Embrace this period of rapid evolution and push yourself even further out of your comfort zone.
We work in an amazing industry – the industry that plans, designs, and constructs the backbone of society – the designers of our way of life. The new generations are looking for purpose in their work, and we’ve got it in AEC. Big time. So why do we have such a significant recruiting and retention challenge?
Part of it is because, let’s face it, we are slow to change. We like to study, analyze, and wait to see the results from other industries. The reality is that as an industry, we’ve been satisfied with the pace of our evolution while we’ve significantly lagged other industries in measures of workplace advancements like diversity, flexibility, and digitization. In biological terms, I would characterize this pace of evolution as “phyletic gradualism,” the idea that change generally occurs uniformly and by steady and gradual transformation. It’s comfortable evolution.
There are also firms that find themselves in what is called “punctuated equilibrium” which proposes that once a species appears in the fossil record, the population will become stable, showing little evolutionary change for the rest of its history. It’s true that older, larger firms can plateau if they don’t keep pressing harder and harder. And let’s face it, that’s hard.
As you grow your firm, the effort needed to sustain growth and to keep evolving becomes more difficult. You’ve got to increase your investments in critical business functions like marketing, HR, and IT. You’ve also got to grow your C-suite and have people dedicated to managing the business. Not everyone can work on projects forever! All that can be hard. But it’s the hard things that make great leaders and companies. All of our Jerry Allen Courage In Leadership Award winners have one thing in common – doing the hard things needed to have extraordinary success. Whether it’s firing a business partner, a big investment, battling cancer, going without a paycheck in the recession – all of these things require courage and hard work.
You know what else is hard? COVID. But it is this extremely hard time that is forcing some much needed change for us as individuals and as an industry. We are clearly now in that state called “quantum evolution” which happens when, on very rare occasions, evolution proceeds very rapidly to form entirely new families, orders, and classes of organisms. We were forced into it. It wasn’t our choice. It does, however provide a tremendous opportunity to close those previously referenced lags in workplace advancements like diversity, flexibility, and digitization. I challenge you, as a leader, to focus on the activities that will enable you to make greater progress on those and other advancements beyond what COVID is forcing. Embrace the quantum evolution and push yourself even further out of your comfort zone.
There are a few areas where firms need to advance in order to grow better and stronger:
- Diversity. Get beyond the check the box mentality, and realize that authentically embracing diversity now goes a long way in solving the recruiting side of the recruiting/retention challenge. Our ElevateHer Symposium which is part of the Elevate AEC Virtual Experience, kicks off on September 30th and includes an incredible lineup of keynote speakers and presentations from five cohorts. The cohorts will present theses on various strategies and tactics for successfully advancing diversity in your firm, all aimed at improving recruiting and retention. The event is free, so invite your entire leadership team. The takeaways will be incredibly valuable.
- Flexibility. Figure out a way to keep flexibility after COVID. This is essential for the retention side of the recruiting/retention change. In a previous article, I stated that award winning firms of the future will be made up of heroes at home, not just at work as our lives and profession are intertwined like never before. In a post-COVID world, this won’t (and shouldn’t) change. We needed more flexibility in this industry; let’s keep it.
- Digitization. We will call this “IT.” For many years, our data on the highest performing firms shows that IT investments were one of the top three drivers of growth. Without a doubt, the firms that had the smoothest transition and the strongest performance since COVID, were firms that had significantly better IT infrastructure than their peers. You should now be devising a way to get an even greater advantage in this area.
To make great progress on these and the other things that will make your firm more competitive than ever, do hard things now. Don’t focus on how you can get back to the way things were, instead develop a completely new vision of the future where your firm can operate smartly and efficiently in any environment, including a longer-term COVID world. What will separate extraordinary firms from average firms is continuing this quantum leap – intentionally!
Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.