From the April 2014 edition of Marketer: The Journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services

By Edward C. Jerdonek, AIA, LEED AP

Who’s not interested in improving their firm’s top and bottom performance? The solution is deceptively easy, but its implementation offers more than a challenge or two. To get there, you first have to change from the inside out. That’s how we did it.

The challenge I faced as president and CEO of Luckett & Farley, one of the country’s oldest continuing architecture, engineering, and interior design firms, was not unlike what many business leaders wrestle with daily. How do you shake up a “this-is-the-way- we’ve-always-done-it” culture to prevent being blindsided by a drastically evolving business climate that could make you obsolete in the blink of an eye?

In our case, Luckett & Farley has been doing something right for 161 years. Why tamper with success? Because Business 101 and History 101 tell me that complacency eventually leads to demise.

So, we kick-started an internal revolution of our old-school culture and transformed it into an engaged, dynamic, exciting, and collaborative group of technical professionals spanning inter-generational challenges in the new workplace economy exploding Luckett & Farley’s performance. Helping to attract and retain those best-in-class professionals, the firm has become 100 percent employee-owned, which has engaged our employee-owners in ways that have contributed to our transformation.

To respond effectively to changing worker demographics, employers will be forced out of their traditional comfort zones to adopt more creative and flexible work arrangements and talent pipelines. Providing a better environment, culture, and reward structure than your competitors can, or will, provide will attract and retain the “rock-star” talent every firm leader covets.

 

Organizations that fail to adapt will face insurmountable pressures. In many companies, the death spiral has already started but remains unrecognized. Organizations that can successfully re-tool and evolve to remain magnets to attract the changing worker demographics will enjoy the rewards that come with being leaders in their respective industries.

Those of us who are seasoned enough to remember how AutoCAD workstations began to replace pin bar drafting will recall that it was a slow transformation, maybe lasting as long as 15 or 20 years. The luxury those days afforded us are long gone. The speed of technology will continue to be a double-edged sword for Baby Boomers and even some Gen-Xers.

Over the next few years, industrywide, both generational groups will remain under constant and increasing pressure to resist sliding into functional obsolescence. Almost every firm has a few professionals who haven’t invested the time and energy necessary to remain current, and may not even recognize the need to do so. The days of a senior architect or engineer handing a set of red lines to a young professional have been blown up by technology. According to XL Group’s Emerging Trends survey, 31 percent of responding firm leaders expressed concern over functional obsolescence occurring in some of their more experienced employees.

Because talent and expertise are at the core of what all A/E firms sell, Luckett & Farley developed its Employer of Choice Continuum that frames all management and strategic decisions. It helps to ensure we are attaining and retaining the best. It’s worked. This strategic initiative has been critical to achieving our firm’s positive outcomes.

However, none of our firms are immune to the technological advances that continue to make the need for continuous learning a prerequisite in order to remain functionally relevant in the contemporary architecture, engineering, or interior design workplace environment—we all face the same pressures.

The Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who have mastered the technology, coupled with their superior work experience, will be worth their weight in gold to your organization. On the flipside, the Gen-Yers and Millennials’ intuitive ability to master evolving technology as digital natives will simply serve to raise the bar for their more tenured co-workers.

Here’s the big opportunity for you: the best and brightest of all generational groups will create mutually beneficial two-way (or three-way) mentoring relationships to rule the day.

Here’s why that’s important to any firm leader: We’re facing unprecedented challenges. A slowly recovering—some say, sputtering—economy will continue to challenge the A/E/C industry. But to the firms who’ve chosen to light their own fuses, this offers unlimited opportunity to those organizations that can successfully adapt to the new economic normal.

Let’s face it, most of our clients want their professional services delivered immediately, with a quality standard approaching perfection, and as close to free as possible. Over the next few years, those A/E/C organizations that can successfully maintain or create a compelling value proposition for their clients will emerge as the clear winners.

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