By all accounts, things are moving along quite well in the business of architecture, engineering, and construction. Clients are calling, backlogs are strong, and business is humming across most of the nation. AEC firms continue to see growth in revenues, and median profits remain at or near recent highs.

All good, right?

Well, slow down, because it’s not all so rosy – at least from what I hear and see working with organizations on strategic planning, leadership development, and operational transformation.

To be fair, there are lots of wonderfully run AEC industry companies, and I’ve been blessed to have many of these as long time clients. But it’s not uncommon to see organizations today that I’d characterize this way: the work gets done, but it’s not much fun.

How does that look in an ostensibly successful – but still at significant risk – firm? Here are some indicators:

·        Sure the team is busy, but it’s higher level staff doing much of the work, because the firm can’t find and hire next level project managers to take on important responsibilities; 

·        The building clears out each day at 5:01 PM, and it just doesn’t seem that staff is engaged the way the previous generation did;

·        Fewer folks seem willing to stick their neck out with a crazy new idea, and instead most stay close to their cubicles, quietly doing their thing;

·        Technical acumen is high (folks know how to do the work), but business acumen is much lower (not many know how to go get new work, or manage the people and financial part of things);

·        Owners aren’t sure how they’ll transition the business to the next group, partly because of finances, but mostly because of leadership requirements;

·        Managers don’t know what to do to change this dynamic, and when they do intervene, their instincts often make things worse (the beatings will continue until morale improves!);

In a firm full of professionals, very few are really motivated (per se) by revenue, profits, growth – or typical other measures of business success. Instead, most want to work on cool projects, collaborate with other smart and talented people, and be challenged to think and grow. Most of the team wants to work for an organization that’s really different, has true meaning, and is out to do something special in the world.

Perhaps it’s time (now that you have the clients, backlog, revenue, stability) to find out what it is that really turns your people on – what your firm’s real purpose, destination, business strategy – and plan – is and should be. Here lies the path to true organization success.

Great firms know who they are, why they exist, and where they’re headed. These organizations operate with purpose, they are intentional, deliberate – strategic. How about you?

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