What does it take to be a truly extraordinary professional firm?  What does performance and success look like for those who push beyond the current baseline to 2X?  And what about further still – the transformative success of 5X or 10X.  Who are the extraordinary leaders of these professional firms right now, and what are their secrets?

I can certainly report on what is not extraordinary today.  It’s not about being busy – even busier than you’ve ever been before.  While still a blessing, virtually all firms (most average, and even below average businesses) are busy today.  And it’s not about winning more work than you can even do – again most all AEC professionals can say this right now – courtesy of super high post-pandemic demand; an over-heating, over-inflationary economy; and once in a lifetime (but perhaps now permanent) critical shortage of talent.  Everyone is busy, backlog closets are stuffed, and the short-term outlook remains super strong.  Firms are making lots of money (utilization is naturally up in a busy time) – and many principal owners are pretty damn pleased.

But not so much the extraordinary leaders, and not the extraordinary firms.  

It’s not that these organizations are full of grumpy curmudgeons, those who are never happy no matter what, or those over-anxiously paranoid about a pending crash.  It’s simply that extraordinary leaders see something different – profound possibility and opportunity beyond the base today – and they’re thinking and acting now to build a launch pad on their current success – for lift off, acceleration, and transformation.  1X … 2X … 10X.

There ere are a myriad of 2X-10X acceleration-transformation questions that extraordinary leaders are considering today.  Here’s a sampling:

  • What clients and projects do we really want?  Which should we jettison?  What 25% of our current portfolio fits the least well with our desired future?  How do we move up-market, to better clients and better work now – while the getting is good?
  • What does exceptional client experience look like in our firm?  How can we transform our ‘very good’ experience into true, lasting competitive advantage?  How do we help the client to forget about all the rest of competition, and sole source all of their best work to us?
  • How do we get more than our fair share of the exceptional talent available? How do we move past the scarcity mentality so pervasive in industry today?  How do we create an employee experience that leads the best of the best right to our door – lining up outside to get a chance to work with us?
  • How do we push performance – top line, bottom line, utilization, multiplier, revenue factor, write offs, overhead rate, DSO – into the top quartile or quintile of firms like ours?  If we consider our firm and team to be exceptional, then why would we be happy with median performance?  What are our true benchmarks, and who should we really emulate?
  • What trends, developments, or changes will most impact our business in the future?  What should we do now to best take advantage of new opportunities, or to mitigate possible risks?  What can we see that others don’t yet?  
  • Who will run our firm in five years, or ten?  What does our pipeline of new leaders look like?  What must we do now to ensure that these folks are successful – that they’ll be able to do even betterer than we are doing today?

The list of important, core questions like these goes on and on – there are many, many aspects to long-term business success and sustainability.  And the real key is to ask lots of them – candidly and humbly – while searching (with gusto) for answers that are specific both to the firm and to the people of the firm.  There really isn’t a simple set of right answers that fit all businesses (though there are some spectacularly wrong choices to avoid).  Specifics matter.  Nuance matters.  Passion matters.

The recipe for becoming extraordinary is (in the general sense) is rather simple.  The ingredients of this recipe include vision, plan, team, action, and … attitude.  Pretty straightforward. 

Simple, yes – but extraordinarily hard.

Moreover, in the details one will find many, many leaders who dream of greatness, but routinely settle for good – or even average.  Firm leaders who are too satisfied with good enough, and too risk averse to try for still more.  Those who are enjoying the current ride, and not worrying much about where that ride is headed, or if and when it might end.  

Most professional firms are doing quite well in the strong markets we’re enjoying today.  That’s good – and again, a blessing.  A tougher question (and one most interesting to me) is not if the current reality is good, but if it’s good enough?

Good to better.  Good to great.  Good to extraordinary.



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *