TZL 1335 (web)

T R E N D L I N E S M a r c h 9 , 2 0 2 0 , I s s u e 1 3 3 5 W W W . T H E Z W E I G L E T T E R . C O M

Finance leaders

“[These tactics] can help you keep control of your business while creating a culture that leads to continued growth and success.” Bootstrapping to fund growth

“B ootstrapping” in a business context means starting your business using the least amount of your own or others’ capital resources. In other words, you control the ownership of the enterprise because you don’t have any other investors. I love bootstrapping. It has alway annoyed me that so many of those involved in teaching or supporting entrepreneurship or new business start-ups today act as if everyone has to do a “capital raise” as soon as the ink dries on their initial business plan. Not so. The majority of businesses – and certainly the preponderance of architecture and engineering firms – are founded by people who use their own money and/or borrow what they need to get started and fund their initial growth. There are so many benefits to keeping all of your ownership to start – you can always add employee owners later as a motivational tool and to generate additional growth capital. You are your own boss. No one else can tell you what to do or how to do it. And no one can take your business away from you. But one of the best benefits of bootstrapping is it teaches you frugality. That is something that you will never forget, and in my opinion greatly increases your firm’s long-term chances for success. As it turns out, what is good for a start-up is also good for an established business that wants to grow. Preserving every bit of precious capital by employing the tactics of bootstrapping start- ups can help you keep control of your business while creating a culture that leads to continued growth and success. Here are 13 bootstrapping tactics that any established A/E firm can use to help finance their growth: 1) Always ask for a retainer or initial “mobilization” fee. Of course, the first response of people in this business is, “My clients won’t pay that.” But when is the last time you asked them for it? And if you had far more work than you can handle, this is one way to weed out some clients so others can prosper along with you. 2) Use “vendor statements.” These are something you can send out to every single supplier, subconsultant, and subcontractor each year around November 15. It is a form where you ask them to fill out all of their basic information and then also have a line for discount and payment terms. They will assume that they are competing for your business and literally bid against themselves to give you the best deal. Try it – you might be surprised at the results. 3) Increase the speed of billing. Bill everything the moment you can with no lengthy review processes that gum up the works. Most

F I R M I N D E X Mabbett & Associates, Inc.. ....................6 Miyamoto International............................4 three positions for analysis in 2020 and beyond: Financial managers, controllers, and CFOs. MO R E A R T I C L E S xz KRISTINE DORN: Thoughts on A/E gender bias Page 3 xz Balance: Arthur Mabbett Page 6 xz LEO MACLEOD: Building a personal vision Page 9 xz JUNE JEWELL: Change with the times Page 11 Zweig Group’s 2020 Salary Survey of Northeast & South Atlantic Engineering Firms provides median base salaries for technical and administrative roles alike across the East Coast. A concerted effort to break down titles of nontechnical departments was made this year to give firms a better view of their administrative team. For example, while reports of the last few years combined three financial leaders into one group to get an overview of the role, the group has been split into

Mark Zweig

See MARK ZWEIG, page 2


MARK ZWEIG, from page 1 companies have so much unnecessary bureaucracy in their billing process that they waste days of time. The sooner you get the bill out the faster you get paid and the less of your own money needs to remain in the business. 4) Rent or lease everything. You don’t want to use up your precious capital buying anything and paying in full for it. Rent or lease, if possible. And if not, finance it. Remember that the average A/E firm generates more than a 60 percent return on equity. When you can borrow money for just about anything at rates of 6 percent or less, using precious cash for buildings or vehicles or expensive equipment just doesn’t make economic sense. 5) Get a line of credit based on your accounts receivable and don’t use it unless you need it. It’s amazing to me how many companies in this business still don’t have a line of credit. They would rather give away or sell expensive equity than borrow money at low rates. Makes no sense from a financial perspective. 6) Get your landlord to make the tenant improvements for any facilities you need. You never want to put a dime of your own cash into an office buildout. Get the landlord to do it even if it means you pay a higher rental rate for the space. Let them use their cash versus you using yours. 7) Write leases with free rent on the front end. This is another good way to save cash. Negotiate a rent free period into the front end of the lease, especially for new businesses or new offices. You will be glad you have the time to ramp up your volume with lower overhead initially. 8) Write leases with escape clauses if specific performance metrics aren’t achieved. This is one of my favorite tactics. Write into the lease a requirement that the volume of a new office has to achieve a certain number and if it doesn’t, you are off the hook and released from the lease at some point in time. 9) Slow up disbursements (payments). Push everything out as far as you can and keep your cash as long as possible without screwing up your relationships with critical subs and providers. 10) Create an incentive program with lower base pay and more pay based on company performance. Again – not easily done as base salaries are so critical for recruiting, but then again very few companies in this business actually commit to and follow through with a bonus program that pays out a certain percentage of profits to ALL employees every month. If they did, maybe more of them could have a system like this. Leave it subject and pay it out once a year and you won’t be able to use this bootstrapper’s tool. 11) Sub out everything vs. hire if it reduces your need for facilities, tools, equipment, training, etc. If you cannot make a long term commitment to keep a particular person or group busy on profitable work at all times, maybe you would be better off using subs or temps for the work. There is a lot of associated overhead with every employee you add to the payroll. 12) Provide incentives to clients for quick payment. Sometimes it makes sense because the cash is more valuable to you than the discount you are providing. 13) Buy another firm and get the sellers to finance it to you. Always a classic bootstrappers’ growth tactic. Some sellers may be willing to finance 100 percent of the deal. Even if you buy book value for cash, you get cash and AR for cash – and you can hopefully get the seller to finance the rest of the value to you over time.

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THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335


Thoughts on A/E gender bias

W hen is enough enough? An age old question that is often muttered by someone in my YMCA class as we start the third set of burpees. Yes, I’m sure there are times when enough is enough, but is that ever the case for a leader? We must inspire, include, empower, and educate all genders, races, and ages to look past biases and change the cultural norms that have shaped and still affect our industry.

Throughout my career, I have been reluctant to join Women in Leadership groups as I felt my time inspiring change and mentoring those in my own practice was enough. I was especially reluctant to contribute my story to Zweig Group’s ElevateHer movement as I was sure there were many other successful women with inspiring stories that my observation alone was enough. But after sharing my own story and listening to the struggles of a group of young leaders, all of whom were women, I realized I had not done enough. Having recently left my position as president of a medium-sized architecture firm in the Midwest, I find myself debating how and if I want to re- enter the industry or pivot and apply my skills elsewhere. I spent 15 years working my way up through the ranks of a 50-year-old firm beginning as an interior designer, a project manager, and studio manager, and finally becoming a principal/partner and president charged with

strategically leading the day-to-day operations and transitioning the firm’s leadership/ownership to the next generation. As I earned my stripes, I clearly remember the day I was referred to as “Decorator Girl” during a meeting while my male counterparts were addressed by their names, not being included in after-hours leadership discussions at the bar (until I invited myself), or the unwritten dress code that was visibly different in the studio for male and female architectural staff. Although I realized there was an underlying gender bias, I was lucky to have the support and mentorship of key male colleagues along the way and made a conscious choice to not use gender as a device. Instead, this bias fueled my desire to earn the respect of my colleagues and clients based on my business skills, leadership, and work ethic.

Kristine Dorn


THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

BUSINESS NEWS MIYAMOTO OPENS PUERTO RICO OFFICE The global earthquake and structural engineering firm Miyamoto International has opened a permanent Puerto Rico office to share its expertise with communities, the commercial sector, and local and state governments in earthquake impacted Puerto Rico. “Miyamoto’s mission is to make the world a better, safer place while protecting the people and economy in areas of high earthquake risk,” said Sabine Kast, director of international programs for Miyamoto. Ponce will mark the 21st office Miyamoto has opened in areas of high seismic activity worldwide. “We are committed to Puerto Rico for not only

recovery but long-term safety and economic expansion,” CEO H. Kit Miyamoto, S.E. said. Miyamoto’s Ponce office will be led by expert structural engineer Ivan Hernandez, P.E. who has provided expert structural engineering and construction quality control services in Puerto Rico for the past 20 years. Miyamoto’s focus in Puerto Rico will be on repair and strengthening engineering for homes, schools, government, and commercial buildings. Miyamoto will be working alongside Puerto Rican and international engineers to build capacity on seismic resilient reconstruction. “We will work closely with affected communities

we desire carries a greater impact than mere words alone will ever have. But, as I quickly realized, actions alone aren’t enough in this case. As a leader, we must now walk alongside, encourage, and coach the next generation of leaders as they work to establish new cultural norms and practices in this ever evolving workplace. empower, and educate all genders and races, young and old, to look past the biases and make effective change to the cultural norms that have shaped and continue to affect the AEC industry. As we integrate technological advances into our process, we must also integrate transversal (soft) leadership skills into our teams, developing our next leaders to be technically strong, empathetic, innovative, and agile professionals. Rather than be distracted by gender politics, now more than ever, we as industry professionals need to focus on our design thinking skills and passion for architecture to unite us if we are to reestablish and elevate architectural value within society. That is the type of movement that will benefit us all, all genders of all generations and races, both in the short- and long-term. That is the type of movement that will keep professionals from pivoting out of the industry. That is the type of movement I would be proud to have a voice in. Count me in! KRISTINE DORN, IIDA, Associate AIA, CAL is an AEC consultant focused on leadership transition and change management. She is currently developing a transversal and leadership skills post-secondary curriculum to further prepare tomorrow’s young professionals to be successful leaders. Kristine can be contacted via LinkedIn or at Miyamoto International is a global structural engineering and disaster-risk reduction firm providing resiliency expertise that sustains industries and safeguards communities around the world. Miyamoto International specializes in earthquake resilient engineering that reduces damage and facilitates disaster recovery. The firm designs new construction and assesses existing buildings to address specific vulnerabilities to disasters. The firm prioritizes solutions that limit damage, business interruption, and loss of life. Miyamoto is strategically located worldwide in regions vulnerable to disaster to positively impact economies and save lives. To be successful, the ElevateHer movement must inspire, include, to help understand and access their individual needs,” Hernandez said.

KRISTINE DORN, from page 3

When accepting the role of president, I knew that the hard work was just beginning. Although there were the typical business and operational items to transition, it was as important to evolve the firm’s culture by first eliminating old fashioned societal norms which had been established over the firm’s 50-year history. Our goal was to minimize barriers for women and men working to become not only strong design professionals, but loving parents and community members. To do this, we revamped the benefits package, ensured all staff were equally provided and encouraged to utilize educational stipends, and retooled the technology infrastructure to allow staff to seamlessly work from the office, onsite at a meeting, at the quiet coffee shop around the corner, or from home. We created a part-time professional staff designation for those who possessed great leadership skills but wanted to work part- time. Leadership continued to develop and promote staff, many of whom were women, based on their contributions and skills, not by how many hours they were willing to work. We were striving to create a work environment that supported the staff’s ability to focus on successful design thinking and creative problem solving regardless of gender, age, or race. A young female staff member recently asked why I didn’t use my position as a platform to promote female leadership in the AEC industry. I remember thinking how overcoming the gender and professional biases throughout my own career had eliminated many barriers for her and other women that followed within the firm. I have always believed that taking action to make the change

ElevateHer is a movement and a commitment to Zweig Group’s mission to Elevate the Industry. ElevateHer is about the future of the AEC industry and Zweig Group’s commitment to embrace, promote, and ensure equal opportunities for everyone in the AEC industry regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Zweig Group will serve as an advisor and hub of information and resources while leading this movement – a movement that brings the industry together to promote, advance, and elevate the industry. “My vision for ElevateHer is not one of divisiveness or ‘women first,’” says Jamie Claire Kiser, Zweig Group’s managing principal, director of advisory services, and CFO. “It is a practical acknowledgement of the 100 percent of women who have considered exiting the AEC industry, confronting this challenge, and doing everything that we can to fix this system. We need women in our firms to speak up when they feel alienated.” The ElevateHer Symposium will take place in Denver on September 30, 2020. To learn more about attending or about becoming a sponser, visit shop. elevateher.

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THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

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THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335


Balance: Arthur Mabbett Chairman and CEO of Mabbett & Associates, Inc. (Bedford, MA), a verified Service- Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.


A s chairman and CEO, Mabbett has direct responsibility for overall company management, strategic planning, financial and general administration. The company, due to Mabbett’s 19 years of meritorious service as a Major, Environmental Sciences Officer in the U.S. Army both on active duty and in the Army Reserves, is a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Center for Verification and Evaluation, verified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. “One must ensure there is a competent senior management team in place to carry on the business when you’re gone,” Mabbett says. “I have such a team.” A CONVERSATION WITH ARTHUR MABBETT. The Zweig Letter: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow? Arthur Mabbett: We’ve significantly grown the firm over the past five years and have invested in our accounting software platform and staff to better predict financial performance, including cashflow. We have also won many

multi-year IDIQ contracts that have allowed us to establish a solid base of authorized work year-on-year. Now, we’re able to predict workload and cashflow for at least a year out and in some cases, if no changes in contract terms and conditions occur, many years out. We are leveraging these factors and tools to help shape our business strategy for our five-year strategic business plan. TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap? AM: My family has played a very important role in my career. There is a definite overlap. As a serial entrepreneur, they have supported me on a continuing and consistent basis. Without their understanding and support, I would not have achieved the success we’ve earned over the past 39 years. My wife, in particular, has been a most trusted confidant and supporter. My children are all married and have families of their own, but they realize the level of sacrifice required to establish and grow a successful business. I’m also fortunate to have a son who has pursued


in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff? This has always been a challenge but seems heightened as investments in development have increased. AM: I am a traditionalist in that I believe hard work is required to succeed. One needs education, experience, and persistence to realize an enhanced level of professional service and success. The next generation must be provided with the learning opportunities and experiences necessary for their personal growth and development, just like prior generations. However, in some cases they must be provided with such experiences sooner in their careers; they’re not necessarily as patient as our more mature tenured staff. The level of mentoring is greater and it’s more important for them to achieve a goal that has a positive impact on life and society in general. However, the next generation must also realize that personal commitment, time, and effort are required to achieve these objectives. For many, this is a surprise when they enter the work environment. There is some feeling of entitlement which must be addressed early on so the next generation can (hopefully) appreciate the realities of the “real business world” and our profession in order to succeed. One must still reward tenured staff in a myriad of ways, tailored primarily to their needs. A young single professional has different needs than a married, seasoned professional with a mortgage, children, and college pending, etc. Benefit programs should be comprehensive and flexible to the extent possible. Performance bonus programs and IRA and profit sharing- retirement plans should be part of the mix. TZL: What novel approaches are you bringing to recruitment, and how are your brand and differentiators performing in the talent wars? AM: I wish we could point to a novel approach to win the talent war. As an SDVOSB, we work to connect with veterans who bring our team experience, commitment, and experience in the federal government. Our growth has also allowed us to hire more “seasoned- credentialed” part-time staff who are seeking 500-1,000 hours of work per year. The part-time staff have delivered high-value skill sets with flexibility and competitive rates. We have also stepped See BALANCE, page 8

a career in environmental science and engineering and currently plays a key role as the firm’s vice president of operations. Finding the appropriate work-life balance is always a challenge, but with the support of others, balance is achievable. TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future? AM: We have a great mix of repeat clients and services. Our “eggs” are not in one basket, which helps minimize the impact of a downturn in a specific sector or the economy as a whole. Also, we have become a leading small business federal prime contractor. Many of our federal contracts are typically five-year IDIQ programs that afford us with excellent workload stability. Our long-term return on investment philosophy, picking and choosing our clients carefully, and maintaining an 80 percent or greater repeat client base have allowed us to successfully weather any economic slowdown realized over the past 39 years. We started the firm when interest rates were 22 percent! TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not? AM: We engaged a CPA firm four years ago to research the R&D tax credit. We qualified and have received a tax credit over the past four tax years. It’s refreshing to see our business receive federal tax credit support as we need to constantly invest in our staff, find new ways to be innovative to succeed, and provide our clients with enhanced value-added professional services. TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers? AM: We have a Project Manager Training Program that runs approximately 18 months. The program is designed to help our future leaders obtain the skills not typically taught to engineers and scientists during their college years. Modules include communications, leadership, and client relations. We also require all supervisors to receive training on what it means to be a supervisor and how to be successful in personnel management. We believe and hope that our project management training both enhances retention of our future leaders and allows them to better mentor and guide their direct reports. TZL: How are you balancing investment

HEADQUARTERS: Bedford, MA NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 62 YEAR FOUNDED: 1980 NUMBER OF OFFICE LOCATIONS: 5 SERVICES: ❚ ❚ Site assessment and remediation ❚ ❚ Architectural and engineering design ❚ ❚ Environmental engineering and planning ❚ ❚ Occupational safety and health ❚ ❚ Marine technology/maritime services ❚ ❚ Environmental compliance/ management ❚ ❚ Environmental ❚ ❚ Health and safety training ❚ ❚ Life sciences ❚ ❚ Commercial ❚ ❚ Industrial and high technology ❚ ❚ Institutional ❚ ❚ State and municipal STAFF: Mabbett & Associates is a group of dedicated, committed, and enthusiastic scientists, engineers, health and safety professionals, and program managers. Most of its technical staff has advanced degrees and a third of them are veterans. MARKETS: ❚ ❚ Federal

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rch 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

BALANCE, from page 7

have less growth with increased profitability. We don’t want to work harder for less. TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way? AM: One must trust, but verify. I inherently trust others to do what they’ve been delegated to do, but I also realize that one must verify that what’s been delegated has been successfully and properly completed. Oversight is an essential element of effective management and as such, senior management and PMs must verify on a regular basis that an individual’s as well as a system’s performance is acceptable and that serious issues haven’t occurred. If problems are identified, immediate steps must be taken to resolve them, and enhanced training may be required to help ensure they do not reoccur. “One must trust, but verify. I inherently trust others to do what they’ve been delegated to do, but I also realize that one must verify that what’s been delegated has been successfully and properly completed.” TZL: Diversity and inclusion is lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue? AM: Our firm has always encouraged and supported diversity and inclusion. We are an equal opportunity and veteran-friendly employer. We have an agreement with the US Department of Defense to support the guard and reserve. We currently have a diverse staff by gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, and ethnicity, etc. We actively consider the above factors and seek qualified individuals as part of our recruitment programs.

up our efforts to bring on college interns to help create a pipeline for our future generation of staff. TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid? AM: As an SDVOSB I have to remain active in the day-to- day operations of the business to maintain this federal small business designation. If I retire or I’m deemed by the federal government to not meet its requirements, the business loses its SDVOSB status. If this were to occur, we’d have to compete as any other small business in a “full and open” market. Approximately 50 percent of our current federal workload is as a small business, not an SDVOSB. As such, our long-range plan will be to seek non-SDVOSB opportunities in the federal-public sector and also continue to grow our private sector workload. I have no plans to retire anytime soon, and if I were to die on the job, the firm would have a three-year transition period per federal law to restructure and also to continue to actively compete for Veterans Administration work which represent the majority of our SDVOSB contracts. One must ensure there is a competent senior management team in place to carry on the business when you’re gone. I have such a team. TZL: What unique or innovative pricing strategies have you developed, or are you developing, to combat the commoditization of engineering services? AM: Simply put, we no longer pursue low-price technically acceptable procurements. We have focused on pursuing best-value and Brooks Act A/E opportunities where qualifications drive the selection process. In the private sector, we look for and retain clients whose decision making is not based strictly on “low price.” We don’t want to achieve growth for the sake of growth alone. We’d rather

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THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335


Building a personal vision

P ete, a 35-year-old project manager for a 100-person architectural firm, lies in bed thinking about his career. He can’t remember the last time he felt like he was caught up and could breathe, when his to-do list was done, that stack of papers organized and off his desk, and no unanswered emails in his inbox. It weighs on him as he wrestles with the idea of getting up and facing it again. What new issue will there be? What new demands on his time? Create a three-year vision thinking about what you need to achieve personally and professionally to be happy with your progress, and then work to reach your mountain.

Leo MacLeod

is useful in helping emerging leaders create a practical plan for their future. One year is too close, five years too far. A three-year vision is close enough to see but far enough it will take effort to reach. “It’s amazing how much more fulfilling your career path will be when you’ve taken the time to think about what you want. Leadership is hard work and the only way it’s worthwhile and sustainable is if you are getting your needs met.”

He’s not a whiner by nature, instead he sucks it up. In fact, he’s been identified as one of the upcoming leaders, mainly because he doesn’t say no – ever. But now he’s questioning it all. Is this what life is all about? Grinding away the hours until you’re drained and getting up and doing it again? If there is a leadership path, what is it? Even if he knew the path, does he really want to be on it, if it just means more work and less of a life? The first question I ask emerging leaders is: In three years from now, what has to happen personally and professionally for you to be happy with your progress? I use the metaphor of looking out into the horizon and envisioning a mountain, a destination of what your life might look like.

See LEO MACLEOD, page 10

The metaphor of moving toward a mountain

THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

LEO MACLEOD, from page 9

initiatives at the firm, but someone else already has that position and your skills at managing small projects for demanding projects is really what’s needed. You may want to focus on civil engineering projects in another state, but leadership isn’t convinced starting another office is a great idea. It often takes compromise, patience, and persuasion to find enough alignment so your mountain and the firm’s mountains are close enough for it to work out. Sometimes, it doesn’t, but don’t be tempted to bail when the road is rough. “Part of your journey as a leader is determining if your mountain and the firm’s mountain are aligned. Are they part of the same range or are you clearly moving toward another geography?” The truth is that every leadership path has its potholes and detours. It’s a test of your leadership to stick to the path. Sit down with your manager and share your mountain. If they value your contributions, they’ll try to find ways to help you. Find other allies who can mentor you, energize you, and advocate on your behalf. Dedicate small chunks of time, even 15 minutes, to focus on what you need to do to get to your mountain. Adjust your timeline to fit reality. But one thing is certain: You won’t find out sitting and thinking about it. It doesn’t matter how small of a step you make or how long it takes. What matters is continually making progress through action, even if it’s imperfect action – a misstep, a dead end, bruises along the way. Moving forward is the only way to get to your mountain. Here’s a roadmap to help you get started on your mountain: 1) Block out an hour when you’ll be uninterrupted to reflect. Suggestion: not at your desk with people around you and not when you’re drained at the end of a tough day. 2) Ask yourself this question: Three years from now, what has to happen personally and professionally for me to be happy with my progress? 3) When designing your mountain, be as specific and tangible as possible in describing your future life. Use action verbs to describe the action you need to take. List any specific accomplishments or outcomes, including any changes in mindset, behavior, attitude, or how you’re spending your time. Don’t get caught up in wondering if something is possible or not. 4) Leave it alone and come back to it. It takes more than one sitting to fully compose a vision. Thoughts and ideas will come to you as questions start to arise. You’ll look at senior leaders differently. You’ll start to make note of what you don’t want to see. 5) Share it with someone who knows you. Articulating your vision moves it from an idea in your head to something closer to real when you tell someone else. This can be particularly powerful if you share it with a partner, as it can bring you closer to sharing your dreams and working as a team to support each other. LEO MACLEOD is a leadership coach in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at

How will you be spending your time? What’s your position at the firm? What are your responsibilities? What kind of projects will you work on? How do you want to be seen as a leader? What competencies or skills will you have mastered? Will you have your license? Do you want to mentor staff? Will you be married? Kids? First house? Vacation in New Zealand? Lose weight? Run a marathon? The more specific you can be in describing your mountain, the more concrete it will seem. It will be easier to see you are making progress if you know where you want to go. Here’s an example of a client’s mountain: Assistant Department Head; spend 35 percent of my time in business development and resource planning for future projects (compared to 10 percent now); actively mentor younger designers by knowing the needs of my team and finding opportunities for them to grow each day; build a strong alliance with other assistant department heads so we meet regularly and support each other; improve in financial management and be able to track profitability more consistently. Learn to let go of work and relax; regular practice of meditation; go to meditation retreat in Novia Scotia for a week. It’s amazing how much more fulfilling your career path will be when you’ve taken the time to think about what you want. Leadership is hard work and the only way it’s worthwhile and sustainable is if you are getting your needs met. I work with a lot of emerging leaders who try to please everyone, all the time. They don’t want to be difficult. They don’t want to let people down. They don’t say no. They are slaves to being at service to what others want, including clients, colleagues, and firm management. Not a bad thing as a leader. But it needs to be balanced with meeting your personal needs to be sustainable. You need to define your own mountain first and then see how it aligns with what the firm needs. Part of your journey as a leader is determining if your mountain and the firm’s mountain are aligned. Are they part of the same range or are you clearly moving toward another geography? The only way to navigate those decisions is to understand both mountains. “The more specific you can be in describing your mountain, the more concrete it will seem. It will be easier to see you are making progress if you know where you want to go.” Your mountain is defined by your passion and skills: what you love to do and what you’re good at. The firm’s mountain is defined by what’s needed: project experience, management experience, connections in specific sectors, technical competencies. The sweet spot in this Venn diagram is where your passion and skills fit with what people are willing to pay for. Fitting your mountain into the company mountain range can be a challenge. You may want to lead the sustainability

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THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335


Change with the times

Many firms still cling to old-school attitudes and business practices that chase away top performing employees looking for a more future-friendly place to grow their careers.

T oday’s AEC firms are facing the biggest talent shortage in history. Record low unemployment and competition for top talent is forcing firms to offer higher salaries and become more creative with benefits, work-life balance, and culture.

On top of the talent shortage, the workforce is changing. But many firms are still clinging on to old-school attitudes and business practices that not only dissuade potential employees from coming on board but chase away top performing employees who are looking for a more future- friendly place to grow their careers. So, who is winning this fight? DOES YOUR FIRM “GET IT?” While some leaders are entrenched in maintaining the traditions of the past, wishing the world was still the way it was when they came up through the ranks, others are embracing new hiring and business practices that are more in line with today’s younger employees. And it is not just the employees who are changing – times are very different now and employees, and clients, want to work for a firm that “gets it.” THE FACE OF THE WORKFORCE IS CHANGING. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials are the largest segment in the workplace. Within the next two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of millennials. It will be 75 percent by 2030.

Gallup reports that “millennials are pushing for change in the world – including in the marketplace and the workplace. They don’t accept ‘that’s the way it has always been done’ as a viable answer. They want to be free of old workplace policies and performance management standards, and they expect leaders and managers to adapt accordingly.” The next generation to follow them, Gen Z, grew up with a digital device in their hands and is just entering the workforce. How are you preparing your firm for this new generation that has very different attitudes, expectations, and technical skills? And to complicate the picture in the next few years, ACEC Engineering, Inc. magazine, July/ August 2018 edition reports that 50 percent of all experienced engineers will retire in the next three years. In order to accommodate the changing workforce expectations and prepare for the future, many AEC firms are moving away from old-school

June Jewell

See JUNE JEWELL, page 12

THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

JUNE JEWELL, from page 11

To ensure your employees are productive and not frustrated on a daily basis with your computers and software applications, ensure that systems are reviewed annually, and a future-focused strategy is developed to reduce integration and compatibility problems. 7) Give tons of feedback and recognition. Employees today value frequent and consistent feedback and want to feel valued and trusted. As children, they got feedback from parents, coaches, and teachers frequently. Annual reviews are not sufficient and let’s admit it – no one likes them – even the managers who have to fill them out once a year. To keep employees engaged and happy, update your performance management practices to include clear goals, regular feedback, and recognition when deserved. 8) Become transparent. Most firms have hopped on the transparency bandwagon but there are still a third of all firms that are not sharing enough information with their employees. It is more common to see 100 percent employee- owned firms offer full financial transparency and it pays off. Studies show that firms with full transparency have more engaged employees and higher profits. Transparency includes sharing company strategic plans, regular financial performance, and in some cases, open sharing of bonus plans and profit-sharing numbers. 9) Let them work at home. Outside of the AEC industry, the majority of corporations are letting employees work at home several days a week. The benefits often outweigh the negatives – with studies showing that employees are often more productive at home without the long commutes and distractions from co-workers in the office. Another advantage is the ability to hire people that are not close to any of your offices. With the tight market for talented AEC professionals, finding workers in remote locations can be a competitive advantage. 10) Tie company profits to the mission. We have now come full circle – back to the mission. I often hear the assumption that talking about profits is not acceptable anymore. Leaders often believe that with the strong focus on the mission, many younger workers don’t have an ear for business talk. The problem is how you are framing the business conversation. By tying company profits back to achieving the mission, you can create a clear connection between the focus on giving back – and how you are going to pay for it. Once employees see that it takes money to make the world a better place, they will admire your firm’s diligence toward financial responsibility and be proud to work for a financially successful firm. They will also enjoy the financial benefit they realize personally as well. Being relevant today is not an option. The war for talent and the changing face of your clients is making it critical to rethink the “way you have always done it.” Be willing to question all your business practices and give up the traditional practices of the past. Ask your employees how you can be better and let them help you implement change. You will see your profits increase and your employees will want to stay where they are appreciated, and their ideas are valued. JUNE JEWELL is the author of the book Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms . She is the president of AEC Business, helping progressive AEC firm leaders increase project profits and improve employee and client retention. Connect with her on LinkedIn and learn more about how to improve your project financial performance at

business practices and building a firm culture that is more progressive, modern, and relevant to attract today’s younger architects and engineers. HOW TO MAKE YOUR FIRM RELEVANT. Here are 10 transitions every firm can make to become more relevant for potential employees and clients, and prepare for the future: 1) Focus on your mission. Young people today want to have a purpose. They see what is happening in the world and they are scared that they won’t have as bright a future as their parents. They want to feel that they are connected to a greater cause and not just the rat race of going to work every day and working toward a retirement in 30-40 years. Being clear about your company’s “why” for existing – whether it is to design better communities, improve the environment, or help people enjoy better healthcare – being clear on your mission and how you accomplish it with the work you do is critical to engaging their hearts as well as their minds. 2) Embrace sustainability. Whether it is plastic creating miles of trash in the oceans, birds dying from straws, or companies that create more waste than they do value, the younger generations care about where the products they use come from and how they are made. They are very focused on the future of our planet and its limited resources. This affects their purchases as well as the companies they choose to work for. Ensure your company has a position on the environment and doing business in a sustainable way. As designers and builders of the future, today’s young architects and engineers want to ensure the projects they work on are good for the planet. 3) Ditch the corporate ladder. Those of us who have been in the industry for more than 15 years had to work our way up the ladder to attain career success. This type of career path does not appeal to young people today. They want the opportunity to grow quickly depending on their contribution and skill set. This means that today’s firms should look at how to enable faster growth in the company based on capability rather than tenure. 4) Listen to the young folks. They have great ideas but are not often asked for feedback or ideas for improvement. Stop making decisions behind the doors of the ivory tower and bring the young people to the table. They will be happy to tell you where outdated (or nonexistent) processes, inefficient systems, and lack of training are affecting their productivity and performance. You might also be surprised at the different way they look at the world and can help bridge the gap with the growing number of millennial clients you are now starting to work for. 5) Encourage diversity. Employees and clients want to see themselves fitting into your firm. Make sure your leadership page reflects the diversity of employees you are looking to hire and the way your clients look today. 6) Update technology. Employees are increasingly frustrated with the level of technology at work. Many state that their tech at home is actually better than it is at work. Outdated software, slow performance, lack of training, and non- integrated systems top the list of complaints that employees have about their workplace technology.

© Copyright 2020. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

THE ZWEIG LETTER March 9, 2020, ISSUE 1335

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