ADVISE: Vision and Beyond—An AEC Firm Leader’s Guide to Strategic Planning

Nov 01 2021

Guidance for AEC Industry Firm Management and Principals


As the primary facilitator, the principal’s role in successful strategic planning is critical. You not only see the big picture, but also drive the process forward through discussion, participation, and feedback.


AEC firm principals provide the vision of what a firm wants to achieve—including where growth is needed and how said growth will be accomplished. The plan proceeds with many discussions and meetings to conceptualize, develop, execute, and follow through. What starts as a vision becomes an actionable, measurable, and achievable plan with participation from the entire firm. 


Here are four steps to achieving your AEC firm’s strategic plan: 


Step 1: Leadership and Firm-wide Commitment


Before you begin the process, ask yourself: Is the leadership team prepared to use and follow the strategic plan you are about to form? It’s one thing to make a plan, it’s another thing entirely to commit to implementation. A commitment to the strategic plan starts with the principal and leadership. It then relies upon their example and mentorship to create an ALL-IN marketing mentality firm-wide, ensuring the strategic plan is actionable by everyone at the firm. What does an ALL-IN marketing mentality look like for your firm? How, through example and mentorship, will you achieve it?


Step 2: Use Your Data


Now is the time to use the market research data you’ve collected. Through your team’s analysis of the data, you will have thoughts and ideas of where you see the economy, clients, and projects going forward. This information will help form decisions on where to grow—whether it be in revenue, geography, market sectors, or otherwise. It will also help you decide how to grow. What does your data show are your most effective strategies?


Step 3: Make it Attainable


Strategic marketing plans are only actionable, measurable, and achievable when they exist at an attainable scale. Two years is the sweet spot. As tempting as a 5- or 10-year plan is, that long-term timeframe can be too daunting, from the perspective of the economy and a professional’s development goals. For long-term planning, set a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal).


Step 4: Share Ownership


Often when a principal or leaders/owners of the firm start talking, everyone else clams up because they don’t want to offer an opinion that is different or in conflict with what is being said. This is not to the benefit of anyone. The best AEC strategic plan requires many voices. Everyone should feel as if their perspectives and insights will be heard when the plan is being developed and that their feedback is valuable while the plan is being implemented. 


The presentation of the firm’s vision, working into the development of a strategic plan, is precisely where all team members should feel they can chime in and lend their insights. This will create ownership of the plan by all. A plan isn’t actionable, after all, if it’s off the mark of what can be achieved. 


Once the plan’s development is rolling, and even into its execution, the principal team needs to continue to be involved. Involvement from all the corners of the firm will bring everyone together with an ALL-IN mentality at a confident pace.


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