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.
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 focusing on higher quality client engagement. While these initiatives have been deemed critical by the leadership and maybe even mandated by a board of directors, the execution of these projects often fail because the resources being assigned to them are “too busy.”
I encourage you to walk around your firm and see if you can find someone that is not busy. This is probably an impossible task. You will not find an employee that is not swamped, and even struggling to make deadlines for deliverables, proposals and internal administrative functions like billing. So how do you combat this epidemic of busyness that has infected all of our firms, and kept critical progress from being made?
The real issue is not that the people assigned to the internal projects are too busy, it is that the internal projects are not given the priority, resources and accountability needed. Key employees must be able to reassign other billable and business development responsibilities to others in the organization, freeing them to focus on improving the business. When priorities are not clear and there is more work than people, the most urgent activities will get done first.
The end result of all of these uncompleted and half-finished initiatives is a huge financial impact to the firm. The cost of inefficiencies, missed opportunities, lost revenue and profits, and potentially lost clients. These failures also undermine having staff fully engaged and supporting the goals of the organization, and believing that the leadership has what it takes to move the firm forward in today’s economic environment which is critical to long term success in retaining and attracting the best employees.
3 Steps to Ensure the Most Important Internal Projects Have the Best Chance to be Successful
The following are 3 steps you can take to ensure the most important internal projects have the best chance to be successful. Staying on top of internal projects can be just as important as monitoring revenue-generating projects. Getting clear on priorities has to be a first step:
1. Focus on One Initiative at a Time
One of the reasons that people are too busy may be that they have too many things to get done, and not clear enough direction as to what is the most important. I have found the most success can be realized by tackling just one key initiative at a time.
One strategy is to first tackle smaller projects that take a month or two, enabling a few quick wins. Another is to break a project up into smaller parts. For example, instead of trying to take on the huge project of revamping all standard operating procedures (SOPs), work on one at a time such as timesheet policies, with a goal of getting one new process designed, tested and implemented per quarter. Steady progress is always better than failure due to overwhelm.
2. Commit the Resources
many firms fail to get key initiatives done because they pile more and more internal projects on their best managers or their key admin staff. I have consistently seen back office accounting staff with so many things on their to-do list that are mission critical yet not getting completed because the day-job is already a 50 hour commitment. This is not a good strategy and long-term will end up costing the firm more in lost opportunities and inefficient business practices and systems.
The other related practice is to assume that someone is an expert in something because they have a related skill set. For example, most marketing professionals are not CRM experts – you can’t expect them to maximize your firm’s use of your CRM system if they have not had the long-term experience and training that it takes to implement effective CRM strategies and get user adoption. They also may not have the authority to enforce policies, which will hamper efforts to get employees engaged and using technology effectively.
The most effective method for ensuring the success of your projects is to have the right resources with the appropriate level of expertise, authority, and commitment of time to ensure that the job gets done on budget and schedule. In some cases this might require hiring outside resources that have the experience to plan and manage the project, and can be held accountable if goals are not met. You may also want to hire a new resource just to manage and take responsibility for getting the business improvement work done. It may be easy to justify the cost of a new resource if the estimated return on investment (ROI) is substantial.
3. Treat Internal Projects the Same as Billable Projects
We all know that projects require careful planning, monitoring and communication in order to be successful, yet many firms do not take the same care to plan and manage their internal projects. To be successful, your internal projects need to be well planned, with clear goals and objectives, a budget and schedule, and scope. To follow up from the CRM implementation example used above, many firms just start working on the implementation without clearly understanding what it can do, what they expect to get out of it, and who will be expected to use it. Without this clear understanding of the why, what, when and who of the expected outcomes, it is never apparent when the system is fully implemented, or whether it has been successful. In one recent survey I did of 50 CEOs, not one felt that they had a successful CRM implementation. I believe much of that is because they didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish from the beginning, and didn’t have a clear plan to ensure it stayed on track.
If your firm has struggled with being too busy to implement the changes needed to keep ahead of your competition, then taking a new approach may be in order. By staying focused on the types of change that will deliver the biggest financial impact, committing the best resources available, and managing the change projects against clear objectives, you should find a clearer path to longer term growth and success.
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