NATICK, MA - Every January, many of us are looking ahead, pondering the coming year and its prospects. We often start the year with renewed optimism and plans for growth. In this uncertain market, it is important to keep up this momentum and energy!
Some key market indicators are up, others are not. Many client markets remain strong, some have weakened, and a few have collapsed. In the face of this, there are still many firm leaders who believe 2008 will be at least an okay to good year, and some see it developing much better than that. However, it's hard to ignore those storm clouds out on the horizon and the reports from the field that the phone just isn't ringing as often as it had.
Some of the most successful firms avoid falling into the trap of trying to do everything at once and, instead, focus on doing great things in just a few key areas. According to the ZweigWhite 2008 AEC Industry Outlook, 66 percent of AEC firm leaders believe that 2008 will be the same or somewhat worse than 2007. John Doehring, senior vice president of ZweigWhite's Advisory Services Group lists of some of these important areas which should be on your 2008 leadership and action agenda to make sure this year will be better than the last:
1) Strategic planning: Success starts with focused intentionality in the business. The best firms don't let the future happen to them; instead, they work to create their future. And in an environment where just about everyone is busier than ever, only those items that get planned and prioritized stand any chance of actually getting done.
2) Building the staff: Best-of-success firms are long past the idea that the work comes before the people. Today, they are busy building their team for tomorrow, including all levels from entry to senior staff. According to the ZweigWhite 2008 AEC Industry Outlook, 59 percent of firms plan to increase hiring and recruitment activities as a critical growth strategy.
3) Defending the team: Excellent companies are constantly setting new paradigms in how to hold on to and energize their staff base. Skills training, mentoring programs, leadership experiences, communications, and culture- firms are working diligently to build systems and structure that motivates employees to want to be a part of the firm's future. And they don't forget compensation, especially incentive-based pay and stock ownership opportunities.
4) Serving the clients: Overall as an industry, engineering is pretty good in serving clients, and most companies are rewarded with 80 percent of their business coming from existing relationships. But the best firms are hungrier than this, demanding that more of their work come from new, and even "better" clients, and they push client satisfaction levels well past the benchmarks toward truly outstanding service.
5) Leadership development: It's perhaps the ultimate question for the long term: "Who is going to run this thing after me?" It preoccupies leadership at the best of the best firms. These organizations instinctively understand that a core objective and purpose of leadership is to perpetuate the firm and the future opportunities of others. Instead of focusing first on clients, they focus first on employees, assuming (and proving) the connection between a charged-up staff and truly satisfied clients. They're working constantly to make sure that all potential leaders in the firm have the best training, mentoring, and job experiences that will lead to the best outcomes down the road.
6) Marketing: Best-in-class companies are pushing hard in two important areas of marketing. First, they are investing in developing and enhancing their brands in ways that ensure more visibility and pull of opportunities toward their companies. Second, they are increasingly defining the role of all staff in growing their base business. They're doing more in explicit discussion, communication, and training of the team to better understand how the "show" plays out each day at the firm.
7) Execution: The best of the best firms are not just creative, idea-oriented people; they're doers, achievers, and executers. They have a distinct bias for action; you can sense and feel the focus and urgency in "getting it done" in these businesses. Talking and planning without doing is simply not acceptable here.
We're not exactly sure what we'll see in the marketplace throughout 2008. It could be up a bit, down a bit, or about the same (which has certainly been good for most). Best-in-industry companies are now increasingly focusing their technical, leadership, and project management skills on better design and execution within their own companies, so that they too can withstand the sustained future forces of the economy, competition, and time. 2008 is here; time to keep up the momentum on this important journey forward.
ZweigWhite is a leading source of management consulting, information, and education for the design and construction industry. ZweigWhite brings together experts in strategic business planning, organization, operations, business valuation, ownership transition, human resources, recruitment, finance and administration, information technology, mergers and acquisitions, market research, marketing, project management and project delivery methods. The firm is headquartered in Chicago, with additional offices in Natick, MA, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
For further information, contact Colleen Casey, firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.zweigwhite.com