Is your executive team on the same page about where your firm is heading?

One of the most critical factors to successful A&E business results is being able to make the right decisions that will drive the firm’s growth and profitability. When there is a lack of consensus, where leaders can’t get on the same page about where to invest, what strategy to implement or what succession plan makes the most sense, gridlock ensues, and the business will stall or fail to achieve target profits. 

The lack of consensus is often driven by competing priorities. Most design and technical professionals are driven by the desire to work on challenging and exciting projects. The business side of architecture, engineering or environmental consulting is often viewed as a necessary evil, and it can be challenging to get the appropriate attention paid to working on the business as opposed to the more desirable focus of working in the business. 

Years ago, I made the mistake of merging my consulting practice with another similar company. My partner and I each owned 50% of the business and had equal decision-making responsibility. While we did a good job of dividing work responsibilities, we still had many conflicts when it came to making decisions about hiring key staff, making significant asset expenditures, or even taking on new services to offer to our clients. Our basic philosophy of how we saw the business differed, and this caused a stalemate in our ability to grow. A couple of years after the merger, we decided to split the two businesses back out – ironically, an easy decision to make. 

The path to getting your leadership team on the same page requires intentional focus. Here are a few strategies that I’ve seen work successfully with clients that might help you steer your E-team in the right direction: 

1. Decide what the criteria is for making decisions 

Most decisions should be made with some data – not hunches or gut feelings. Get feedback from clients and employees (see below) about what is working and what is not. Use benchmarking metrics, such as those provided by ACEC, Deltek, the Zweig Group or PSMJ. Do competitive analysis to understand your firm’s strengths and weaknesses and get economic and market research data and forecasts from inside and outside the industry such as ENR, Gartner and other sources.  

When your leaders can agree that data does not lie and provides valuable insight for decisions, it can be easier to get everyone to decide about the best path forward. This data will be an invaluable resource for your strategic planning process. 

2. Determine how much critical challenges are costing you

Each business challenge your firm faces including low fee projects, lack of employee talent, bad clients, low accountability, poor project management processes and systems or other constraints holding back growth are costing your firm money in lost revenue and profits. Take the time to determine the metrics affected by these issues and put a dollar amount on every area that your business could be improved. Then sit down with your leadership team and decide what business decisions need to be made to invest in the right internal initiatives.Usually, money talks better than vague discussions about issues that no one wants to take the time to solve. 

3. Agree on goals and what it will take to achieve them

If your leaders have competing goals, it will be impossible to make the right decisions. Spend the time to have each leader lay out their vision for the company, both short term and long term, and decide as a group what goals can be agreed to that everyone in your firm will work towards. 

Goals should include financial targets for revenue and profits, as well as strategic goals around improving business operations, systems, acquisitions, and firm culture. 

Without everyone working towards the same goals and having the same priorities, you will struggle to make critical decisions to drive your business targets. Once goals have been established, create an action plan to lay out the tactics for achieving the goals and make sure everyone agrees before moving forward. A good strategic plan that has full leadership commitment will help drive consensus and guide better decision making throughout the year.

4. Don’t try and do too many things

Many firms make the mistake of having too many internal initiatives and because they are so busy, find they have not achieved most of them at the end of the year. Select one or two key areas to focus on, based on financial goals and the impact on employee success they will have, and put your full focus and resources towards making progress on your most important growth factors.

5. Get employee feedback to understand what is working and not working

Many leaders think they know what is going on every day and how established processes and systems are supporting employees. The truth is, your employees know better than you do where you can be even better. The beauty of employee feedback is it serves two purposes – it lets employees know that you value their opinions, and it provides data for leaders to discuss that can’t be disputed.  

AEC Business Solutions has a fast and effective tool to get employee feedback and insights into what is working and what is not. Learn more about our Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Assessment.

Getting your leadership team to focus attention on the most important decisions facing your firm is critical to continued growth, profitability and harmony in your firm. By intentionally implementing the five steps above, you can create a basis for reaching consensus and ensuring that your firm can capitalize on current and future business opportunities. 

AEC Business Solutions has developed a proven program that transforms employees’ mindsets and behaviors and refocuses the culture of the firm on business excellence so that leaders can easily grow their businesses and profits and focus on doing what they love most – working on great projects.