Top 20 business fundamentals for A/E firms: Part 3

Firms in the A/E industry have had their fair share of adversity in 2020. Companies that follow these business fundamentals will be able to withstand the pressure and keep its composure during the tough times.

By Morrissey Goodale October 28, 2020

All teams eventually face adversity. Some are consumed by it while others somehow emerge stronger. The teams that fail tend to panic, point fingers, and self-destruct. The teams that win, on the other hand, circle the wagons and focus on executing fundamentals at a high level.

Firms in the A/E industry have had their fair share of adversity in 2020 and could find themselves lining up for a whopper of a second helping in 2021 when most markets will be scratching and clawing for funding and investment. So when the road gets bumpy, will your firm buckle under the pressure or will it keep its composure and continue to march down the field?

Continuing from last week are five more business fundamentals that, if executed well, could see your firm through what looks to be tough times ahead.

#10: Use your projects, not just your profits, to develop people.

If you were asked what purpose your firm’s projects serve, you would likely say something about meeting client needs, providing value, or serving the greater good. Fair enough. But what if you looked at it from a different angle? What if you decided that the purpose of projects in your organization is to develop your people? Think about it. You’d have a much different view of how to leverage those same projects. You might, for instance, create a policy where project team members have individual learning objectives on each project of a certain size and duration. Examples might include learning a new design technique, working with a new software, or taking on a different role with a client.

#9: Recruit around the clock.

It seems that no matter what’s happening in our world – good, bad, or otherwise – architecture and engineering talent gets harder to find by the day. So recruit around the clock. Build a backlog of high-potential individuals for positions that have been historically hard to fill. There should never be a time your firm is “not accepting applications.” Stay in touch with the men and women you would eventually like to hire. Like any good client, good candidates need to be courted. The best people are not out there looking for work. They are already employed. Spend time with top industry performers to build their interest in coming to the firm. It’s rarely an overnight process, often taking months to materialize.

#8: Become a “systems” thinker.

When something goes wrong, do you look for someone to blame? It’s ok to admit it. We’ve all done it. But there’s a more productive way to address problems. It’s called “systems thinking”. It means looking to the process first when there is a breakdown – not the person (another way to say it is attack the issue, not the individual). This kind of thinking keeps you from working on the wrong problem. Practicing this way of thinking, however, requires a positive view of people – namely understanding and truly believing that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the specific situation.

#7: Be selfish with an hour a day.

Given that folks in the A/E industry are born problem-solvers, putting out fires can be addicting. But those fires never seem to end, and before you know it, the sun has set and you never got to the important stuff. Day after day of this kind of life can be draining, and you can lose focus of the bigger picture. For leaders to lead, they must make assessments and decisions that result in long-term competitive advantages for their firms. So take one hour every day to bring your thinking to a higher level – and make that time sacred. No phone calls, no teams calls, no staff meetings, no client meetings, no nothing. This hour is for you to think about your firm’s vision and how to pursue it.

#6: Get resourceful about business development.

Gone are the good old days when you could actually take clients out to lunch without potentially endangering their health (or yours) just by sitting across the table from them. It stinks that you can’t take a client to a ball game or drop by the office to check in. But while some firms are lamenting the situation, others are leveraging advanced technology, like virtual reality, to recreate the kind of human connectivity that has been in such short supply in 2020. I speak from experience. We have created virtual reality environments for ourselves and our clients – and in short, it’s simply way beyond a Zoom call (click here to read about CEO Week in Virtual Reality). Don’t wait for things to get back to “normal.” That’s not happening anytime soon – if ever.

This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s website. Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at