10 Ways to Prosper in the Uncertainty of 2017

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 … Continued

Reinventing Your Culture to Enable Growth

  The drive for progress doesn’t wait for the external world to say “It’s time to change.” – Jim Collins, Best-selling Author, Good to Great Recently I was talking with a prospective client about challenges they were facing with their project management. They are a 50-person Civil and structural engineering firm that has been growing but not achieving the level of profitability they wanted or planned for. While their projects were mostly profitable, they were still realizing profit margins of 5 to 8% rather than the 10% to 12% they needed for sustained growth. They realized that their culture was holding them back, and told me they were trying to “reinvent” their culture. Always focused on technical skills and client relationships, they had neglected developing business acumen with the project managers and other leaders that were controlling most of the money. This is a common issue that I hear about on a weekly basis in architectural and engineering firms of all sizes. It is something you would expect from the smallest firms, but even plagues the large firms as they grow, integrate acquired firms, and … Continued

10 Tips to Survive the Next Recession

Another recession is coming. It is inevitable. Based on past history, it should be next year. But these things are hard to predict, so all I will commit to at this point is that another dip is coming. And we don’t know how bad it will be. What I do know for sure is that a lot of our clients are not thinking about it too much right now. The Architecture and Engineering industry is doing very well. Our clients are growing and hiring and profitability is up for the first time in many years. But it feels like a bubble to me and that is why I am worried that our clients are not doing everything possible to prepare for the eventual downturn. So what can you do to prepare for the next recession? I believe there are at least 10 strategies that you can focus on that will make your company financially and operationally stronger, and enable you to survive possible tough economic times ahead – regardless of whether that is next year or five years from now. Enabling a number of these … Continued

Are You Blowing Through Yellow Lights?

  As we drive along the roads each day we make split second decisions. These decisions can have zero or life changing consequences, or anything in between. A cautionary yellow light can occur when driving slow or fast, far from the intersection or right in it. Once in a while we ignore the warning signal and blow through a “risky” yellow light and pray for the best. Yellow lights occur in your work and business every day. Your employees often make similar split second crucial decisions that impact the risk, profitability, and health of your organization without realizing it. This is because we don’t like to rock the boat, question our clients when they make a request, or even follow instructions that just don’t seem right. Very often it seems much easier to ignore these questionable situations – we don’t have time, we don’t want to appear untrusting. But we all know that a yellow light can turn red at any moment. Yellow lights in business come in many forms but all have something in common – they all have potential consequences that are unknown. … Continued

Turning Around an Underperforming Team

Are you frustrated because not every team in your firm is hitting their goals or performing at their highest level? Unfortunately you may have groups that struggle to be profitable, have high turnover, or don’t embrace your firm’s culture. It can be difficult to hold remote offices and project leaders’ accountable, and even figure out what is going wrong. There are many options to attacking the problem of an underperforming team including replacing team leadership, closing a remote office, or other intensive measures. Very often an office is opened or a new team assembled in order to accomplish one of the firm’s strategic goals such as breaking into a new market, geography or client. Depending on how the group was created – from breaking off from another successful division, to an acquisition, to a key strategic hire, many things can cause a group or remote office to underachieve. Measuring Team (Under)Performance In measuring the performance of our groups or teams, we often look at revenue or profit goals, but it is also important to understand the other key metrics behind the scenes that are causing the group … Continued

The Elusive “Right” Conversations A&E Firms Frequently Miss Getting Right

Conversations fuel A&E firms’ success. Conversations are taking place all day long at A&E firms, yet 75% are the wrong conversations. Most conversations in your company are killing productivity, utilization rates and ultimately profits. Did you realize there are only four types of conversations you and your personnel can possibly engage? That’s absolutely true. Whether the conversations are between a team member and a prospective client, a team member and a current client, two staff members, a partner and a staff member, a manager and their direct report, there are still only four possible conversations. And, it’s vital you and your staff understand that three of those four conversations are the “wrong” conversation. By “wrong” I mean it is not a conversation that drives a desired outcome or brings to resolution an issue that needs resolving. The Four Conversations is a workplace communication model created in the midst of facilitating a workshop for a client in 2013. The four conversations are: The wrong conversation with the wrong person The wrong conversation with the right person The right conversation with the wrong person The right conversation … Continued

christopher consultants Finds Lost Dollars in Just 10 Weeks

For over 33 years, christopher consultants (christopher) headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia has provided civil engineering, surveying, land planning, urban design and landscape architecture in the mid-Atlantic region. Founded by Christopher Brown (Chris) in 1982, the firm currently employs over 100 professionals and has five divisions serving a range of different industries. In 2011, Bill Zink took over as President and leader of the firm, and has been working hard to develop strategies to take the firm forward. He realized that though the firm had a long history of success, the firm’s culture needed some  adjustments in order to deal with 21st century economic pressures. As many firms in the A&E industry are now experiencing, going through a founder leadership transition is a slow and delicate process. It is important to protect the elements of success that the firm has built on for so many years, while at the same time, moving towards a workplace culture where technology is critical to growth and millennials are becoming a larger part of the workforce. Bill wanted to bring new ideas, transparency and increased focus on financial results to … Continued

10 Ways to Make More Money in 2016

It is hard to believe 2016 is here. I always get excited about the beginning of a new year – I look at it as an opportunity to start over, correct the mistakes of the past and achieve some of the goals that eluded me in the previous year. For most of our clients, 2015 was a good year for business. We saw a growing number of projects, expanding revenues and larger backlogs than we have seen in a long time. But with growth there are also challenges – a war for talent, increasing competition and with it, a resulting increase in salaries. More than ever we need to be innovative, efficient and run our businesses smarter than our competitors. We face many unknowns for the future including declining energy prices, fall elections and continued technology advances. Every year I attend 8 to 10 industry conferences in order to take the pulse of the industry, as well as understand the challenges that our clients face. Based on this last year and various expert’s predictions for 2016, Here are my top 10 recommendations for how your … Continued

{Guest Post} The Power of 1%

  We have all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” and yet I would venture to guess that few of us really understand how to do just that.  There is however, a very simple concept that demonstrates the critically important issue of how to constantly improve efficiency and effectiveness. June Jewell, a professional colleague of mine, has written an excellent book, ‘Find the Lost Dollars’ that encourages firm leaders to enhance the best practices of their firm and with it, the profitability of their projects and businesses.  The book is filled with excellent, easy to understand recommendations for improving the way we go about the daily tasks involved in running an organization, regardless of its size.  And, as good as all these recommendations are, for me, it’s the clarity of each chapter that provides insight to working smarter. Not to oversimplify the effort and time it takes to learn how to discipline oneself, about anything, June has nonetheless brilliantly introduced logical, easy to comprehend method and means for enhancing a firm’s revenue, which might otherwise be overlooked or lost due to the lack of … Continued

Why I Want My Firm to Be Like Tesla

    I started a new business last year which gave me a unique opportunity to figure out my new brand – how I wanted AEC Business Solutions to be viewed and perceived in the marketplace. It is very exciting starting a new business after 25 years doing the same thing. The new business is different, and the new image and “look and feel” of our online presence, messaging and other marketing needs to be aligned with how we want clients and potential clients to evaluate us. I gave this a lot of thought. I started with what I didn’t want: I didn’t want us to be the same as we were before I didn’t want us to look like our competitors I didn’t want to say the same old thing that everyone else is saying Then I tried to consolidate how I DID want my new firm to be branded: I want us to be relevant for the future I want us to be innovative and cool I want to offer more value and measurable results I want to have clients that are raving … Continued

Your Profitable Journey – Kickoff a Transformation in Your A&E Firm

  As I speak to our Architecture and Engineering clients around the country, the common goal is always how to maximize profits. The daily demands of running an architecture or engineering firm can be overwhelming. And the day to day demands of growing while still maintaining “squeezed” profit margins is becoming harder to accomplish. This is where the AEC Profitability Summit can give you specific tools to implement significant change over the next 12 months to increase your bottom line. Join us on a journey to find an extra 1% to 3% profits in your business. How many times have you spent valuable time and money attending a conference or seminar and come away thinking, “Hmm, some interesting info, but now what do I do with it?” All the business and financial management theory is great, but once you get back to your “day job” it is difficult to implement significant change without a plan. It has happened to me and my clients more times than I’d like to admit. When our team at AEC Business Solutions first started talking about putting together the upcoming … Continued

Developing Superstar Project Managers

In looking at the operations of an Architecture or Engineering firm, it is evident that the project manager (PM) role is the key to success. In addition to their normal project management responsibilities, most PMs are also involved in many other aspects of firm management – from marketing and sales, to human resources (HR), recruiting and hiring, time management, billing, and collections. They are doing all of this outside of their basic functions of running projects and working with clients. Why have we overloaded our PMs with so much responsibility, and how can they be successful without specific skills and training in each of these areas? We often describe and even measure a “superstar” project manager, by rating technical skills and their ability to keep clients happy above profitability. I argue that for a PM to be a superstar, they need to deliver profitable projects, and help the firm to grow and prosper financially. Ultimately, if the client is happy but the project loses money, the project manager is not a superstar. This practice has developed because most architecture and engineering school curricul ums focus … Continued

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business?

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business? 3 Steps to Ensure Important Change is Happening   Many of you have probably read or heard of Michael Gerber’s best-seller The E-Myth which introduced the concept of working ON your business not in your business. This how-to guide for entrepreneurs popularized the recommendation that successful business owners need to focus on running and improving their business operations rather than doing the work themselves. This is a common problem in the A&E industry where most business owners are technicians and often love doing the work themselves more than managing their business. This practice can be to your detriment, however, if not enough care is given to ensuring that the business’s goals and strategic objectives are met, and the often challenging process of change is implemented. As I work with A&E firms to help them improve profitability, the number one challenge with firms achieving their goals is that they are not getting the important but non-urgent initiatives completed. These are the types of internal projects such as business process re-engineering, improving the use of systems, establishing new performance management / accountability processes, developing better project management practices and skillsets, and … Continued

Succession Planning and Your Exit Strategy: Are You Preparing Your Future Leaders?

I attend many industry events in the A&E industry such as conferences held by the ACEC, SMPS, and AIA, and have observed a trend lately that has me concerned. This trend is the aging of the A&E firm principals, and based on my recent conversations with staff at several firms, many of their employees are concerned about this too. I first recognized this as an issue while at the ACEC national conference in April in Washington, DC.  From my observations it appeared that at least 75% of the attendees at the conference were white men that appeared to be over 50 years of age. I started wondering what these firm leaders were doing to prepare for their eventual retirement, and transition to a younger group of leaders, and how will this affect the A&E industry? Is your firm doing succession planning? So I started to ask my clients questions. I also started talking with the younger generations in these firms about their concerns and what they were being told about the firm’s succession plans. Let’s face it, if a firm leader is over 55 years … Continued

Is Your Professional Services Firm Surviving or Thriving?

Three Growth Strategies for Professional Services Firms Times have changed and making money in a professional services business is harder than it used to be. It requires a more defined strategy, a focus on better client relationships, highly motivated and skilled people, and being able to do more with less. Many firms are just surviving now, with reduced profit margins and more competition on every bid. The following are three growth strategies for professional services firms to help you adjust to the new reality of doing business in the post-recession world. Know Who You Are The best consulting firms have a specific strategy and a well-defined set of niche services. They know that they cannot be all things to all people, and quickly identify when to turn away an opportunity because it is not a good fit. This will also save money on marketing, and ensure that your marketing dollars are spent more effectively by reaching out to a smaller audience. This will also allow you to hire employees with highly specialized skills and expertise. Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., author and managing partner of Hinge … Continued