Why Leaders Need to be Strategic Planners

Jones, Smith and Stevens is a 60-person architectural firm headquartered in the Mid-Atlantic.  The firm serves the higher education market, and has three partners with different goals and objectives.  Tim Jones wants to grow to the point where the firm is the largest design firm in the world.  Scott Smith wants to keep his hands in “design” and is quite content remaining at their current size.  Bill Stevens has literally “checked out” and now spends most of his time on the golf course.  His office is often referred to as the 19th hole.

These types of issues are quite common for Architecture, Engineering, Planning, and Environmental Consulting firms.   Our executive search consultants hear about these issues all the time.  If you are a firm Principal, and your partners have conflicting agendas, your employees are probably aware of these problems too.  Grapevines are powerful, and can also lead to mass exodus once employees sense lack of leadership from the top. Once retention becomes a problem, recruitment also becomes difficult.

If firms like the fictional Jones Smith and Stevens want to minimize turnover costs, firm owners must work to communicate clear visions and get people excited about wanting to be part of their teams.   If I were brought in as a consultant to a firm like Jones, Smith and Stevens, here are several things we would discuss.

Getting the partners on the same page.

Jones, Smith, and Stevens clearly has problems at the top because the three owners are driving in different directions.  Can we get to the point where all three can buy into one vision?  Probably not in this example.  Stevens may need to be fired or bought out.  Smith may need to assume a different role from what he has, and Jones’ growth goals may need to be clarified before moving forward.

Creating a new vision.

Let’s assume, with my help if needed, that Jones and Smith can convince Stevens to retire.  I’d then talk to the other two partners to get more insight into what they want.  Does Smith want to own a business or just have a job?  There is nothing wrong with having a job.  There are lots of “sole” practitioners in the world who are quite happy.

But if Smith wants a business, or some of the advantages that come with working for a firm that employs more than a handful of people, I would encourage him to consider growing the firm if he wants to keep his existing staff from leaving.

And what if Smith could maintain his design and business development responsibilities, but have someone else worry about having the headaches of running the day to day operations of the business? There might be a lot of reasons for him to buy into this type of plan including the following:

Support Staff. Show me a stagnant firm, and I’ll show you a firm where the best people leave, making it difficult to keep support staff as a result.

Projects. Because growing firms have larger support staffs, they’re typically able to win the larger and more interesting jobs, which is another incentive to keep people from jumping ship.

Salaries. Due to economies of scale, larger firms can often complete design projects more efficiently, and more profitably.  As a result, they’re usually able to pay higher salaries and discourage people from leaving as a result.

Equity and Profits. Firm growth equals higher equity and profits for the owners.

If those benefits from growth don’t motivate Smith, then perhaps he and Jones would be better off parting ways.  Or perhaps they can both get excited about a vision around growth and together come to an agreement on how they want the firm to look a year, three years, and even 10 years from today.  Then we would talk about creating a blueprint of how to get from where they are now to where they want to be down the road.  That, my friends, is called, “strategic planning.”

About the Author

John Kreiss
John is an experienced Executive Search Consultant specializing in the recruitment of AE industry talent. For over 15 years he has advised and assisted architecture, engineering, planning, landscape architecture, and environmental firms in filling key positions and making strategic hires.

Comments are closed.