Where’s your “Fire-in-the-belly?”

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Enthusiasm is key. Discover what refuels your firm’s leadership to sustain high-performance.

In late June, Mark Zweig wrote an article about his favorite bike shop (Bill Eddy’s Motorsports). Apparently Bill Eddy (I’ve never met him) has a particular passion for motorcycles and for servicing customers with a similar interest.  Mark drew parallels to our industry and the importance enthusiasm plays for successful firms. His article made me think about my energy level and how that affects our firm’s success. Would my passion for our business and its clients meet Bill Eddy’s standard?

I agree that enthusiasm is key to AEC firm success. Why? Ours is a business that requires significant, sustained personal effort from owners, managers, and key staff. In our firm, we talk of the “fire-in-the-belly” that drives us to succeed regardless of current market conditions. Certainly, the fuel for continual improvement and progress largely comes from within those who lead your organization. But, how do you refuel to sustain this energy when the road seems perpetually uphill?

Our owners have recently started a new strategic planning effort. That process started with two pretty simple questions posed to each of the firm’s owners: “Why are you doing this?” And then: “What more do you want out of this?” The responses to those purpose questions varied and were both encouraging and informative.[callout]Why are you doing this?  What more do you want out of this?[/callout]

For me, I do it for the clients. No question. I enjoy the client interaction more than anything else I do. Clients are interesting. They have cool problems and projects. They are complicated and sometimes frustrating. They are friends. My client’s problems get me up in the morning (and sometimes keep me awake at night).  Interestingly, the size / magnitude / complexity / nature of the problem isn’t as important. When I’m solving a client’s problem, I feel important, needed, etc.

How about you?

Developing a solid understanding of your firm’s (and your individual) purpose is key to sustainable business enthusiasm. With this understanding:

  • Client selection is easy
  • Employee retention and recruiting simplified
  • Branding clarified and more direct, and
  • Motivation (read: enthusiasm) sustained

Without a clear sense of purpose you’ll struggle to make the continued sacrifices needed to succeed in this economy. My personal purpose? Become a trusted client advisor for all clients. Our firm’s? We are currently working to better define it. The process we’ve taken so far includes:

1.)    Asking our employees – We issued an anonymous survey asking our employees why they continue to choose MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (our firm).  The answers were enlightening and re-affirming. Our next step is to ask spouses. They have a very different perspective on this question.

2.)    Asking our clients. — I’ve written a lot in the past about collecting client feedback.  That same reservoir of feedback is proving valuable in helping us better understand what we do well, what we should avoid, and what keeps us enthusiastic.

3.)    Reviewing past company initiatives — Finally, we are looking back at some of the initiatives we’ve taken over the past several years to better understand why they were successful (or not). It’s interesting that some of the less successful initiatives may tell you more about what you value as a firm, than those that were successful.

The point? A solid understanding of your purpose is key to refueling the fire that drives your organizational success. This understanding will likely only come through effort (process). This process will be different for your firm. However, consider taking some of the steps we’ve taken. Then, return to the basics for next year’s strategic plan by first asking yourself why you should continue your business in 2011.

Oh, then drop me a line at dsmith@mackaysposito.com and let me know what you learned about your business.

Derrick Smith is a partner with consulting firm MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S), an infrastructure planning and design firm based in the Pacific Northwest. M&S services Water Resources, Energy, Community Development, and Geospatial clients and markets throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Derrick publishes regularly in several regional and national journals that focus on business development, project management, and human resources topics related to his industry. Derrick Smith’s thoughts and past articles can be found at www.derricksmith.net. He can also be followed @derrick_smith.

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