Like Wheel of Fortune’s most strategic letters, there are aspects of AEC firm operations that nearly always merit attention.
The final contestant on the TV game show Wheel of Fortune chooses consonants and a vowel and then solves a word puzzle to win a prize. Before 1988, they chose five consonants and one vowel, and most chose “RSTLN and E.” That year, to spice things up, the show’s producers decided to give those six letters to the contestant and make them pick a few others.
Like the show’s puzzles, every AEC firm and Zweig Group client is different. When we study them as part of research or advisory engagements, we always uncover unique insights. But there are aspects of AEC firm operations that nearly always merit attention and improvement. They are the “RSTLN and E” of AEC business operations. We give them to you – and then find a few others for you to work with on your journey to solve your own business challenges.
- Communication. When we survey employees, responses to the statement, “In general, I feel like things are effectively communicated at my firm” score lower than other similar prompts. Everyone in your firm wants to know what is going on – the good and the bad. And they want to understand why decisions get made the way they do. Establishing an honest, routine communication cadence with your staff is a critical component of the employee experience you create.
- Employee development. Your staff want to be good at their jobs. The right training and tools help them do that. They also want those jobs to be platforms from which fulfilling, meaningful careers are built. Zweig Group’s 2021 Recruitment and Retention Report of AEC Firms – and our advisory work – indicates that “frequency of mentoring” (not training, and not quality of mentoring) is a weak area for firms. Mentoring helps your staff unleash their talents and engage more deeply.
- Recruiting and retention. These two are commonly linked but fundamentally different activities that also exist along the employee experience continuum. Every firm aspires to be amazing at both.
- Marketing. Creating and maintaining brand awareness of your firm increases the likelihood that clients and talent will seek out your firm. The most savvy firms use traditional channels like email, their website, writing articles, and speaking engagements – and the full stack of contemporary social media outlets. Zweig Group’s research indicates that after referrals, speaking engagements and published content are the two most effective marketing tactics in the AEC toolkit. You can use digital tools for both.
Unsurprisingly, these activities are outside of the core project work that keeps you and your teams busy and in business. And when firms are busy, it is important for leaders to look for high leverage actions – single actions with multiple positive impacts.
There are two high leverage actions you can take right away:
- Schedule a 15-minute one-on-one check in with your direct reports. Do this in the next 24 hours, and then have every manager in your firm do the same. Talk about anything other than project work. You will simultaneously improve communications and contribute to employee development. Make these development-focused check-ins a routine and over time you’ll improve retention.
- Spend an hour with your marketing staff to make spot improvements to your company’s LinkedIn presence, post an announcement about a staff member, and ask your staff to share both that post and any open positions you have listed on the platform. You will be making positive progress in both recruiting and marketing.
AEC firm management isn’t a game show. But like the contestants on Wheel of Fortune, you’ve been given a head start on solving your own puzzles. Please get in touch with me if you’d like some additional consonants and a vowel!
Tom Godin is a strategic planning advisor with Zweig Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.