entered into competition with these entities.

After all, architects had gained a reputation for being irresponsible with budgets and schedules, concerned for “design” above all else. Contractors were just builders, lacking the sensitivity to and engagement in the full range of issues an owner is solving for. The reality is, however, that people from these same architects and contractors staff these entities.

So, should an architect, engineer or contractor consider entering this field? At this time, to try to compete with the large, established practices like CBRE and JLL with their national and international networks, scale and capabilities, would be extremely difficult. There are, however, market niches where an architect or engineer with a definitive expertise, should be in this business. Why? For the very same reasons that others entered the field. An owner considering doing a on-off building or tenant interior who doesn’t have in-house design and construction expertise is well served by someone highly knowledgeable in all aspects of bringing a project from concept to occupancy. Many architects and engineers live with their clients from the time they identify a need to the day they occupy or begin to use a facility, and often many years after.

Specialties such as retailers that either acquire land and must secure entitlements, site engineering, design and construction, or even simply lease and build out a space in an existing retail building could be well served by someone outside their own organization.

Many years ago, the firm I was part of took on this entire array of services for a healthcare provider to build what they termed a “doc-in-a-box,” which they planned to replicate. We provided a turnkey service, managing everything from site development and entitlements, through design and construction, right up to supplies in the drawers like Band-Aids and rubber gloves. Why not? The healthcare provider had never done this before, had no expertise in-house and no desire to staff up.

With so much change in the way services are being offered (the healthcare industry, data centers and other critical facilities are good examples), I believe the opportunity to enter the program management field is strong. Select your path carefully, research the process being used today to go from concept through the lifecycle of the use of the facility, and design a service offering that will achieve a better, more creative and cost-effective design solution because the process is being managed by an architect or engineer, rather than a dispassionate program manager.

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 #1079, originally published 11/10/2014.

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Editorial: A great loss for the A/E world

Mark Zweig offers remembrance on passing of dear friend and firm leader Joe Lalli.

We lost a great leader, design professional, and friend with the passing Joseph J. “Joe” Lalli, FASLA, in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 25. The son of a New York shoemaker, Joe had an amazing and successful career, first as a professor and then for next for 40-plus-years at the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm EDSA (formerly Edward Durrell Stone, Jr., and Associates).

I first met Joe in the early ’90s, when Ed Stone called me to get help with his executive committee, which wasn’t “getting along.” That trip resulted in Joe being named managing partner by the EDSA BOD, a job he held for about 20 years; a period during which EDSA enjoyed incredible success – growing from roughly $6.5 million in annual revenue to a peak of about $60 million near the end of Joe’s tenure. Joe was a powerful guy who defied all stereotypes. A tremendously talented designer loved by his clients, Joe could sell like crazy but was so soft-spoken that at times you had to strain to hear him. I think that was part of his success. He made you listen.

Joe was EDSA and EDSA was Joe. I never met a guy more dedicated and obsessed with both his company and his projects than Joe. He thought about his work 24 hours a day. He called me most weekends, when he wasn’t overseas, just to check in and tell me what was going on with both the firm and his jobs. Our relationship was far more than that of consultant and client. The very last night I spent with the mother of my two oldest daughters was at Joe and Jeanne’s house in Maine. Several years later, it was because of Joe and Jeanne that I met my wife, Katie. My older girls and I were down in Ft. Lauderdale for Easter vacation and the Lallis invited us over to their house for Easter dinner. They also invited Katie, who at that time was a young landscape architect at EDSA just getting started out. She didn’t have any family down there and they didn’t want her to be alone on a holiday. Those are the kind of people Joe and Jeanne are. We picked the middle name of our first daughter together – Josephine – to honor Joe.

Joe was an amazing designer – both large and small scale. It could be a 60,000-acre multi-use development in a foreign land or a tiny half bath retiling project in Massachusetts – he was never too busy to give design ideas on anything. I always got his input on my residential projects because he had such a unique and artistic yet functional way of looking at things. He was also a tremendous and prolific artist – particularly as a watercolor painter. He was an accomplished teacher and helped many people learn how to draw, paint, and design. Joe was very patient with others but not with himself. He pushed himself so hard… too hard… right up to the end. I never saw a guy who would travel like he did to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – sometimes all in the same month – for months and years on end!

Joe was at the forefront of every challenge facing his firm in the ’90s and 2000s. His leadership got the firm into China. He negotiated every financial and business obstacle thrown their way. He also ran the firm’s largest design studio for many years. And he helped so many people grow into incredibly talented designers and planners – many of which are still at EDSA today. I never met anyone inside or outside of EDSA who didn’t have complete respect and admiration for Joe. He was truly the archetypal design professional. In fact, Joe was the very first Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award Winner – an honor well-bestowed and one he was proud of.

He also had a fantastic sense of humor. He told hilarious stories of his adventures. He could do impressions. He would have you rolling on the floor at times when he got ramped up – usually after a glass of wine or two. He was just fun to be around. He had a bucket of mechanical hand mixers. He had more art than anyone I have ever seen and more houses and art studios, too, including a plantation in Honduras. You never knew what he would come up with; he was full of surprises. When Joe came to Arkansas last year and spoke at The Fay Jones School of Architecture, he stayed at our house. The last night he was there, he and I stayed up late using our iPads to look for videos and sound clips of Ferrari engines. He just loved the sound! He was always looking at Ferraris but never bought himself one.

Back in the ’90s, I was down in Fort Lauderdale visiting Joe when we went to an old warehouse they kept to store stuff in. There was his Honda 350 Scrambler – parked since the ’70s – rotting away. I convinced Joe to send it to me and I restored it for him. He took it to his vacation compound in Maine, complete with several small houses and a miniature replica of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel that he used for his art studio there. And every Spring Joe would call me to tell me he got the Honda going again (usually with a new battery!) and how much he loved it.

I don’t have that many true friends. Joe was one of them. We all lost a great leader – a great example – and consummate design professional with Joe’s passing. May he not be forgotten.

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 #1079, originally published 11/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: A great loss for the A/E world

Mark Zweig offers remembrance on passing of dear friend and firm leader Joe Lalli.

We lost a great leader, design professional, and friend with the passing Joseph J. “Joe” Lalli, FASLA, in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 25. The son of a New York shoemaker, Joe had an amazing and successful career, first as a professor and then for next for 40-plus-years at the internationally acclaimed planning and design firm EDSA (formerly Edward Durrell Stone, Jr., and Associates).

I first met Joe in the early ’90s, when Ed Stone called me to get help with his executive committee, which wasn’t “getting along.” That trip resulted in Joe being named managing partner by the EDSA BOD, a job he held for about 20 years; a period during which EDSA enjoyed incredible success – growing from roughly $6.5 million in annual revenue to a peak of about $60 million near the end of Joe’s tenure. Joe was a powerful guy who defied all stereotypes. A tremendously talented designer loved by his clients, Joe could sell like crazy but was so soft-spoken that at times you had to strain to hear him. I think that was part of his success. He made you listen.

Joe was EDSA and EDSA was Joe. I never met a guy more dedicated and obsessed with both his company and his projects than Joe. He thought about his work 24 hours a day. He called me most weekends, when he wasn’t overseas, just to check in and tell me what was going on with both the firm and his jobs. Our relationship was far more than that of consultant and client. The very last night I spent with the mother of my two oldest daughters was at Joe and Jeanne’s house in Maine. Several years later, it was because of Joe and Jeanne that I met my wife, Katie. My older girls and I were down in Ft. Lauderdale for Easter vacation and the Lallis invited us over to their house for Easter dinner. They also invited Katie, who at that time was a young landscape architect at EDSA just getting started out. She didn’t have any family down there and they didn’t want her to be alone on a holiday. Those are the kind of people Joe and Jeanne are. We picked the middle name of our first daughter together – Josephine – to honor Joe.

Joe was an amazing designer – both large and small scale. It could be a 60,000-acre multi-use development in a foreign land or a tiny half bath retiling project in Massachusetts – he was never too busy to give design ideas on anything. I always got his input on my residential projects because he had such a unique and artistic yet functional way of looking at things. He was also a tremendous and prolific artist – particularly as a watercolor painter. He was an accomplished teacher and helped many people learn how to draw, paint, and design. Joe was very patient with others but not with himself. He pushed himself so hard… too hard… right up to the end. I never saw a guy who would travel like he did to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – sometimes all in the same month – for months and years on end!

Joe was at the forefront of every challenge facing his firm in the ’90s and 2000s. His leadership got the firm into China. He negotiated every financial and business obstacle thrown their way. He also ran the firm’s largest design studio for many years. And he helped so many people grow into incredibly talented designers and planners – many of which are still at EDSA today. I never met anyone inside or outside of EDSA who didn’t have complete respect and admiration for Joe. He was truly the archetypal design professional. In fact, Joe was the very first Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award Winner – an honor well-bestowed and one he was proud of.

He also had a fantastic sense of humor. He told hilarious stories of his adventures. He could do impressions. He would have you rolling on the floor at times when he got ramped up – usually after a glass of wine or two. He was just fun to be around. He had a bucket of mechanical hand mixers. He had more art than anyone I have ever seen and more houses and art studios, too, including a plantation in Honduras. You never knew what he would come up with; he was full of surprises. When Joe came to Arkansas last year and spoke at The Fay Jones School of Architecture, he stayed at our house. The last night he was there, he and I stayed up late using our iPads to look for videos and sound clips of Ferrari engines. He just loved the sound! He was always looking at Ferraris but never bought himself one.

Back in the ’90s, I was down in Fort Lauderdale visiting Joe when we went to an old warehouse they kept to store stuff in. There was his Honda 350 Scrambler – parked since the ’70s – rotting away. I convinced Joe to send it to me and I restored it for him. He took it to his vacation compound in Maine, complete with several small houses and a miniature replica of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel that he used for his art studio there. And every Spring Joe would call me to tell me he got the Honda going again (usually with a new battery!) and how much he loved it.

I don’t have that many true friends. Joe was one of them. We all lost a great leader – a great example – and consummate design professional with Joe’s passing. May he not be forgotten.

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 #1079, originally published 11/10/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Relationships key to success

Six suggestions from Mark Zweig on how to form and keep relationships alive.

I never liked the idea that a consulting business should have its marketing based on personal relationships. I just don’t like being too dependent on people. Doing what it takes to have a brand – where clients come to you because of your company name, not because of specific individuals who happen to be employed there – is much better.

While I realize few firms ever get to this “nirvana” state marketing-wise, I still feel the same way. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want your people to have good relationships with their counterparts in your client organization, as well as with regulators and those in a review and approval capacity, and those in other firms you work with as subconsultants or teammmates.

Relationships are critical if you are going to be able to overcome pricing issues or service/quality problems. You want people to like and trust you and understand that you are a good person who is serious about your work and cares deeply about them as an organization and as individuals. This won’t happen if you don’t have a relationship with them. If all you are is a name and they know nothing about you the slightest problem could become a good reason to dump you.

So how do you form these relationships? Here are my thoughts:

  1. It takes time. There’s something to be said for working with someone over an extended period of time. You really get to know and trust each other. This is more easily done with subconsultants and suppliers than with clients, obviously, as you aren’t in control of the latter. But one thing is for sure: Don’t be one of those people who always lets the new client seduce you away from the old. It’s critical to take good care of your current clients if you are going to have long-term ones.
  2. Show some loyalty. Show some loyalty to the people you work with and who work for you. Don’t always make them compete on price. Have some trust to let them go ahead and work and then send you a bill. And have some loyalty to your clients, too. See point #1 above.
  3. Don’t let the nickel get so big that it hides the dime sitting behind it. What I am talking about here is just getting so cheap that any out of scope request from the client is met with your corresponding extra services agreement to be signed by them. Some people just don’t get this idea. And I’m not suggesting that you let your clients walk all over you, either. That’s another problem some folks in this business often have.
  4. Don’t over-rely on email. One problem with the “e-generation” (those weaned on cellphones and computer screens) is that many of them seem to lack face-to-face social skills. People have to pick up their phones and CALL other people. And better yet: Get in the car or on a plane and go SEE them sometimes. Then maybe they will connect your name with a face and a real person.
  5. Get the other guy talking about themselves. Ask lots of questions. There’s one thing everyone likes to talk about – themselves. Use this to your advantage. People will like you if you get them talking about themselves. They’ll never trust you if they don’t like you. And you won’t have a good relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you.
  6. Don’t speak ill of the other guy or complain about them. You really have to be careful about this. It could get back to them. Even if it doesn’t, your complaints or negative talking could affect the attitude of other project team members and how they will interact with the client. And that, in turn, could affect your relationship with them.

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 #1078, originally published 11/3/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Is your marketing department a sweatshop?

We recently got an anonymous blog comment, that got me thinking.  “Why is no one talking about the white collar sweatshops of the marketing departments and marketing staff within most A/E firms?” the person asked.

Have you ever worked somewhere where the marketing department (or any department for that matter) works 12-hour days for days on end, has unpaid overtime, has to participate in the endless chasing of every single RFP that comes out, and never gets acknowledgement for their efforts?

Are marketing departments overworked at A/E firms and why does this happen? Are their too many “all hands on deck” situations when a proposal needs to go out?  Are marketing departments undervalued and only approached when someone needs something “right now”?

Is this a phenomenon from the past or something still experienced today?  We want to know your thoughts!

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Brand Building: So you’ve rebranded, now what?

These comprehensive campaigns are more than a marketing exercise.

Do you roll your eyes when you hear of a firm going through a rebranding? Be honest. Certainly the concept of branding has been slow to be embraced by the design and construction industry, but it is gaining acceptance. Many firm leaders are realizing that to better compete in this crowded market, having a strong brand goes a long way toward providing a competitive advantage. In a market where the margin between winner and loser is often very small, every little advantage is critical.

Whether you have rebranded or not, or are even still in the process of understanding branding, read on. Last month’s article discussed rebranding and brand refreshes from a conceptual standpoint. Let’s now go a step further and work to dispel some of the misconceptions of rebranding and delve into some of the details of branding. First of all, most firms make the mistake of viewing branding, and rebrandings, purely as a marketing activity. As such, most firms do not truly rebrand. They simply change their marketing messaging and marketing materials and then go on a promotional blitz. Unfortunately, often everyone in the organization is doing pretty much the same things they did before the launch.

If you are considering a rebranding or have recently rebranded or are likely to rebrand, consider these tips to get the most out of this significant investment.

  • Rebrandings demand that your actions match your message. Do not rebrand and tell your market that you are going to be a new and improved version of yourself, and then just go on being yourself. Most of the time, rebrandings are an effort to be somebody or something else. Look carefully at everything you are communicating and make sure every department, system, and procedure in the company is congruent with that. I had this saying when I was leading marketing at my A/E firm: “Say what we do, and do what we say.”
  • Rebrandings or refreshes offer an opportunity to open a dialogue with your clients. These activities are not just about pushing a ton of information and “look at the new us” messages to your clients. They are about getting real about the things you need to work on and your clients are your best source of that info. Include your best (and not best) clients in a two-way conversation about who you should be. Then make meaningful and noticeable changes in the organization to reflect that input. The most effective marketing today is one that is inspired by a two-way exchange of information and ideas.
  • Push your branding messages through every layer of your organization. Rebrandings are about every single employee getting on board with what the “new you” really means. A meaningful rebrand demands that you examine every aspect of your organization and being willing to make changes to improve. That means every employee must be on board with the necessary changes in order to effect true change. Additionally, rebrandings benefit your culture as much or even more than they benefit your clients and customers. Rebrandings and refreshes are a shot in the arm for your culture and you need to leverage that to its fullest.

We launched our new brand Sept. 26 at our 2014 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Beverly Hills. ZweigWhite officially became the Zweig Group. A lot of work went into making sure all of our visual branded elements were transitioned at that moment. It took a lot of forethought to anticipate all of the things that people would see after 4:30 p.m., when we launched the brand. If you have gone through a rebranding, you likely know what I am talking about. So now what? Well, we still have a lot to do. In fact, we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. We are going to survey our clients (you), we are going to survey people in our market. This company has gone through much change and we are ready to find out what you really think and what you really need and we are willing to make the changes to get there!

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 #1077, originally published 10/27/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Can you delay gratification?

Results of long-running study show that those who wait for reward do better in the end, Mark Zweig writes.

Back in the ’60s a Psych professor at Stanford, Walter Mischel, gave a famous test to a group of 4-year-olds. He put a marshmallow in front of them and told them if they could wait 15 minutes to eat it, they’d be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Only about a third of them could wait.

Fast-forward 50 years and there are some very interesting findings. Not only did the group of those who could wait the 15 minutes do a whole lot better on their SATs, they were more successful in their careers with higher salaries, bigger 401(k)s, and shorter criminal histories. Pretty interesting research, all covered in Mischel’s new book, “The Marshmallow Test.”

We see much the same thing in the AEC firms we work with. Those run by principals who can delay gratification seem to be much more likely to have growing, profitable companies than those whose personal “needs” require them to strip the company bare every chance they get.

It’s really common sense. If you want to grow your company you’ll have to reinvest your profits into acquisitions of other companies, starting new offices, adding new services, making new hires, trying new marketing initiatives, and investing in technology spending. Your other options are to extract the money, buy a bigger house, acquire more vehicles, go on more vacations, etc. People fit in either one of these two camps.

Of course, if you delay gratification long enough and really get things going you’ll be able to have your cake and eat it, too, because at some point the machine becomes so profitable and so valuable you really can afford to make some major extractions from it. The key is knowing when the time is right for that to occur.

But one thing is for sure, if you don’t take care of the machine that feeds you, you’ll never have the opportunity to make that choice. There really are two ways to run one of these businesses – or any type of business. It all goes back to the question of: “Do you run a small business that allows you to make a living, or do you run an entrepreneurial venture that has value at the end?”

One of my clients, Paul Greenhagen, CEO of Westwood Professional Services (No. 6 on the Zweig Group 2014 Hot Firm List) likens the “small business choice” to being a housepainter. “They may make a living for 40 or more years painting houses. But at the end, all they have to show for it is some old ladders and rollers they can sell at a yard sale,” he says.

So what are you – a marshmallow eater or someone who knows that if you let them sit there for a little while with the bag open they’ll improve with age? If you want to end up with more than some old desks and office equipment to sell cheap, I hope you’re one of the latter…

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 #1077, originally published 10/27/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: The relentless pursuit of…?

Find out what you should be really pursuing and go for it. Mark Zweig predicts success.

Some years ago, Toyota’s Lexus brand promoted itself through the slogan, “Lexus: The relentless pursuit of perfection.” That decision catapulted the already upmarket brand to the stratosphere with its association to quality, luxury, and performance. Anyone who has owned a Lexus can tell you that they truly are almost perfect vehicles (some real car geeks may say that they are so perfect that their lack of flaws makes them devoid of personality!).

This singular focus for the brand – and for the “company” – can be used to create an image and influence behavior of both employees and clients/customers, is a pretty cool idea. And it is one that has many potential benefits for you, if your embrace it.

So what is your firm’s relentless pursuit? Is it something meaningful that you can use to motivate your employees and clients to do better/buy more/pay more for what you’re selling? If not, why not? Every so often I see AEC firms make various public proclamations about what their defining characteristics as a company are. What’s most typical is usually some sort of a focus on quality. After all, “quality” sounds good. Who wouldn’t want to be a high quality service provider? The problem is that the term has become so commonplace that it doesn’t usually mean a lot or significantly differentiate the firm from the thousands of others just like it claiming to provide “high quality services.” A similar empty claim may revolve around the word innovation. Yet, the bulk of what most firms do isn’t really even innovative, so these become little more than empty words.

Engineers usually have little use for this type of discussion. “Not substantive,” many of them think. But let me give you an example of how meaningful it can be. One of our clients belongs to a CEO group where various CEOs of unrelated businesses get together and talk. He was telling me the other day that he got to know the founder of Jimmy John’s (the sub shop company) through his group. The guy is apparently quite an entrepreneur. After he started his company – ostensibly to serve “gourmet subs” and met with success – they decided to do some research on what their customers thought they did best. The founder was sure they’d overwhelmingly state it was JJ’s food quality. But what came back instead was praise for their speedy delivery. He didn’t believe it and did more studies. They came back the same. So they adopted a new motto of “freaky fast” and shrunk the delivery areas around each of their stores to make sure that was a reality. The business grew.

The moral: Know what your “relentless pursuit” is. And then, like Lexus and Jimmy John’s, make it a reality. I predict success for those who do.

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 #1075, originally published 10/13/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

 

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Editorial: Welcome to the Zweig Group

A new era dawns as this company moves ahead refreshed and re-emboldened.

The 15th Annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Event marked the announcement of a new name and complete rebranding of ZweigWhite to the Zweig Group. It marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new age for our 26-plus-year-old firm.

We started the company back in 1988 – Mark Zweig & Associates as it was first called (changed to ZweigWhite in 1994) – with a simple idea: We were in business to help make our A/E/P and environmental firm clients more successful. And we were successful ourselves, growing by 30 percent a year for 13 years and getting a spot on the prestigious Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately held firms two years in a row.

We lived the American entrepreneurial dream: We started our business with $1,000, made a profit every year, and sold out for a nice chunk of cash and some continuing ownership in a combined enterprise that included a media company and tradeshow group – all under a new entity called “ZweigWhite Information Services.”

We went through Hell and back since then. After the sale, the company grew for a short bit, borrowed a bunch of money from a mezzanine lender, and then got bloated and eventually imploded. We were but a shell of our formal selves when I got drafted back here in 2010 by the lenders who took over the company in 2009.

Since then, we have gone through most every area of our firm, making changes and improvements to get us back on course. We bought our magazines back in 2011, bought ourselves back from our lender in 2012, and even got named to the Inc. 500 | 5000 list again in 2013 – a big accomplishment, especially considering how far back we’d fallen. We paid down a ton of debt. The firm owed everyone (in 2009, our debt was close to two-and-a-half times our annual revenue!). We hired some new people. We changed, massaged, improved, cut, added, rebuilt – did everything we could do with little or no money to make things right again with our business, clients, customers, employees, vendors, suppliers, and service providers.

Now, here we are in 2014 with a company that’s rock solid – thanks in no small part to you, our readers, clients and customers – and the hard work of our loyal and dedicated group of employees. And we’re going forward as the Zweig Group, giving my first business partner, Fred White, his name back (he hasn’t been working here for more than six years) and recognizing the fact that we are a group of many other people and talents. We are excited to be THE business resource for the AEC industry going forward.

Notice I said “AEC” industry. We had to add the “C” as integration of design and construction is simply the way things are evolving today. We can no longer allow that imaginary line to be one that we aren’t willing to cross. We are, and will be working for construction contractors and related companies in the years to come.

I’ve learned a lot myself in the 10 years since we sold ZweigWhite. I moved to Fayetteville, Ark. (where we are now headquartered), became a college professor teaching entrepreneurship at The University of Arkansas, and started my own design/build/development/contracting company, Mark Zweig, Inc. (#3720 on the Inc. 500 | 5000 List for 2014, I’m proud to say!). I’m also a BOD member and minor investor in some firms in our business. Being both a client and provider of design and construction services as well as broadening my knowledge of entrepreneurship, and particularly finance, at a higher level has been an eye-opener for me. Other new talent added here includes my primary business partner, Chad Clinehens, a registered professional engineer and MBA who was a principal and CMO for a leading growth company in our business; Ted Maziejka, an experienced CFO and general manager who has worked for several of the nation’s top architectural firms; and Randy Wilburn, a consultant and former ZweigWhite shareholder who at one time started our Atlanta office, among many others. They are all good people who care deeply about our mission and want to help you succeed, and do so from a framework based on research, working closely with other firms in your business, and running our own successful business. We do not preach the gospel from pop psych management books we’ve read and mindlessly spew back recitations from “Good to Great,” “Who Moved My Cheese,” and other nonsense. Our opinions are our own and based on our own data and experience!

We are proud to be associated with a great industry that plays such an important role in our nation’s and the world’s economy and helps improve the quality of life for all. We look forward to working with you personally and helping you and your firms succeed in business in 2015 and beyond. Thanks for your support of the Zweig Group!

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1073, originally published 9/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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ZweigWhite Unveils New Corporate Name and Logo

Modernizing corporate identity part of plan for growth

FAYETTEVILLE—October 1, 2014—ZweigWhite has introduced a new corporate name and logo which reinforces its commitment to growth through an investment in new products and services as well as delivery methods.

The company has changed its name to the Zweig Group and developed a new logo that reflects its evolution as a company while offering a modern appeal.

“We are bringing the mission that we were founded on into sharp focus along with a renewed commitment take this company to the next level,” said Chad Clinehens, Zweig Group Executive Vice President. “It is important that our new name and new logo preserve those equities we built over the past 25 years, while communicating we are changing and evolving with the times and that we will be exactly what our clients need us to be. Going forward, we are going to look and feel different.”

The Zweig Group’s new logo utilizes a square shape to reinforce stability and represent a uniform building block. The “Z” is made with a designer’s scale and triangle, common drafting tools used by architect and engineers. The red color is brought back from the first logo the company used when it was founded as Mark Zweig and Associates in 1988.

“Our new logo is a great blend of the past and the future,” said Mark Zweig, Zweig Group CEO and Founder. “This company has gone through a lot over the past 25 years but we have stayed true to our mission. That important mission is empowering firms in the architecture, engineering, planning and environmental industry and the people that work in them to be more successful.”

The re-branding campaign was launched at the firm’s annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference that was held in Beverly Hills last week. The announcement kicked off a complete re-branding that included the launch of a new website at www.zweiggroup.com.

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2014 Marketing Excellence Awards: Wolftracks

smallIMG_9491Portfolio: Mascot delivers the good news

Internal newsletter modeled after internal mascot an award-winning success.

By Christina Zweig
Contributing edito
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ECS Carolinas, LLP (Chantilly, VA), placed first in the Internal Marketing Category of Zweig Group’s 2014 Marketing Excellence Awards with their fierce, wolf-inspired, quarterly internal newsletter.

The award-winning campaign has helped the firm better connect with employees and build a sense of community.

Everything from the name (Wolftracks), pictures, footers (wolfpaw prints), and inspirational stories arcs back to one overall theme and the firm’s internal mascot, the wolf. All aspects of design and layout were created in-house by the ECS Carolinas, LLP marketing department.

In the early stages of development, the marketing team reached out to a select group of employees across the company. This group provided suggestions on topics they would be interested in. The marketing group’s strategy was to create a newsletter that would incorporate the internal mascot in a professional yet fun manner. They also wanted to make something that wasn’t too technical and had personality. The team envisioned color, quotes, and randomly placed shout-out facts in a piece that had flexibility and wouldn’t get stagnant. Mostly, they wanted to create a newsletter that ECS employees would want to open and read.

“The goal in creating our internal newsletter was to build and reinforce purpose, community, loyalty, and morale. It was designed to focus on the people who will read it and to simply connect with them,” said Julie Smith, marketing assistant.

The marketing department takes the lead for each issue. But while they choose page topics, content comes from branch managers, business development staff, administration and technicians as well as safety and human resources staff. Topics run the gamut, including leadership, inspiration, noteworthy projects, office spotlight, congratulations, and a safety minute. Special features include topics such as “testing the limits,” benefits, Q&A, collaboration, community, call to action, “class of 2013,” and creativity. The newsletter is written in a friendly, informal style, with multiple voices used. The newsletter is distributed to over 300 staff members in 11 offices.

Results. The vibrant eNewsletter is now distributed quarterly and involves current employees and their projects. The firm’s Marketing Excellence Award entry stated, “Once the first edition of WOLFTRACKS was distributed, the marketing department received over 25 personal emails or phone calls expressing gratitude for creating the newsletter.”

While the content initially focused around ECS Carolinas, LLP employees, requests came in for other non-firm employees to be added to the distribution list.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1073, originally published 9/29/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Who do you talk to?

It’s lonely at the top and hard to find someone who will listen and provide useful advice, Mark Zweig writes.

It’s been said before that it’s lonely at the top. There’s a lot of truth to that. When you’re the boss, who do you talk to? More importantly, perhaps, is who can you talk to who will give you good advice?

This is a very real problem and not a simple one for most people leading successful AEC firms to solve. Here are some of your options:

  1. Spouse. If you are one of the lucky few, you have a spouse who is a good listener, has good business instincts and can provide you with worthwhile advice. But for most – even those with loving and caring spouses – you won’t get that. You’ll be getting input from someone who has a very limited perspective, largely based on what you tell them. They will often tend to be biased toward you, and be completely family-centric versus company-centric borne from their role as a family care provider. Not always the best advisors.
  2. Parent. Parents tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they support you no matter what you say or do, even if it’s stupid, because they love you; or, they don’t support your decision making at all and treat you as if you were still a child without a lick of sense, even at age 50. There’s a third group that’s out there, too, of parents who worked the same job for 30- to 50 years and don’t understand self-employment or entrepreneurial ventures and think you should have stayed at whatever job you had out of college. In any case, unless your parents owned and grew a business similar to yours, it’s probably hard to get good business input from them.
  3. Business partner(s). Good business partners can be good sounding boards. They also may have unique insight for you based on their experience and role in the firm. The problem is that if you are higher level in the ownership or management pecking order, they may not be honest with you. You have to have some confident partners whose input you respect. But not everyone does. Many of us inherited our partners and didn’t pick them.
  4. Someone who works for you. See above. You are still their boss. No one likes to tell the emperor that he or she has no clothes on.
  5. Business or personal “coach.” There are many of these self-proclaimed coaches out there. The biggest problem with many of them is they haven’t demonstrated that they are successful business owners. Therefore, most business owners really don’t listen to what they say. And why should they?
  6. Management consultant. See above. Again, lots of consultants out there but how many really understand the AEC business and how many run successful businesses themselves? If not, how can these people be your confidantes and trusted advisors? Not to say that catharsis can’t be good for you but it would be nice to get some meaningful input and insight that really helps you deal with a myriad of problems that go along with running your business.
  7. Psychiatrist/psychotherapist. Most psychiatrists don’t do psychotherapy any longer. They just prescribe drugs. And most psychotherapists just let you blather on about yourself as long as you pay. They may have insights on dealing with people that could help you but probably won’t have any real business input.
  8. Your mentor. Hopefully, you have one. Someone who has been successful and who really understands you and where you’ve come from and want to go. If you don’t, I suggest you try to find one!

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1072, originally published 8/22/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Build a high performance team

Mark Zweig lays out the steps you must take to create a successful organization. Also, be a real leader.

One of the most important jobs any leader has is that of building their team. Yet too often, in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm, the team is largely viewed as static. “It is what it is,” as some people like to say (too often).

Our industry has a culture made up of firms that operate as if “full employment for all” – no matter how bad you are – is the norm. It’s almost akin to a university environment where professors are granted tenure. We seem to aspire to the lowest staff turnover rate possible. We just don’t move out the people who aren’t cutting it.

While A/E firms may be nice places to work and bastions of civility in a hostile world, I don’t think this type of culture breeds business success. We need much more emphasis on performance and a greater willingness to change our team members to attain it. Here are some thoughts for you on building a higher performing team:

  1. Define the goals. Everyone needs to know what they are aiming for. No matter how obvious this may seem to you, odds are it isn’t to everyone who works for you.
  2. Measure results against goals. Share this information with the entire company. It reinforces those who are doing well and it puts the spotlight on everyone who isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with a little peer pressure to succeed.
  3. Confront the non-performers. Do it in a nice way and with a spirit of helpfulness. But by all means, do it.
  4. Lay out a timeline and clear expectations for what the non-performers must do to turn it around. Again, helpfulness and a spirit of optimism about their ability to turn things around are essential.
  5. Reassign or replace the non-performers as needed. Stop rationalizing as to why you cannot do it. Explain to your staff and clients how you are making a change and who will be taking this person’s place – either temporarily or for the long-haul.

Dead weight, non-performers not only drag you down and keep you from achieving your goals but they also drag down everyone else in your organization. There just isn’t any room for them because the lowest performer sets the de-facto standard for performance. You want a high performance team – then raise the standards.

One more thing. Look in the mirror. Are you doing your job to the best of your ability and to an acceptable standard? If not, ignore steps 1 through 5 above and start working on yourself – FAST. You set the example. Leadership is never a game of “do what I say.” It is rather one of “do as I do.”

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1071, originally published 8/15/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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From the Chairman: Orchestrating leadership transitions

Think of leadership not as a single person but as a team of individuals, each with his or her own strength and talent.

For years I’ve watched firms struggle with leadership transition, particularly firms started by one or more principals with engaging personalities and a certain design flair. Who can ever replace the “name(s) on the door”? These people are known and loved by clients, staff and partners cultivated over the years. Can anyone ever walk in their shoes? Can those legacy relationships be successfully transferred?

The architectural and engineering professions are rife with stories of leadership transition failure. Successes are few and far between, requiring finesse and careful planning.

Many firms going through transition opt for acquisition or merger, transferring leadership to and adopting the culture of the acquiring, or stronger firm. Culture invariably enters the conversation – whether a new leader or group of leaders succeeds the previous generation or the firm is acquired or merged. Stakeholders ask, “What will this business be like going forward? Will I fit in? Will I be well served?”

Leadership transition isn’t always wholesale. If a firm is led by a team of leaders who share common values and who are facile enough to step into another’s role when there is a vacancy, there’s a greater chance of seamless and successful transition. It’s like a runner in a relay handing off the baton. I’ve seen more successes when a well-balanced leadership team is able to integrate one new leader at a time into the team.

Which raises the question, “Is a firm best led by a single leader, supported by a leadership support team, or should the leadership team be co-equals, as in a partnership”? I look at the design professions as needing several discrete talents to round out what it takes for a firm to be successful:

  • Creativity. Whether in architecture or engineering, someone drives innovation, usually a conceptual person less driven by detail or business acumen. The most successful are those who have deep respect for the other talents and individuals required to offer a well-rounded and balanced approach to what clients need.
  • Salesmanship. No firm can survive without selling work. I’ve seen far too many creatives who believe they could do their best work – if only the client didn’t keep getting in the way. A salesman is constantly focused on the client’s needs. That person is attuned to what it will take to make the client’s business perform better.
  • Management. Firms led by a strong creative are often lacking in tight management support and controls, migrating toward a successor who will maintain the status quo or simply manage things a little better. Some folks have a strong desire to create order and are more prone to doing things right than doing the right things – i.e., a manager vs. a creative. But to be successful, both are needed, and each must honor and respect what the other brings.
  • Business acumen. Some people are just better at knowing how to make money. I almost think it’s genetic, although in the nature vs. nurture argument, I usually find there’s something in a person’s background that has given them the insights and motivation to negotiate a favorable contract, manage the scope and work undertaken to fit the fee achieved, and maintain a close relationship with the client such that bills are paid on time. They tend also to be prudent about spending money, assuring the firm has the resources in facilities, tools and equipment to provide great service without gold-plating it.

I’ve never seen a single individual who embodies all of these talents in a balanced and effective fashion. In fact, the most successful models encourage creative conflict between them. Each person advocates strongly for his or her point of view, but each accepts that the other’s focus and point of view is necessary. They challenge each other until they achieve a balanced approach to everything they do.

As you approach leadership transition in your own firm, think of leadership not as a single person but as a team of individuals, each with his or her own strength and talent. Most importantly, these individuals must have a deep respect for each of the points of view necessary to experience leadership harmony and achieve excellence in our professions.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1070, originally published 8/8/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: 34 years; 10 observations

Mark Zweig lists some things he has learned about the A/E/P and environmental business over three decades.

The end of August marked 34 full years working in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business. I have been a student of the industry that entire time, but have also been an owner, employee, manager, board member and consultant to firms in this business. Not everyone knows this, but my design/build/development company (Mark Zweig, Inc. – No. 3,720 in the Inc. 500 | 5000 list of fastest-growing, privately held firms for 2014) is also a provider and purchaser of A/E/P and environmental consulting services. I have designed many houses down to the smallest detail, including furniture, colors, and even the art on the walls.

So, after all that, I thought I would share some of my observations of this business (and the people in it) with you:

  1. This business gives people working in it a lot of job satisfaction. People like seeing the results of their efforts in a tangible form. There is something about seeing something built – something big you can walk around on or in – that you were a part of planning or designing that you just can’t get from doing anything else. I think it is one of the big draws that keeps people in this business, and coming back to it after they leave.
  2. While architects and engineers are not necessarily all great businesspeople, they are getting better. The average firm in this business makes a 10-percent-plus pre-tax, pre-bonus profit, and a 20-percent-plus return on their equity. Not to mention the typical principal makes close to $200K per year in total compensation.
  3. We are still weak marketers. The number of firms in this business that cannot even refer to themselves by a single company name is appalling. Websites are horrible. Graphic design is terrible. Written copy is verbose. There’s way too much self-laudatory everything. We have uncoordinated business development efforts with zero management. We don’t understand search engine optimization, e-marketing, or social media. We don’t understand what influences people to buy one thing or another. In spite of the best efforts of organizations such as SMPS (and they do a bang-up job), our marketing development lags most other industries.
  4. Clients are (usually) a necessary evil but you cannot think about them in that way. Clients can be a real pain. They want what they want and they don’t always know what that is. They don’t know what you do. They call and expect an immediate response. They may not pay as fast or be as grateful as we think they should be. But the bottom line is: unless you are John Portman or Jonathan Segal, without them you are out of business. You have to make them feel important, serve them well, and keep selling them with a smile on your face, period – unless you want to find a new career doing something else.
  5. Specialization is the easiest path to success. I don’t know why higher education institutions don’t teach this (unless the teachers themselves don’t get it, which I suspect is the case). Clients pay higher prices, are more likely to seek you out in the first place, are more likely to listen to you, and you’ll not be geographically hamstrung when you are specialized. Yes, some people will feel it restricts their creativity. But the best people get creative around the constraints of the industry, organizations or project types they work on… and succeed far beyond local generalists who still believe “good designers can design anything.”
  6. No one ownership structure is universally the best. The ESOP firms are usually zealots about it. The firms with a million owners think that is best and motivates all. Sole proprietors think they need sole control for fast decision-making. Everyone is right – and everyone is wrong. And everyone is entitled to their opinions but no one ownership structure works for all firm types. Where they are in terms of their development, growth rate, needs for capital, etc., all affects what ownership structure makes sense.
  7. Everyone has costs they can cut out of their business. Everyone does. I can go in any company and look at the financials and in one day find hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, of expenses that could be reduced. Do the owners and managers want to go through the pain of doing this? Most of the time, no. But it doesn’t mean a purely rational person couldn’t do it. Insurance needs to be bid. Underemployed principals and managers cut. Excess space carved off. Unneeded assets disposed of. There are costs that can be reduced.
  8. Figuring out how to charge more is almost always more fruitful than figuring out how to reduce costs. It has always disturbed me that project management training seems to focus on over-managing a meager budget when if more time and effort would have been extended on the front-end of the project a higher fee and smaller scope could probably have been negotiated.
  9. The people who work for you and with you are, have been, and always will be your biggest problem, AS WELL AS your best opportunity. That clichéed question every management consultant loves to ask: “What keeps you up at night?” can almost always be answered with: “People problems!” People don’t always behave well. They drag their personal baggage into the workplace. They don’t get along. They don’t always do their jobs. They are unhappy with their jobs or with you as their manager or leader. They have different opinions on a course of action. All of these issues will always be there. How you respond to these problems will determine whether or not you can build an organization of wide ranging talents and skillsets that can sustain itself over time and liberate you to move on to whatever else you would like to do with your life.
  10. This industry WILL adapt and change along with the markets we serve. It’s interesting to me to see firms like AECOM buying a contracting company. Or architecture firms getting into marketing consulting. Or engineering firms getting into the software business. Or environmental firms going into the temp help business. I think it is great to see firms not putting themselves into such narrowly defined boxes as they once may have because it will be the only way we can adapt to rapidly changing client organizations. I have faith firms in this business can and will adapt (at least some of them) based on the evidence I’m seeing in our industry.

So there you have it. I could go on and on and fill up all these pages with my years of observations. Maybe someday I will put it all into a new book. But truth is, if I ever have time to write another book, I’d rather write a novel based on this business so we can glamorize the profession a little! We all need to sell the sizzle if we are going to influence young people to jump in.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1070, originally published 8/8/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Brand Building: Are you ‘innovative’?

This over-used word can be working against you.

In one of our seminars, we ask the attendees to spend 5 minutes developing a short pitch to convince a potential client why they should hire the attendees’ firm. We then go around the room and each attendee delivers their pitch to the class. While these are being presented, Mark Zweig and I jot down notes on each pitch. We also find ourselves counting the number of times we hear the word “innovative.” That buzzword is often paired with “cost-effective” and “solutions.” It is astounding how many people will use these words to describe their firm. More than half will say they offer “cost-effective and innovate solutions.” In an industry that obsesses over the threat of commoditization, are we are own biggest enemy? When we are all saying we offer the same thing, what is the client world to think?

“Innovative” has been a corporate buzzword for decades and our industry uses it exhaustively in just about every marketing and business development scenario. My belief is that no only has this word lost its original meaning and impact, but it can actually work against us now. Regular readers of this column will know the importance that I place on differentiation. Using words like “innovative” severely erode your ability to capture and hold your audience’s attention. Every one else is saying the same thing and the instant you look like everyone else, you have lost all differentiation. In this day and age, we must provide very powerful and compelling marketing messages in short bursts in order to compete with the incredible volume of messages constantly being piped over every medium available. Here are some ways to improve your differentiation and better capture your audience’s attention:

  • Get rid of over-used clichés and buzzwords from your marketing materials. Task someone with scanning your marketing materials and identifying where you are describing your processes with these over-used buzzwords. This will include marketing brochures, website text, boilerplate proposal text, presentations, interviews and the list goes on and on. Replace this generic text with some simple statements of what sets your firm apart using straightforward language. Talk to your audience in every medium as though they are standing right in front of you and you are engaging them in a conversation.
  • Start citing actual examples of client and project heroics. Innovative and cost-effective solutions do have an appeal if you can actually cite what they are and how you can do it for others. As opposed to using vague, nondescript language to describe your firm, start telling your audience how much you save, how much better your designs perform, and just about anything you can think of that you can quantify and cite as actual successes. Create a perspective in the mind of the audience where they can truly get a reference for your performance and the unique value propositions you offer.
  • Use primary research to become the experts. If you really want to be innovative, develop research campaigns where you can really go deep on a client or subject. There are so many untapped opportunities for you to help your clients or their industry by just doing some simple research on the client or their customers. Taking that research and then publishing it is easier and cheaper than ever with all the online resources. You can get credit for being an authority on a subject by just publishing a simple survey and then adding your own expert analysis.

Create a picture of what you want your clients and potential clients to believe about your firm and start painting that picture for them without over-used and meaningless buzzwords. Start talking to your audience with conversational and easy to read straightforward language. You must leverage every opportunity to engage your clients in the most meaningful and impactful way you can.

Chad Clinehens is ZweigWhite’s executive vice president. Contact him at cclinehens@zweigwhite.com.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1069, originally published 8/25/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Help your workers get along

Mark Zweig offers five things you can do to keep valued employees who just don’t see eye-to-eye.

After working as an owner, consultant, and employee in A/E firms for more than 34 years, it’s interesting to see that getting along with one’s fellow co-workers is typically one of the biggest problems people working in A/E firms face.

That’s terrible! We should be focused on getting more work, or improving the quality of our work, or getting paid for our work. Yet those things may take a back seat to the relationship crisis de jour. It’s very stressful for your people. And let’s be honest – it’s very stressful for YOU.

It’s your job as the leader to help your people get through these things so they can focus on their REAL jobs. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Two people who don’t get along don’t trust each other. If they are both good people, the reason they don’t trust each other is because they don’t really know each other. Get them together. Make them spend time together – with you and without you. Lunches. Projects. Maybe even move their offices closer together.
  2. Two people who don’t get along don’t have anything in common. Look for common ground, common interests. Find what they both like. Try to get them doing it together. Maybe they will learn to like each other.
  3. Two people who don’t get along may really need to know how you feel about the situation. Talk with each of them. Counsel them. Get them to see the big picture. Get them to understand they are both good, valuable, and critical to the company. They also need to know that you need and want them both there. They may need to know that are both loved to overcome their insecurities. The bottom line is they need to know that you feel they both need to get along.
  4. Two people who don’t get along working together may need new roles. Perhaps these two people are blaming on another for problems such as the way the incentive comp plan works or the way projects get delivered. Consider moving or reassigning one or both of these people to new roles that minimize their interaction and conflict. Maybe this means a new department, division, or even location for one or both of them. If both are good employees, this could be well worth it to preserve them and their contributions.
  5. Two people who don’t get along working together may need counseling – individually. They probably wouldn’t be interested in doing it together. So maybe you need to suggest it or even arrange it. Perhaps you have an EAP (employee assistance program) that could be used to help out. Maybe you have an organizational psychologist you can call in. Maybe this person could make some specific suggestions to you as well. Look for resources.

Here’s the bottom line: Good people are hard to find, especially ones who know your organization and your clients and subconsultants. They are worth investing in and preserving in the organization. Give it your all. Even if you fail the characters involved will likely appreciate your efforts and concerns, and attempts to make their lives better – and maybe you’ll learn something from the experience that will help you be more effective the next time you encounter a similar problem.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1069, originally published 8/25/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Search Savvy: Defining culture

Is personality a window to culture when interviewing candidates?

It’s amazing how often the word “culture” is used in the recruiting process. More often than not, a candidate’s fit with, or should I say into, the culture of the hiring organization is ranked right up there with desired experience when discussing the optimal person for the job.

But, how do you determine a potential employee’s culture? It’s certainly not described on their résumé. For a candidate, such definition should be found in the position description.

The closest mention of culture in most position descriptions is all the various ways we describe a team player. Webster defines the noun “culture” as it applies to business as, “A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.” In the broader sense, Webster defines culture as, “The beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.”

Some organizations try to quantify a candidate’s culture through testing. You may have been a participant in these cultural identification quizzes. Lots of questions in the form of “what if” or “are you most likely”. I’m not a fan of this process because most of us, as candidates, are not quite truthful in our answers. I don’t mean we lie outright. Rather, we are biased into thinking about what the hiring company wants to hear when giving our answer, which of course paints a somewhat different picture of our actual culture.

In recruiting and/or hiring, I believe a synonym for “culture” could be “personality”. This is not what Webster says, but here’s my reasoning: Hiring managers don’t usually ask the candidate to describe their personal culture. It would be very challenging to put into words your way of thinking, behaving, or working. Certainly, it would also be difficult for the hiring manager to describe the company’s culture. Culture is not something you can feel, see,
or smell.

So why can personality become a substitute for culture during the recruiting process? Well, your personality is on exhibit at all times. It’s the attractive qualities (such as energy, friendliness, and humor) that make a person interesting or pleasant to be with – and that includes interviews. It’s in the level of confidence you display, the tone of your voice, or the way you dress. Do you appear nervous, was your handshake sweaty, how easily do you warm up to the interviewer or the candidate, and can you carry on a conversation? Hate to say it, but it’s defining the book by its cover. These are all outward traits of personality, not the inside cultural traits of beliefs, behavior, or thinking.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the candidate’s likeability. It goes both ways too! How much did the candidate like or dislike the interview process and the people representing the company. Did everyone in the office greet him/her as they passed by; how many people were smiling; what did the office environment look like? Or did most of the employees appear to be just waiting for the 5 p.m. bell?

Let’s face it, culture is important. A cultural fit between the employee and the company leads to a cohesive and well-oiled organization; a group of principles and beliefs that are harmonious. It’s the desire to be a “team player” and an attitude of what’s good for the company and not just for me. Culture is a way of behavior that permeates the organization; a belief that we are all in it together, and a method of working that promotes
success.

Culture, whether it’s the organization’s employees or a candidate as a potential employee, directly impacts personality. Assuming I’m right, then the outward image of personality that can be seen or heard by the candidate and/or the interviewer is a strong indicator of culture. So, the next time you participate in an interview, whether as a candidate or the interviewer, ask all the questions that you want, but also pay strong attention to the outward signs of personality to gain insight into the inner culture.

Pat McGee is the director of executive search consulting with ZweigWhite. Contact him at pmgee@zweigwhite.com.

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1068, originally published 8/18/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Editorial: Managing BD efforts

Mark Zweig expresses frustration about the mishandling of the sales process at design firms.

It is a hard to manage the business development (BD) effort in the A/E and environmental consulting industry.

To start with, we don’t have many good BD (i.e., sales) people in this business. Good ones are very valuable and hard to find, especially if they can actually do something that helps clients (seller doers). It seems so many full-time BD people in this business are really best at selling one thing – themselves – into a job. They tend to have short lifespans.

Seller-doers always have something else to do (i.e., doing billable work!). There are many challenges and demands placed on these people’s time. Project work will always rule. Clients come first, as they probably should. That means that selling will take a back seat. That makes it hard to get people to sell!

Seller-doers don’t usually report to the person who is responsible for managing the BD effort. Their primary home is in the line organization. They report to another line manager – probably a principal or officer in the company. Compared to a marketing director or BD manager, they have a lot more power and clout in the organization. Whose demands therefore are listened to? Line management wins every time.

We have serious accounting problems. The majority of firms don’t track the number and value of incoming project leads. Many firms don’t even track what they are selling or who is selling it. Backlog is a mystery unless an all-day meeting is held to review it. Then we have the issue of time recording. BD is always a good place to dump your unbillable time on a timesheet because it sounds better than “unbillable.” On top of it, many companies in this business charge time to BD numbers that as soon as a project is won they convert into billable charges. This distorts the entire BD cost accounting; time on jobs won is deducted from marketing, yet still a very real part of marketing costs (I don’t understand WHY some firms do this).

We are as a group afraid to recognize people for selling. The problem with attaboys or other public accolades for anyone who sells something is determining who was involved in the sale and how critical they were to it. Many fear they have forgotten someone else who was involved in the sale. So they do the worst thing possible – say nothing.

Some firms are afraid to develop people who can sell. Their fear (which has actually been expressed to me) is that if their employees can sell they will steal their clients away from them and start their own companies. The employee who can sell no longer “needs” the company. Seems pretty silly to me. How else will you be able to grow the company and create something that can survive when you are gone if you don’t teach other people how to sell? It won’t happen.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1068, originally published 8/18/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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From the Chairman: Expanding your business

If vertical or horizontal expansion (or both) is in the cards for you, approach with caution.

Business has been good lately in the A/E professions. Opportunities abound, yet many firms struggle with the question of if, where and how to grow their business. Expansion is tough, complicated and expensive, and the landscape is littered with firms that have struggled to diversify and expand their practices. What’s the best strategy – vertical, horizontal, or both?

Vertical expansion suggests there are other services current clients are buying that your firm could offer as a suite of services. If well integrated, each one becomes more valuable than if offered alone. Consider the number of design-related practices we often align with, formally or informally, that round out the full array of services our clients require to enhance their business performance. These include master planning, facilities management, lighting design, graphics and a host of others.

Here’s an example and a cautionary tale.

In our practice at Gensler, we defined “design” as anything that could be seen or used and requiring management over time. This included a full array of carefully integrated services. Each person, working in their area of expertise, was thoroughly briefed by colleagues working with a given client. In that way, we all knew how the client liked to work, their priorities, what they were trying to achieve, and a complete “who’s who” within the client company, so everyone understood how decisions were made and who had the authority to make them.

An example includes a manufacturing client for whom we were providing master planning for their corporate campus, conventional architectural services, renovation, interior design, showroom design (more like store planning), product design and graphic design. The graphic design was not confined to their facilities, but also included print graphics, marketing collateral, brochures, advertising copy, with a little bit of branding and identity thrown in for good measure.

We thought we were doing pretty well and invited our client (she had oversight for all of the areas we were working in) to attend the annual Detroit auto show with us. She was a real auto buff, and we thought she would enjoy tagging along and meeting some of our auto industry clients. She was thrilled and, after having a wonderful day at the show, joined us for dinner. After some light chatter about cars, she said, “You know, I’m really quite worried about our relationship.” That sent a chill up my spine.

She was concerned that as a firm we could not be truly world-class in every type of service we offered. She likened it to an ad agency that expands their business by adding areas of specialty from media buying, to print and collateral material, to branding. But the agency is only truly “world-class” in one core strength.

Gensler worked very hard to compete in each of our service areas on a stand-alone basis with firms specialized in those areas. Our “secret sauce” was that each service was truly integrated with the others to deliver more comprehensive solutions. I made that pitch to our guest but suggested she benchmark us against firms she considered “world-class” in any of the areas we offered. I said I would check back in a few months to see how our work compared.

When we spoke again, I asked how we were doing. Her response? “The work you do is terrific, but the best part is it’s well-coordinated with everything else we’re doing. It’s just too hard to manage a bunch of stand-alone firms who have no incentive to collaborate with everyone else we work with, or to really get to know us, our priorities, and our ways of working.”

The lesson about expanding vertically? Each service has to be able to stand alone, competing with the best. Then, you have to add something very special, demonstrating your added value through flawless and seamless delivery of integrated services.

Horizontal expansion refers to a new area of practice for your firm. Do you hire someone with a reputation in that specialty? Someone you think has the skills to grow a practice? Do you acquire a firm with that expertise? Is there someone already within your firm who has expressed a strong interest in pursuing healthcare, higher education, critical facilities, airports, criminal justice or something else that is new to you? Those questions apply to vertical expansion as well.

Any of these options can succeed, but each contains pitfalls. Hiring an individual means committing to building a practice to support what he or she might sell. This represents a substantial expense before the work is actually booked. But it’s hard to book the work until a team is in place. Acquiring or merging with another firm offers a potentially faster path to the market, but the A/E professions are littered with failed acquisitions and mergers when the cultures of the firms are not well integrated.

An opportunity to make all of your work better comes from a broader practice through cross learning and leverage between your practices (e.g., airports and hospitality; retail and branding and graphics). Otherwise, what have you gained by having them under one roof?

Successful expansion is not just about the ability to do the work; it’s also about defining your offering in a unique way. Without that, you’re simply a commodity. It’s hard. So, only do it if you’re prepared to expend the effort and investment to become among the very best at the areas you pursue, and can demonstrate a unique approach no one else is offering.

Perhaps both vertical and horizontal strategies are the way to do exactly that.

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

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1067, originally published 8/11/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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