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Nuts + Bolts #4: Spring into Growth Mode: Organize Your Process to Maximize Your Potential
Internal organization, clearly defined workflows, and a focused approach to the things you do best will put you on the right track to long-term growth.
By Steve Whitehorn
May 15, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in an exclusive ArchNewsNow series to provide A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.
As the economy slowly improves, the forecast for new business is beginning to look brighter than it has in several years. However, although many firms are getting busier, they are hesitant to hire additional employees until they know that the recent increases in business are sustainable. This uncertainty has caused many firms to remain understaffed and unable to grow – the opposite of what they want to (and can) achieve.
Due to sluggish revenue in recent years, principals and project managers have been forced to do more with less. Many have become disorganized as they are constantly trying to catch up. Clearly defined business goals and productive workflows have gone by the wayside. In their place, a form of organized chaos has taken over: firms take on projects because they lack revenue, but they are not strategically planning for growth; work gets done, but with maximum effort; principals are not focusing on strategy, while teams remain overburdened or underutilized.
So, how do you position your firm for growth when bringing on new staff can be such a daunting proposition? Tactics such as hiring temporary staff and staying conservative to control overhead costs are certainly viable short-term strategies. However, a deeper analysis of your firm’s processes will provide you with greater insight into managing your business, while maximizing its growth over the long term.
You must control the chaos by creating clear internal procedures for how the work gets done. After all, if you can’t produce work effectively, your firm won’t grow. The following four steps will help you develop clear processes for your firm, ensure it produces quality results, and prepare it for growth.
Clarify your firm’s vision. It may seem like a redundant task, but clarifying your firm’s vision is not a one-time picture – it’s an ongoing practice. You should continually assess your firm’s goals and target markets. Clarifying and fine-tuning your vision keeps you nimble and allows you to address changes in your market or other outside conditions. This assessment will also help you align workflows to mirror your vision. Restating and fine-tuning your firm’s purpose and long-term goals is critical to creating a path forward.
Identify exactly what your people – including you – should be doing. When you pinpoint the abilities, talents, and skill sets of team members, you will then be able to clearly define and develop standardized ways of leveraging those individual skill sets to benefit your firm. Most importantly, you must begin with identifying your own strengths and leadership strengths within your firm.
Workflow strategy should be a top-down effort. Firm principals should be doing (1) what they are passionate about; (2) what they do best; and (3) what makes money for the firm. It may sound like a luxurious idea in a time of belt-tightening, but as a principal, you should focus your energy on the things you love to do. When you channel your efforts toward those things you are most passionate about, you will find that you perform those tasks with the highest effectiveness. You can then assign outlying work to team members according to their strengths.
Create your plan of action. Once you've clarified your firm's vision and workflow strategy, execute a plan based upon your own strengths and those of your team. Create a roadmap to make your vision a reality. Starting with the firm principals, it’s essential that assignments be matched to individual strengths and standardized processes are developed for getting these tasks completed. If certain projects or tasks fall outside your skill set, either hire someone who can do it or farm it out to an outside firm or individual. It may seem like an added expense, but when you consider the time wasted with poor execution, you’ll realize it’s actually a wise investment.
Delegate tasks and hold your team accountable. Delegating is essential. You must maximize your staff’s productivity not only through delegating assignments, but also by delegating responsibility. In order to position your firm for growth, you must be freed up to work on developing new business versus spending your time correcting problems. Be aware that some team members will resist this adjustment. It will require your staff to accept greater accountability as they perform tasks they may perceive to be out of their job description or skill set. If this happens, you will need to address staff concerns. Don’t, however, let this keep you from focusing on what you do best.
As the economy moves forward with a more prosperous, albeit languorous, economic forecast, the manner in which your firm is internally organized will have greater impact on your firm’s success than ever before.
Steve Whitehorn is managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which provides architects and engineers with strategies maximize profitability, while reducing risk and improving cash flow. The firm created The A/E Empowerment Program®.
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