Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
- John F. Kennedy
If there is one thing we all know about 2017 it’s that we have no idea what is going to happen. This will be a year of change and possibly, more surprises. Many of us will be nervous and even fearful of making decisions and investing in growing our businesses as the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be paralyzing.
My whole career has been based on helping A&E firms implement change, deal with resistance and determine next steps when uncertainty exists. In fact, I would argue that this is what architecture and engineering are all about – progress, innovation and change. Yet when faced with figuring out how the new world order will impact our companies, many executives play it safe.
But is “playing it safe” really safe? The firms that are embracing the new technology focused environment we live in may have an advantage. While the cost can be high, getting ahead of the curve can be a competitive advantage. One thing I hear on a regular basis from the many firms I work with is that competition is getting tougher, not easier. This may require an unconventional strategy that challenges everything we’ve known to be right, and taking some chances on finding better ways to approach the business market.
As you plan for 2017, now is the time to get out of your comfort zone, and look for new opportunities in this changing and even confusing environment we find ourselves faced with. Here are 10 ideas or challenges for you to consider when evaluating whether your current strategy is “challenging” your status quo enough:
1. Reduce Distractions
We are all suffering from information overload. From emails to social media, “news” channels, notifications, and experts that we subscribe to, there is too much information for us to consume. All of this data and news can be overwhelming and distract us from our main objective – to run a successful and profitable business. This may be a good time to cut back on the amount of information or “head trash” that you let into your brain. One idea is to Unsubscribe from all of the miscellaneous emails that you get every week. I did this recently and while it took a whole day to do, it definitely reduced the junk in my inbox that I was wasting time deleting every day.
2. Stay the Course
While most firms engage in some type of strategic planning sessions, many clients tell me they struggle to follow the plan. A good Go / No-go process can help ensure that critical decisions are made according to plan.
Turning work away can be a difficult path to take, but critical to ensuring that goals are reached and investments of time and money in pursuing work are successful. Just a 1% increase in your win-rate on competitive projects can be hundreds of thousands of increased revenue. A good strategic plan should include detailed descriptions of the types of clients and projects to pursue including markets, types of services, geographies and project size.
3. Build More Trust
In the new economy, personal relationships will defeat mass communications. This may be counterintuitive, but the true essence of social media, for example, is to develop two-way communication rather than just blasting marketing messages. And even more important than building trust in the market is developing trust with your employees. Improving your employee relationships will be key to your business success, and help increase retention and improve employee engagement. One first step to consider to improve trust with your staff is to be as transparent as possible. This will demonstrate your willingness to trust them, and take the first steps towards that critical dialogue that millennials need to feel valued and recognized.
4. Focus on Firm / Employee Purpose
Is your firm focused on the benefits of what you do for others and for the world? Can you measure it? Many firms put their mission statement on their web site but don’t continuously remind staff, clients and the community about the good they are doing for the world. Can your staff articulate your mission? The younger generations today need to be reminded and encouraged about the good work they are doing. Feeling happy about work and your accomplishments is another great way to feel successful in your life and improves morale. Making your purpose part of your culture is a great first step towards integrating meaning into employees’ daily lives.
5. Go Deeper with Your Best Clients
Being a true partner to your best clients is a strategy that can go a long way towards improving those relationships and solidifying your place in their business strategy as they evolve. When is the last time you Googled your best clients and competition, looked them up on LinkedIn, read their press releases, looked at their job openings and researched their executive teams? Expanding relationships within your client’s organizations and intentionally taking time to meet with them regularly can open up opportunities that otherwise may have slipped away.
6. Demonstrate Expertise With Content
In today’s commoditized society, it is harder to stand out and differentiate your firm. Today’s inbound marketing engines are driven by content. This includes articles, videos, whitepapers, webinars, and other educational tools that you can make available online. These resources allow you to be found easier through search engines, build authority as an expert and allow people looking for your unique expertise to find you. And most sales today are preceded by extensive internet research before crucial selections are made. How does your firm appear online? Focus on developing the type of content that will attract the clients you want in 2017 and beyond, and enable you to build a niche around areas where you can truly differentiate and showcase your firm’s and team’s talents.
7. Change your Business Habits
At the beginning of every year, gyms across the world become packed and memberships skyrocket. This is because people realize that in order to improve their health and lose weight they must change their daily habits. The same is true for your business – if you want to reach your goals in 2017, you must understand the daily rituals and behaviors that will lead to accomplishing those goals. Old ways of operating the business should be challenged, and failure to use automation and systems you have invested in will have to change in order to see real improvement in 2017. Start by looking at the daily practices of your staff and assess where they can be improved to reduce problems, inefficiencies and scope creep.
8. Improve Processes
Just as the daily habits can be improved, the processes the company puts in place to help to guide employees to improve performance, reduce risk, and ensure project and company financial success can also be improved. There is often pushback from staff about new polices, claiming they are cumbersome. I like to refer to new processes as the “best way to do things.” Of course your firm wants to do everything the best way possible, and processes are a way to ensure consistency and conformity to excellent business practices. By getting employees involved in developing and improving processes, you will see better adoption and less resistance to implementing important new business practices.
9. Leverage Automation
Most firms I have worked with over the years are challenged to use the complex Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems they have invested in. In fact, some research shows that the average business only uses 25% of the features of their ERP system. Regardless of what system you use – Deltek Vision or Ajera, BST, Clearview or Microsoft Dynamics, there are always improvements you can make to ensure that you are optimizing your use of the system. Other ways to improve efficiency through automation include going paperless, improving integration between systems, reducing redundant data and using mobile apps for time and expense entry and CRM.
10. Develop A+ Employees
Your employees are the lifeblood of your firm. Without a competent, engaged and superior staff you will struggle to compete and retain clients. Training employees in all of the areas of their position as well as the position you want them to move into can improve confidence, communication, performance, as well as client satisfaction. Your employees are your key differentiator and training in sales, customer service, business management, leadership, and communication can actually pay for itself in 12 months or less.
To prosper in the uncertain future of 2017 and beyond, it will be essential to leverage innovative and even unconventional business management and leadership practices. Strategically leveraging your greatest assets – your talent, business infrastructure, and systems - will provide a competitive advantage and help to ensure stability in the face of rapid industry change and growth.
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