“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 it was a good business year for the A&E industry. Based on the indicators I’m seeing, the number of cranes everywhere you go, and the promise of huge infrastructure investments to come, 2018 may prove to be another great year for those of us that depend on Design and Construction spending.
10 Strategies for Success
At the beginning of every year, I like to identify 10 key strategies that clients can follow to ensure success in the coming year. If you know me, you know that I love sports. Not much makes me more excited than a competitive game, so for this year’s article, I decided to go with a baseball theme. 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. It’s fascinating that some teams always seem to be in the playoffs, while others struggle to get to a 500 season.
If you study the best teams, and the principles of baseball, there are specific guidelines they follow that determine their success. Here I suggest 10 ideas, principles or guidelines that you may want to consider when evaluating whether your team is maximizing its potential, and if you are positioned to win in 2018:
1. Get Out on the Playing Field
You can’t compete and win if you stay in your office and hide from the world. Make it a habit to get out of your office several times a month and visit a key client or 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 become complacent with poor performance and behavior. The only way to improve your results and ensure continued success is to have the best team in place. It is far better to have too few employees than to settle for ones that are not A players. Stop settling with having a B team, even if it means you need to pay more, and figure out how to elevate your employees to their peak 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 skill sets and talents. Most employees who take our Business Management Assessment comment that they want more training. Consider leadership, soft skills, business / financial skills, negotiation, and systems as prime areas to invest in your staff.
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. The next step is a commitment to improve in those areas where you are not as competitive. This is about much more than just lowering your fees, rather, look at how to be better positioned to compete outside your current wheelhouse. Great teams have game plans and study their competition to ensure they are prepared every time they step on the field.
5. Challenge Yourself
True champions know that to be better than you are now, you must venture outside of your comfort zone and take on challenges that scare you. Once you achieve something that was considered out of reach, or even impossible, such as landing a new big project or winning a significant client, you will gain the confidence necessary to go after even more. As your firm grows don’t forget to make sure you and your people are growing too.
6. Make Every Project a Home Run
If some of your projects are winners, but others are losers, there are many things you can do to Find the Lost Dollars™ and ensure you collect every penny of profit on every job. Many firms become trapped in the 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 available immediately for everyone to see. High-performance individuals aren’t afraid of sharing their stats. In fact, in most cases, the stats make them better and even more competitive. Business is also driven by numbers. Don’t shy away from sharing your stats with your team, and focus on how to reward your high performers when they hit a home run or exceed expectations.
8. Understand What You Are Great At
Very often I ask clients to tell me what they are great at and they respond with typical cliché comments like, “we are smart”, “we do excellent work”, “high quality”, and other similar statements. While these types of qualities are admired by clients, in most cases they are expected. Being able to articulate your firm’s unique benefits that go above and beyond normal expectations is where the rubber meets the road. When you promote what makes you uniquely valuable to your client, you differentiate your firm and take the focus off of fees and onto the success of the project.
9. Spring Training
As Spring training season starts soon, and we watch our favorite teams develop and prepare for the season, it reminds me that businesses can also benefit from a type of Spring Training. It can be a few days, or even a week, where the total focus is on how to get the business in better shape. Most executives and firm leaders don’t have enough time to specifically focus on how to run their business better. I see many firm leaders become so caught up in the day to day business operations, even working on projects, that they don’t dedicate time to working ON the business. Your business will not grow without concerted attention on the 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 enhance team performance. Accountability, when implemented with a positive approach – the carrot and not the stick – can be a great driver of higher performance.
Interested in applying these best practices in your firm and doing some Spring Training of your own? Consider joining us for the AEC Profitability Summit in Miami Beach in March. Our agenda is full of innovative ways to increase accountability, implement performance management, and motivate staff to do their best. Register now and give your business the spark it needs to accelerate growth and profits in 2018.