“Hello?  Are you there?”

You’re right in the middle of a really important call – with your best client or a gigantic prospect – and … nothing.  Your cell phone dies – battery dead.  There you sit – in the car, on a plane, at the park – and out of luck.  No connection …no juice … no deal.  Sound familiar?

Is this the road you’re planning for your business as well?

Certainly not intentionally, but perhaps inadvertently so.  Like many today you’re probably running nonstop and working as hard as ever – just to keep the firm (and yourself) together.  Winning new projects, delivering on slim margins, reducing staff and other expenses, chasing customers for money – there’s an awful lot to do.  But, are you also watching your power supply, and when to recharge your battery?  If not, are you a hero – or just out of your mind?

The recovery is coming.  It won’t be this year, but 2011 looks better – according to Robert Murray, VP of Economic Affairs at McGraw-Hill Construction.  In his forecast this month, Murray predicts that 2011 will see an 8% increase in new construction starts, totaling $445.5 billion.  This growth will include a gain of 27% in new single family starts, 24% in multi-family projects, and a 16% rise in new commercial construction (offsetting a 17% drop in 2010, and reversing a three year decline).  Still, Murray cautions that “if things go wrong and we slide back into recession, then it will be another year of flat to declining activity for construction starts.”

Recovery is coming, though the pace of the rebound is unclear.  So, despite your already long list of crises real or perceived, let’s add one more (very important) action item to your plans – recharging your battery.

To be clear – I’m not talking about a vacation (this may be a good idea as well).  Instead, I’m thinking about recharging on the job, through connection with community – relationship building, continuous learning, professional development.

This fall I’ve been at this myself – along with a very full plate of client work, marketing, business development, and administrative start up in our new firm.  Based on my experiences, here are three suggestions – examples of power ‘outlets’ you might plug into:

  1. A gathering of your profession – Attend and participate in a conference or convention related to your professional expertise.  Interact with peers, connect with potential new mentors, hang out with successful practitioners – and learn a new trick or two.  I’ve just returned from the Institute of Management Consultants (http://www.imcusa.org ) annual Confab session in Reno, Nevada.  An invigorating experience – and I picked up a lot of great information.
  2. A gathering of your clients – Attend and participate in an event focused on your customers – there are many, many of these.  Learn more about your clients’ businesses and industry – their key issues, concerns, and challenges.  Study their priorities, perspectives, and future outlook.  Hang out and network, make new friends, and build up strong relationships by helping others to succeed.  In September, I presented at Stagnito Media’s 2010 Best Firms to Work for Summit in Las Vegas (http://www.bestfirmstoworkfor.com ).  This conference is a favorite of mine, recognizing each year the nation’s best employers in engineering and architecture.  It’s an inspirational experience – connecting with and learning from some of the industry’s most innovative companies.  This year I found that even in the tough economy these progressive firms have endured – pressing on in important work involving creative workspaces, distinctive use of technology, and true employee engagement.
  3. Professional education and development – Given the rapidly accelerating pace of world change, lifelong learning is itself rapidly becoming a defensive, non-discretionary, survival strategy – rather than a proactive and differentiating one.  Truth is, if you and your team don’t have the time or money to spare for ongoing professional development – then you’re already in my view a ‘dead firm walking.’  Your clients, partners, and staff don’t want the same old same old, over and over again.  Continuous growth and development is the only sustainable path forward.

This fall I’m participating in IMC’s fifteen week long Essentials of Management Consulting program – an intensive, comprehensive, and innovative survey and simulation of the management consulting process.  With my consulting experience, much of the material is familiar.  Still, I’ve picked up a few new ideas I’ll use to improve our business and client service delivery.

How about you?  What’s on your radar screen that will charge you up for the road ahead?  A conference/convention of your clients or target markets?  An event focused on your own craft, with your professional friends and peers?  New learning opportunities for individuals or teams in the firm – from a half-day seminar session to a multi-week program – or even a graduate degree at the local university?

What is it that will ignite your passion?

Again, I know that many of you, your staff, and your firms are running fast – super busy, distracted, concerned, frustrated, anxious – and exhausted.  Backlogs are thin, clients pay slow, money is tight, and time is in short supply.  Nevertheless, unless you’re a superman (or woman) – or maybe just crazy – you need to stop, plug in, and recharge – both to improve your effectiveness in the present, and to prepare yourself for the future.   Now (not tomorrow) is the time to do this.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought from Mark Twain, who reminds us all that:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”



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