“We are making Finding Lost Dollars part of our culture now. That’s the way we want it, that was the whole idea of choosing the Find the Lost Dollars training. We have systems in place. We have processes. We have happy clients and are more profitable.”
Hillmann Consulting, LLC is a successful Environmental and Engineering consulting firm. After all, they have been in business since 1985 and have been recognized by Zweig Group as one of the fastest-growing firms in the industry for the past 3 years.
Your Property. Our Priority is their mission.
Their commitment to service is clear and has proven to be one of the major cornerstones of their success. They build long lasting relationships with their clients, offering them the peace of mind they need when environmental concerns arise or the unthinkable occurs. This dedication to their clients was part of their culture, yet certain business practices regarding keeping clients happy as well as some inefficient business practices came at a high price. They were not as profitable as they desired – like many other firms in the A&E industry, they were growing but not seeing the same growth to the bottom line.
Management Recognized Need for Change and Opportunity to Improve Profitability
In 2014, their management team recognized that if they made some internal business/project management changes, they could provide even more value to their clients and increase their profitability at the same time. With the growth they had experienced, they recognized a lack of uniformity in the way they were operating from a project management standpoint. This encompassed everything from estimating, to the proposal process, through to change orders. While the staff members were technically proficient, they wanted to improve project performance and give their entire staff keener business skills. Recognizing that many employees are only familiar with the piece of work they do, they wanted to find a way to have the team understand what goes on behind the scenes, and how all aspects of client and project management tie together.
Consistency Would Lead to Increased Profit
As Chris Hillmann, President, states “The need for change came from a desire to understand what goes into effective project management. Why the entire process is important and having processes in place, and following them, makes a difference to our bottom line.” In addition to providing more value to their clients, they knew that consistency would also lead to increased profit.
Looked for Affordable A&E Business Management Training Program
In order to make the desired changes they focused on training they could implement throughout the firm. Geralanne Maglione, Vice President, headed up the strategic committee they put in place to identify the programs available. Geralanne shared “We needed something that taught business management skills to our staff, and was specifically designed for our industry. We wanted it to be affordable, customized to our company, and convenient where our staff didn’t need to leave the office. The training also needed to be interactive and performed as a group over a period of time so that the information was practiced and retained.”
In order to evaluate the available industry-specific training, the committee sent some staff to several different off-site 2-3 day bootcamps, but realized that sending a few people away at a time was not going to provide the type of deep behavior and cultural change they were looking for. They were also very busy with client work and couldn’t afford to have most of their technical staff out of the office for several days at a time.
The Hillmann team had recently implemented the Deltek Vision system and worked with June Jewell in the past to help them with their systems and processes. The firm executives had read June’s book “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms,” and when they learned that June had developed a training course based on the content of the book, they knew this would be the program that would meet their list of needs. They believed that if all of their staff would practice the recommendations in June’s book, they would be more successful and profitable. After thoroughly evaluating options and considering the benefits of online training, they invested in the Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Training Program offered by AEC Business Solutions.
Leveraged the Business Management Assessment
Before starting the training, Hillmann implemented the Business Management Assessment Tool that AEC Business Solutions offers as part of their overall solution. The assessment is 160 questions, built around 9 core areas of the business and provides scores and recommendations for people, processes and systems in each area. Hillmann administered the assessment to their entire team and now use the valuable recommendations, feedback and comments for their strategic planning.
Pilot Program Success Led to Corporate Roll-out
They initially put 10 employees through the program including a cross section of staff from marketing, accounting, Project Managers (PMs) and other technical staff. After the feedback they received from the initial team, they moved forward with having the rest of the company, another 87 staff members, participate and complete the training. They rolled the training out in July of 2015 as a comprehensive program over 20 weeks with regularly scheduled meetings to reinforce the training principles and discuss how the firm could improve.
Participants Committed to Being 2% Better
Hillmann started the training with a goal of increasing profitability by 2% and had every participant commit to “being 2% better”. They knew that with even such a small change they would see a ten-fold return on their investment in the program.
They have seen some significant changes in their internal business management practices as well as in the behavior of many individuals. They now all speak a “common language” that enables them to more easily communicate about financial issues with even less experienced staff.
Courses Helped Improve Change Order Processing
One of the biggest pre-training challenges Hillmann identified was managing change orders which tended to create tension between their clients and PMs. They also lacked a unified process for handling out of scope requests which also caused projects to go over budget. After the Scope Creep and Estimating courses helped bring to light what a huge issue this had become, they set out to implement a new process that would work for clients and keep the additional dollars from change orders from slipping through the cracks.
One of their Division Managers, Steve Cherepany, feels the Find the Lost Dollars program was beneficial because specific changes made a real difference for Hillmann and their clients, “a real measurable and tangible change we made was in how we handle change orders. We have significantly reduced extra services change orders while increasing revenue by making suggested changes to our proposals. If a change is now needed, our clients are comfortable asking for it because we have a process for ensuring it won’t take them over budget, thus eliminating the time consuming process of waiting for approval. Our clients have been happy with this and it helps our team to estimate better from the start. It keeps us all more unified.”
Developed New Go/No-Go Process
Kaz Szulc, Chief Financial Officer, shared another change they implemented from the Find the Lost Dollars Marketing and Business Development Course. “We took a close look at our Go-No/Go process and realized that we were sometimes putting our resources into projects that really weren’t for us.” They took the suggestions in the training and customized forms that they now fill out as a team to help determine faster if they want to pursue a project opportunity. He went on to say, “Now we have a process for determining if a project will be profitable and if we know we won’t make money or if we would have to lower our fees to get the work, we can walk away.”
Change in Culture, Common Language, Increased Profits!
They have also implemented business plans for each profit center and are identifying new clients and new business opportunities. The training inspired one team member, Tammy Lomax, to identify a new service offering. She developed a way to provide greater value to their clients and packaged her ideas into a new service line which resulted in extra revenue and face time with clients. Tammy was in the initial group of trainees and as Geralanne put it “finding lost dollars is in her head now.”
In a bigger picture change, the team also has noted a different feel in the overall culture of the firm. After going through the training as a complete team, they began to hold each other accountable for success. Geralanne says, “by investing in everybody, everybody understands why profitability is important and how they individually affect it”. Kaz adds “we have measurable results and can point out in black and white what is working and what isn’t.” They all agree that employees in general are more aware of “finding the lost dollars”.
Hillmann plans to put new employees through the training and offer ongoing refreshers and discussions for the team. Michael Gerasimenko, Controller, put it perfectly, “We are making finding lost dollars part of our culture now. That’s the way we want it, that was the whole idea of choosing the Find the Lost Dollars training. We have systems in place. We have processes. We have happy clients and are more profitable.”
“All of the team members of the Environmental Health & Safety Division of Hillmann Consulting went through the Find the Lost Dollars AEC Business Management Training Program in late 2015. Our profit for this department was only at 2% and we needed a way to get all of our staff on the same page to increase our profit margin without increasing our rates. After the training, we immediately implemented many new practices that changed our culture and transformed our profitability. We improved billable utilization rates, improved time management procedures and ensured everyone on the team adhered to policies that improved profitability. Our January to September year-to-date profit is now at a stunning 20.87%! Having our team go through the Find the Lost Dollars Training Program has made an incredible difference for us, with an increase of profit of over $200,000 in less than a year!”
Hillmann Consulting, LLC
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