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Successful leadership does not just happen, least of all in the emotional maelstrom of a crisis. It needs the ground prepared, it needs understood disciplines and, to achieve this, it needs carefully thought through priorities; each of them justified by their place in the mission, vision and the winning identity of the organisation. So you need a plan. And that plan has to be utterly realistic and then fully communicated, understood and supported by the staff in the firm. Here are the first steps to achieving that plan.

Step 1. Know the Strategic Sweet Spot.

Highly successful companies share three core attributes1.

Successful firms do what they are best as, what they are passionate about and know how it makes money.

  1. Managers, and staff know what their firm is best at, and know how to define that in terms that guide company thinking. Thus they may be best at a particular type of building (a school, hospital, or a loft extension), best in terms of price, technology, sustainability. It doesn’t matter how this is defined so long as it is defined, and so long as the track record can support the claim with fact. “This is what makes us special. This is what we are best at.”
  2. All staff are passionate about this focus and so want to bend every muscle to creating blue water between them and their competitors by ensuring that they maintain their edge. “This is what differentiates us from the others. This is what we are passionate about.”
  3. All understand how the economic model of the firm works to produce repeated and profitable success. They know what administrative, marketing, quality, price, or image ingredients underpin the financial deal that makes them successful. “Above all we understand what makes us valuable to our clients.” Successful firms:
    • work at what they are best at;
    • are passionate about what they do;
    • understand the core of their economic engine.

And they appreciate that so long as they operate within the strategic sweet spot they are unbeatable.

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Step 2. Focus on the Core Mission

This three part understanding, substantiated by the robust and quoted evidence of past achievements, forms the basis for the firm”s mission statement, which will, from this minute onwards, focus thinking of all management decisions within the practice. The mission statement is no placebo; it is no mere piece of management speak, it is a core part of the successful business system. How do you make it work for you?

Let us imagine a firm that over the years has built a reputation for the design of large public buildings throughout the world. Its mission statement could read “XYZ Architects successfully deliver large public buildings throughout the world that work, brand their communities and inspire their users.” Once this has been articulated, XYZ can check with its clients to ensure that indeed its buildings have been delivered successfully, that they do work, did contribute to the branding of a community, and that they do inspire their users. Key staff can be put to good use contacting past clients, visiting current users and discovering the precise quantifiable evidence to strengthen the next bid. Instead of the all too frequent and random parade of previous projects in the hope that the target client will be impressed, how much more telling if you can use one or two examples in depth. Thus:

“We have explained our core mission statement to you, what we are all about. We mean it. It is why we are so keen to work with you. It is also why we follow up our projects to make sure they achieve the targets of our mission. Here is one example, Zurich airport. The team were led by Charlie here, who will lead your project. Our client has said of his work ” “They were always there when we wanted them, a pleasure to be with.” Zurich finished on time, and to budget.

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  • A large public building? It is now the busiest and fastest growing airport in Switzerland.
  • Exciting and branding its community? More than 250,000 people came for the opening day, equivalent to the whole population of Zurich itself, and the design and engineering have since won five awards. Zurich is just one of four airport and railway terminal buildings we have completed successfully in the last six years ” see your pack for details of the others.”

In a recession we all want valid reasons to talk to our friends, former clients and consultants.

The mission statement gives an opportunity to reengage with past clients, to find the relevant facts and so to strengthen the bid proposal. It gives a practical route to making a follow up contact to check for repeat business and discuss the recession with your market.

It is vital too in establishing the context for choosing consortium partners, subcontractors, and for recruiting and developing key staff.

Finally it is the starting point for setting priorities for the whole of the firm.

Next we will look at the core areas of the business and the structure of the plan.

  1. Good To Great by Jim Collins pub Random House 2001.