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Will you be playing the same old tune in 2015?

Will you be playing the same old tune in 2015?


Here we are again: it’s the season of resolutions, plans, and budgets for a new year. Individually, we’ll take stock of what we got done in 2014 and think about how we can be better and do better next year. Many professional firms will do the same thing, but they often don’t do it very well.

One of my consulting clients, a principal in a leading design firm, referred to the annual planning process as SALY – “same as last year.” That’s a common trap for busy people. If we make time to think about the future at all, we naturally use the familiar assumptions, organizational framework, and financial results to describe more of the same. Later, we wonder why things haven’t improved or why competitors seem to be eating our lunch.

Instead, challenge your team with three strategic questions:

1. Why should clients hire you in 2015? This is a perfect time to sharpen your market position as a firm and in each of your significant practice areas. If you don’t have a competitive edge or can’t communicate it clearly, the rest of any planning effort will be a waste of time. You must be the very best at something, or some small number of things, to be successful for the long term. (See “Will your firm be relevant next year?” from May 28, 2014.)

2. How will you grow – for real? Many businesses hope to grow but have no idea how it will happen or why. They routinely extrapolate from last year’s numbers but fail to execute real growth strategies. You can do new things for your current clients, or do familiar things for new clients, or both – you decide, but you’ll have to commit leadership, effort, and capital. If you’re not growing, you’re getting smaller and weaker relative to your competitors.

3. Is your own organization getting in the way? Firms can develop unhealthy silos no matter how the chart is drawn around offices, services, or market sectors. The outside world changes faster than we do, and we sometimes fail to see new “hybrid” market opportunities that cross our internal divisions. Even worse, plans and budgets can highlight internal competition among business units and their leaders. In both ways, the planning process will test the quality of genuine collaboration in your firm.

This time, come up with a new tune in your plans for 2015 and beyond. Hint: It’s hard to think differently about our own organizations, but help is available if you need an outside perspective.

Just ask.

Best wishes to you, your families, and colleagues for the holidays and New Year.


Based in St. Louis, the author is a principal consultant with Cameron Macallister Group. Prior to 2014, he had served 12 years as Vice Chairman of HOK and was managing principal of its St. Louis headquarters. He is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects and a Senior Fellow with the Design Futures Council.

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