Three tools in the climb toward successful growth

March 2006 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Successful growth is rewarding—you work with new clients, you have more projects, and increasing revenue helps all aspects of the business. You are able to open additional offices and attract strategic hires.
Brian R.Wenzel, P.E.

Successful growth is rewarding—you work with new clients, you have more projects, and increasing revenue helps all aspects of the business. You are able to open additional offices and attract strategic hires. Professional organizations, third-party media, and industry experts recognize your efforts. You have scaled "Growth Mountain" and are at the top of your game.

After the challenging climb to the mountaintop, most firms rest. They sit down, enjoy the view, and take in the beautiful new perspective from what appears to be the top looking down.

Climbing Growth Mountain is hard, but taking the next step from the mountain peak is even harder. Firms developing strategic growth plans and initiatives have scouted out the mountain and know that it is just a foothill to a much larger opportunity—"Great Growth Mountain Range." As a firm averaging an unprecedented 25-percent growth annually during the past two decades, Atwell-Hicks has expanded to a national firm, increased staff from 30 to 450, opened offices across the country, and added new service lines, all while maintaining a commitment to private-sector land development consulting.

However, these milestones only translate into successful growth if product quality, profitability, and company culture are not sacrificed along the way.

Maintaining product quality

As Atwell-Hicks grows, we continue to attract and retain the best staff in the industry. We have found that an investment in recruiting and human resources brings you technically excellent employees; often, however, their product quality standards vary—a result of previous practices and experience.

Aggressive training programs have proved invaluable when integrating new staff, ensuring their success and maintaining existing quality standards. We created a corporate university program, Atwell-Hicks University (AHU), which ensures our staff is properly prepared and integrated into the firm. The National Society of Professional Engineers recognized the program as one of the best in the country for private practice firms. The annual course catalog covers technical, business, and industry topics. Courses are taught by external experts and senior-level employees. Every Atwell-Hicks employee participates in the program.

Atwell-Hicks also established an in-house Product Quality Committee, which oversees all technical guidelines and regularly updates our corporate Product Quality Manual. The committee, comprised of representatives from all divisions in the company, also oversees annual project management audits—we select a random project for each project manager twice a year and evaluate their performance and conformance with standards.

Both of these institutions ensure that even with an influx of new staff members in new locations, our clients receive consistent, high-quality deliverables, meet their deadlines, and stay within projected budgets.

Maintaining profitability

Product quality efforts directly influence our ability to maintain profitability during long-term growth. At Atwell-Hicks, five and 10-year employees are valued assets; half of our staff was added in the last two years. Proactive education, like AHU, though not chargeable time, works to maintain profitability. When a project is done right the first time, everyone benefits from the results.

We also empower all employees by explaining how their position and performance impacts profitability. Regularly reporting financial data, setting and monitoring chargeability goals, and focusing on certain key measurements empowers staff members.

Ultimately, this results in everyone understanding their role in the firm’s profitability and success.

Aggressive financial planning also is imperative when growing at a rapid rate. Most growth expenses need to be paid before the correlating revenue is earned. Focusing on accounts receivables can help manage this growing pain, and this means understanding how your clients make money and how they pay their consultants.

Maintaining culture

Management researcher and author Jim Collins (www.jimcollins.com) said it best: Becoming a great company is all about getting "the right people on the bus." When we interview new staff members, from the college intern to a vice president, we measure cultural fit equally with ability and experience. An extensive interview process is conducted by human resources, professional staff, and leadership for all new hires in the company.

New hires attend our employee orientation, which covers our company’s history, services, leadership, and philosophy. New staff from each of our eight offices attend the same session. They not only meet new people in different offices, but also gain an understanding of the company’s history and future.

Climbing Growth Mountain should not rival an expedition up Mt. Everest barefoot. Mapping out the course of action by focusing on product quality, profitability, and company culture allows for a smoother climb and ultimately for greater success.

Brian R. Wenzel, P.E., as president and COO of Atwell-Hicks, oversees strategic planning and initiatives, as well as manages daily operations, financial forecasting, and large-scale projects. He can be contacted at 1-810-225-6000.

Atwell-Hicks
Headquarters:
None; management spread across offices
Number of branch offices: Eight
Total number of employees: 450
Year firm was established: 1905
Total billings for last fiscal year: $62.5 million


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events