Monday, May 25, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
- State your name and phone number at both the start and end of your message. That means the prospect doesn't have to listen to your whole message again to get the phone number. Give this information slowly and clearly, spelling your name if there's a chance of confusion.
- Tell the prospect how best to reach you. You don't want to play phone tag with someone you don't know well. If you offer your cell phone number and invite a call after hours if this is more convenient for the prospect, then you're hinting that you consider the call important.
- Let the prospect know that the call will be brief. For example: "I can explain in 10 minutes and then you can decide if there's value in our meeting to discuss the matter further."
If you were referred, state up front why the referral was made. I would advise that you still offer your entree and not simply drop a name. The real value of the referral is when the prospect trusts the one who referred you as having the prospect's interest at heart. So don't let the referring party down; explain why he or she thought the prospect would benefit from talking to you.
Always try to schedule the next meeting or communication. One of the simplest ways to minimize this problem of unreturned calls is, when you're meeting or talking with the client, (1) establish the basis for the next conversation and (2), if possible, schedule it. Otherwise, you may well find yourself in the same predicament--competing for the client's time and attention--when the next contact comes around. If the client won't commit to a next time, that probably tells you something about the likelihood of the relationship developing much further. It could be a sign that your next call won't be returned either.
Monday, May 11, 2009
- Clients will be more cost conscious. This is perhaps stating the obvious, but there are several factors at work here. The aforementioned uncertainty surrounding this recovery is one cause. There is also the humbling consequences of past profligacy that recently visited many companies and government agencies. These clients are revamping their policies, practices, and systems, including how they do business with vendors. Expect more pricing pressure and more onerous contracts and purchasing requirements.
- Some clients will seek closer alliances; others will hold us at arm's length. These differences have long existed, of course. But the roles are likely to change in coming months. Some clients will close ranks, working with fewer providers (and probably squeezing fees in the process). Others will adopt more dispassionate procurement systems focused on getting more value for the dollar and showing less favor for existing relationships.
- Firms that master customer focus will fare best. This is another truism that has long been with us but will gain strength in the near future. As clients look for better value, they will find it among those firms that best serve them. That means creating exceptional customer experiences, providing business value (not just technical solutions), and organizing our operations around target clients and markets.
- The best firms will capitalize on the short-term labor surplus. We know from demographics that the current availability of talent won't last long. Return of economic stability in the A/E business will also mark the return of the talent shortage. So smart firms are casting the net now while the fishing's good, even if they don't presently have the work. They know it will pay off big later.
- Improved productivity will finally become a management priority. Productivity in the AEC industry has trailed other industries over the last 25 years, and few have seemed concerned about it. I think the convergence of the above factors (and others) will change that. Savvy firms will respond to client calls for more value for the dollar by implementing more efficient delivery processes. We've had the technology to do this for some time, but have struggled to reshape human activity to take full advantage of it. Emerging market demands will help at least the better firms finally get over the hump.
Whether these predictions come true or not, I'm confident that it won't be business as usual. This presents both threat and opportunity to your firm. So what is your firm doing to retool for the new normal? I'd be interested in hearing what you think will change coming out of this recession and what your firm is doing about it.
Monday, May 4, 2009
- External forces pushed us into change. The best Edict typically comes from the outside. When a top client forcefully delivers the Edict ("do this or else"), that will get most people's attention. It's advisable to leverage external factors to form the mandate for change whenever you can.
- Executive management reinforced the Edict with bold action. Within two weeks of formally launching our safety initiative, the president of our firm fired two people for gross neglect of our safety standards. A few weeks later a collision with a slow-moving train at one of our sites (thankfully no one was hurt) precipitated another termination. These actions sent shock waves through the organization, leaving little doubt that we were serious about our commitment to improve safety performance.
- Pressure was placed on middle management to uphold the objectives of our initiative. Another key reason why change efforts fail is lack of middle management support. Our middle managers where given specific safety objectives, and noncompliers had to answer to the president. Given what was at stake, there was little tolerance for willful neglect of the new safety measures.
Stage 2. Effort: Like most firms in our business, we had elaborate safety policies and procedures. But they needed an upgrade and heightened awareness and enforcement.
- We hired an experienced safety director to lead the effort. To that point, our health and safety coordination had been ably handled by one of our former environmental scientists who had been promoted into the role. But he lacked the experience and credibility to take us to the next level. This was a critical addition to our management team, giving health and safety executive management level attention.
- We developed the organization to support local coordination and enforcement. Change initiatives are impossible to run effectively from a distance. The change must be taking place at the local level with local oversight. Regional operations managers (I was one at the start of the initiative) shared responsibility for this. But we also appointed health and safety coordinators at each location to support and track our progress.
- We overhauled our systems and procedures. Before you construct a building, you lay the foundation. That's the purpose of your infrastructure, consisting of policies, procedures, tools, resources, and organizational structure. Companies often err in attempting to encourage new behaviors while leaving the old infrastructure in place. That only reinforces the status quo.
Stage 3. Ethic. A forceful Edict and well-designed Effort help shorten the track to the Ethic stage. This stage takes root when people begin to see the value of the changes you've been making. Some things we did to promote the transition to Ethic and beyond:
- Safety became a regular part of our "corporate conversation." If it matters, people tend to talk about it. If after a time it's rarely mentioned, people assume it wasn't all that important. Thus we attempted to infuse safety into every conversation. All meetings and conference calls were preceded by a "safety minute." Every day on site started with a "safety tailgate meeting." We knew the practice was beginning to take hold when it became practically impossible to start a meeting, call, or task without mentioning safety, lest someone remind you of the omission.
- We implemented a behavior-based safety process. Once again, I must give credit to our largest client who pushed us to this level. The principles of behavior-based safety get to the heart of why people do what they do and how to motivate them to change behaviors. A key part of this effort was regular, formal observation and feedback, monitoring the presence of "targeted safe behaviors" and providing on-the-job coaching. We also provided rewards for safe performance. By the way, a similar process can be used (and I would encourage it) for any type of change effort, not just safety.
- Safety goals were built into every employee's performance appraisal. As our field safety performance dramatically improved, we switched emphasis to the office where ergonomic injuries became our most common recordable incidents. Thus every employee shared a responsibility for improving our safety practices, both in and out of the office. Achieving safety-related goals were directly tied to salary actions.
- Safety was increasingly stressed as a personal benefit, not primarily a corporate one. A crucial threshold in behavior change is when people see the personal advantages of the change. Our president was particularly effective in communicating the message that safety was important because our people were important. That sentiment was added to our core values statement. As a community that cared for one another, we emphasized watching out for our coworkers to ensure that they worked safely--for their own benefit, not simply to meet company safety goals.
Stage 4. Ethos. When the new ways of doing things become the natural ways of doing things, you've reached the highest level--Ethos. It is no longer merely what you do; it becomes who you are. Our safety initiative eventually reached this level, as evidenced by the following:
- Safety became embedded in our corporate culture. It was no longer another set of activities that were added to our work; safe performance was now characteristic of our work. The two were inseparable. That's not to say we didn't continue to have occasional problems; but these were now the exception.
- Furthermore, employees were now taking their safety practices home. Increasingly our conversation shifted from talking just about work situations to sharing how we were being more safe at home. That was consistent with the now established value of safety: It wasn't about the company; it was about our people. And their safety mattered both on the job and off the job.
The results. From 1999 through 2003, our OSHA Recordable Incident Rate dropped from 3.86 to 1.00, well below the industry average of 1.7. Other metrics also improved substantially to levels that bettered industry standards, most showing regular annual improvement. We could justifiably claim that our safety process had exceeded that of the client who initially told us we had to get our act together.
Hopefully you've found this example helpful, regardless of what kind of changes your firm needs to make. The specifics may differ, but the basic principles of this successful initiative apply to most any change effort. Yes, it can be done. But it takes tough, sustained effort, and focused management attention. Think you're ready?
Friday, May 1, 2009
If you'd like to learn more about them, I'm offering a free resource I think you'll find helpful. It's called The Extreme Marketing Makeover Toolkit and it's circulating through the ranks of A/E firms across the country. I created it as a follow-up to the conference session and also sent it to folks on my mailing list. It contains links to articles and other resources that describe how to apply the ten steps of the Extreme Marketing Makeover. If you'd like to receive it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.