In 2014 Hillmann Consulting, a then 100-person environmental consulting firm based in Union, NJ, found itself on the cusp of growth. They started seeing what many A&E firms experience when transitioning from a small local firm to a mid-size geographically dispersed firm – fast growth can be challenging!
They were frustrated with the lack of uniformity in their business practices. They struggled with proposals, estimating, scope creep, project management, and getting employees to follow processes and use their Deltek system.
Like many A&E firms, their culture was built around technical excellence and keeping clients happy – not financial results. This lack of processes, accountability and employee business focus was costing them money! Their projects were leaking profits, and their staff were underperforming.
They knew they needed to train their staff on business best practices to see real impact. Geralanne Maglione, Vice President, led a committee to identify available training programs.
Geralanne shared “We needed training that taught business management skills to our staff and was specifically designed for our industry. We wanted it to be affordable and convenient with our busy schedules and customizable to our company with interactive group discussions.”
They evaluated bootcamps, but found that sending PMs away for a couple days didn’t provide the deep behavior and cultural transformation they needed. They were also too busy to have their technical staff out for several days. Several years earlier, Hillmann had worked with June Jewell to implement their Deltek Vision system. The firm executives valued June’s book “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms,” and were excited when June developed a training program based on the book. They knew this training was what their team needed. Soon after, they invested in the Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Training Program offered by AEC Business Solutions. Before kicking off the training, Hillmann launched the AEC Business Management Assessment to survey and obtain employee feedback in 9 core areas of business operations. This supplied crucial data to direct their focus, and recommendations for people, processes and systems in each area. They repeated the assessment again a year later to provide valuable data to measure progress and input for strategic planning.
Commitment to 2% improvement
Hillmann started the training with a goal of increasing profitability by 2% and had every participant commit to “being 2% better”. They knew just a small change would deliver a ten-fold return on investment from the program. They decided to include 87 staff members and rolled the 10 courses out in July of 2015 over 20 weeks with bi-weekly group discussions around how the firm could improve.
Reduced Scope Creep
One of the biggest pre-training challenges Hillmann identified was managing scope changes which created tension between their clients and PMs. After the Scope Creep and Estimating courses, they implemented new processes that proved beneficial for clients, and captured additional revenue from out of scope services.
They have seen significant changes in their business management practices as well as in the behavior of many individuals. They now all speak a “common language” that enables them to easily communicate about financial issues with clients and internally.
Prior to the Find the Lost Dollars program, these changes would have been met with resistance. After employees understood the “why” behind their best practices, they became more proactive and took deeper ownership of their performance.
From left to right, Michael Gerasimenko, Geralanne Maglione, Chris Hillmann and Michele Spinowitz
Change in Culture and Increased Profits!
The biggest benefit has been a significant difference in the culture of the firm. Michael Gerasimenko, Controller, put it perfectly, “We are making Finding Lost Dollars part of our culture. 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 was celebrated as a 2018 Find the Lost Dollars Client Award Winner for finding the most lost dollars from the program, seeing an increase in profit of 9% of revenue from 2016-2017 (the two years after completing the program).
In 2018, Hillmann saw its fastest and most profitable growth ever with over 40% increase in revenue growth and over 30% increase in profit.
“We could not have achieved this kind of fast growth without the Find the Lost Dollars program. It has provided a foundation of business excellence for our team and operations.”
Chris Hillmann, CEO, Hillmann Consulting
June R. Jewell, CPA is the author of the book “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms”. She is the President of AEC Business Solutions, offering employee development training focused on helping Architectural, Engineering and Construction firms make more money on their projects and develop their next level of leadership. Read more tips for A&E firms at her blog at www.AECBusiness.com/blog.
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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.