What’s Our Deal? – In the Fast Future Ahead

Years ago a friend named Pete offered me some unsolicited advice about dating.  He said “John, sooner or later every woman is going to ask you the question: ‘What’s our deal?’  At that moment, unless you’re ready to tie the knot, that relationship will be over.” Now Pete was a smooth operator (perhaps not as smooth as he thought), and a real gift to the ladies (he certainly thought so) – but really, he was right. All of us – both women and men – want to know the deal – what the game is, where we’re headed, how we’ll […]

Changeophile or Changeophobe – What’s Your Sign?

How do you see change?  Is change basically good, not so good, or depend on context?  Are you a changeophile or changeophobe?  Be honest.  What’s your sign? In the big picture and over time, it’s seems clear that much of change has been good – resulting in significant improvements for societies, cultures, and peoples around the world.  Innovation, change, and development is itself I think subject to ‘survival of the fittest’ pressure, so that useful change is embraced, while new ideas and actions that provide little utility are not sustained. Of course the value of some change is debatable.  For […]

Content and Promotion – Today’s Recipe for Professional Business Success

In my view there are two main ingredients to professional services success. If I label these two as “technical competency” and “client relationships” few would disagree. These are terms that professionals commonly use and are comfortable with.  But both of these descriptors are passive, referring mainly to achievements already attained. Of course technical competency is important to business (try succeeding without it)! But isn’t competency something that you and the firm already have? And client relationships? All will agree with the high value of existing client relationships, but these are also (by definition) already achieved. Even the most talented of […]

Fast Future: Big Changes, Just Around the Corner

Over the last year I’ve been delivering around the country a new seminar entitled “Fast Future! Fifteen Uber-Trends that Will Rock Our World, and What Professional Firms and Leaders Must Do to Survive and Thrive on the Road Ahead.” Of the fifteen uber trends I’ve identified (all important and often intertwined and interconnected) I highlight five:  technology, information, globalization, meritocracy, and change – as the “Big Five,” the uber among uber forces driving a profound transformation of society and humanity – right before our eyes. We know these trends, because we’re all a part of (and affected by) these seismic […]

Your Competition – Is Who?

Can you (and others in your firm) accurately identify and describe your competition? In my experience (with hundreds of organizations and thousands of professionals) the common answer is no. Truth is, most professionals don’t spend enough time focusing on the competitive context of their business. Competitors they do know (the handful of firms seen at pre-bid meetings, conference sessions, or discussed in client conversations) represent only a small part of the story. Still, properly assessing the full range of competitive threats is a must to fully appreciate the market, and to plan for a purposeful and distinctive response.  Here are […]

Thoughts on Organization Structure in the AEC Firm

This spring, a couple of my clients have been working to implement new strategic plans, both involving big changes (improvements) to their organization structure. Working with these leaders has reminded me (yet again) of both the challenge and simplicity of organization design. Some highlights: 1)      Strategy before Structure – Though it always makes conceptual sense that strategy should come first, in practice it’s tempting to reach for reorganization as the prescription for change per se. Resist this urge always! Instead, use strategy – the “Big S,” overarching, enterprise-scale strategy which defines the firm’s primary focus – to decide how best […]

Push-Pull, and the Physics of Organization Alignment

In his 1989 work Mintzberg on Management, Henry Minztberg describes professional organizations as “seemingly upside-down organizations, where the workers sometimes appear to manage the bosses.”  Mintzberg notes that he himself works in a professional organization (at McGill University in Toronto) at least partially “because it is the one place in the world where you can act as if you [are] self-employed [and] yet regularly receive a paycheck.” My work with organizations yields a similar understanding.  One of the striking attributes of professional services firms is the incredible autonomy enjoyed by practicing professionals, often alongside an apparent ’line item veto’ on […]

Task, Process, and the Quest for Business Improvement

A client recently sent over an essay from the January 30th issue of the New Yorker entitled “Groupthink – The Brainstorming Myth,” by Jonah Lehrer.  Here’s the link: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer Having worked before together, and knowing my approach, he wondered what I thought. The nut of Lehrer’s argument is that brainstorming doesn’t work – for unleashing the creative power of teams. Brainstorming was first popularized in the 1940’s by Alex Osborn, then a partner in the highly regarded advertising agency BBDO, and today it’s still used widely across the business spectrum.  Lehrer sites a 1958 Yale University study which compared the […]

Lost Opportunities and Long Term Success

I recently lost an opportunity to another consultant.  It’s always painful.  Frankly it doesn’t happen all that often that we’re in direct competition with other advisors. Greater are the threats of the status quo, fear of change, and general complacency in the client organization. Our strongest competitors are the client acting alone, or worse, not acting at all. Losing a new project opportunity, and more importantly a new relationship opportunity, always disappoints.  What’s more, I’m usually caught off guard – I just don’t see it coming.  (I know this doesn’t make sense. We’re not going to win them all, and […]

New Year, Take Stock. First Step: The Business Management Audit

At this time each year, organizations launch many new initiatives, to improve their businesses in marketing, leadership, operations, and profitability.  The first step for each of these projects should be a thorough and comprehensive organization assessment – the business management audit – to provide a solid understanding of “current reality” in the firm.  I’ve received a number of questions recently concerning these assessments – how to approach them, who should lead them, what should be included, and such – and so today I’ll share my thoughts on how to best design, execute, and utilize the business management audit. Again, the […]