“If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.”
– Derek Jeter
2017 had many ups and downs but overall was a good business year for the A&E industry. From the indicators I am seeing, the number of cranes everywhere you go, and the promise of huge infrastructure investment coming, 2018 may prove to be another great year for those of us that depend on Design and Construction spending.
At the beginning of every year I try and define 10 key strategies that our clients can follow to ensure success in the coming year. If you know me, you know that I love sports. Not much gets me more excited than a competitive game. I decided to go with a baseball theme for this year’s annual article. I’ve become a huge Washington Nationals fan in the last few years, which requires having to endure a roller-coaster of wins and losses. I am fascinated at how some teams always seem to be in the playoffs, and others struggle to get to a 500 season.
If you study the best teams, and the principles of baseball and most sports, there are certain guidelines they follow that determine their success. Here I suggest 10 ideas, principles or guidelines for you to consider when evaluating whether your team is maximizing it’s potential. Are you positioned to win in 2018?
1. Get out on the playing field
Make it a habit to get out of your office several times a month and visit a key client, remote offices, attend an industry event, or meet with peers for lunch. One of the biggest threats to growth is failure to evolve, improve and take advantage of new opportunities, ideas and contacts outside of your office.
2. Recruit the best team
The only way to be a championship team is to have championship players. I see too many firms that get complacent with poor performance and behavior. The only way to improve your results and ensure continued success is to have the best team you can have. It is better to have too few employees than to settle for ones that are not A players. Stop settling with having a B team, pay some more if you have to, and figure out how to get your employees to their top performance.
3. Develop individual skills
One way to ensure your employees are performing at their top level is to invest in developing their skills. Depending on their role and level in your firm, they will need different skills. One of the things that most employees comment on when taking our Business Management Assessment is that they want more training. Consider leadership, soft skills, business / financial skills, negotiation, and systems as prime areas to invest in your staff’s skills.
Competition is what drives us to be better and improve our game. Without it, we can become complacent. If you want to be the best you can be, and stay highly competitive, you must understand what makes your firm great, and where your competitors have an advantage. Then work on improving areas that you are not as competitive. This does not mean just lowering your fees, but instead, look at how to be better and able to compete outside your current wheelhouse. Great teams have game plans and study their competition in order to ensure they are prepared for every game.
5. Challenge yourself
True champions know that in order to be better than you are now, you have to get out of your comfort zone and take on challenges that scare you. Once you achieve something you once saw as difficult, or even impossible, like getting a huge new project or winning a big new client, you will be better positioned and more confident to go after even more. As your firm grows make sure you and your people are growing too.
6. Make every project a home run
If some of your projects are winners and other losers, there are many things you can do to Find the Lost Dollars™ and ensure you get every penny of profit you are entitled to on every job. Many firms get trapped in a practice of accepting projects with low margins, terrible clients, or potentially risky undefined requirements. The years of desperately taking on “loss leaders” is behind us. High growth and high profit firms don’t take bad projects and ensure that every project will be a winner.
7. Focus on the stats
There is no better sport for stats than baseball. Every way of analyzing team and player performance is calculated minute by minute, and the stats are out there immediately for everyone to see. High performance individuals are not afraid to see the stats and share them with everyone. In fact, in most cases the stats actually make them better and more competitive. Business is also driven by numbers. Don’t shy away from sharing your stats with all of your team, and focus on how to reward your high performers when they hit a home run or exceed expectations.
8. Great teams know what they are really great at
Very often I ask clients to tell me what they are great at and they come up with typical cliché comments like, “we are smart”, “we do excellent work”, “high quality”, and many other similar types of comments. While these types of qualities are admired by clients, they are actually expected in most cases. Where the rubber meets the road is where your firm can articulate your unique benefits to your clients. Being able to promote what makes you uniquely valuable to your client will differentiate your firm and get your client’s focus off of fees and onto the success of their project.
9. Spring Training
As the Spring Training season starts soon, and we watch our favorite teams develop and get ready for the season, it reminds me that businesses can benefit too from engaging in Spring Training. It can be a few days, or even a week, to work on how to get the business in better shape. Most executives and firm leaders don’t get enough time to get away and focus specifically on making their businesses run better. I see many firm leaders get so caught up in the day to day business operations, even working on projects, that they don’t dedicate enough time to just working ON the business and how to take it to the next level. Your business will not grow and win without concerted attention to those areas that will make you more competitive and financially successful.
Finally, I finish this year’s recommendations with my favorite subject – accountability. I find it is lacking in most A&E firms and even those firms that do it well can still improve and figure out ways to get better performance from their teams. Accountability, when implemented with a positive approach – the carrot and not the stick – can be a great driver of higher performance.
I will be focusing very much on helping our clients implement some innovative ways to increase accountability and implement performance management measures that motivate staff to do their best and help their firms Find the Lost Dollars™ at our AEC Profitability Summit in Miami Beach in March. If you are ready to get away for a couple days for your Spring Training to work on all the areas I wrote about above, register now and give your business the spark it needs to accelerate growth and profits in 2018.
Invest in Yourself. Invest in Your Firm.
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Developing Superstar Employees
Date: Thursday, April 18th, 2019, 1:30 pm ET
Employees are the key to a professional services firm’s success. Yet many firms promote technical people into roles they are not prepared or ready for. As a result, project profitability suffers and there is frustration at every level of the organization. By enabling employees, through financial and systems training, automation, and accountability measures, the firm’s profit margins can increase substantially.