Successful firms know what makes them special. The following seven categories are key drivers to create value and identity. How does your firm measure up?

Value may be the most overused and least understood of all words used in professional practice. Clients will fault firms for not living up to their value expectations. Employees will often blame management for not establishing compelling value propositions. Contractors will share their disappointment with the design firm’s lack of management savvy.

Growth and satisfaction in professional practice is not sustainable unless value is delivered and showcased both inside and outside the firm.

Value is not dependent on firm size, nor does it require a Harvard education. A firm’s real value comes from consistently delivering satisfying (and sometimes great) results that mesh with client expectations. With thousands of A/E/C organizations, no two firms deliver exactly the same value—even those who compete in the same market sectors.

Successful firms know what makes them special. The following seven categories are key drivers to create value and identity. How does your firm measure up?

  • Employees are characterized as having superior design and management talent with “attitude intelligence.” (Raw talent is the first key, of course, but firms also need mature business leadership.)

  • There is growth in quality and/or quantity each year regardless of economic conditions or excuses. (For instance, during slowdowns firms may grow in quality of service delivery and position themselves for future expansion.)

  • Relationships with clients are positive, respectful, and anticipatory. (The organization is trusted, ethical and consistently delivers on expectations.)

  • There is commitment to successful internal and external communications. (The firm relentlessly creates a brand experience that includes knowledge sharing, building a buzz of openness and confidence.)

  • Leadership has a vision for the future that includes a succession plan. (More than an ownership transition, the firm ensures leadership by compassionate professionals who study trends, foster innovation, and produce results.)

  • Profits and cash flow are well managed with an evolving business model. (Firm culture encourages awareness of performance measurement and accountability.)

  • High energy abounds to do the things that average firms don’t do well. (There is an unwavering commitment to be best of class in project management, information technology, and building intellectual capital.)

These seven broad categories are zones of opportunity to deliver new and exceptional value. Creating value also means seeing your services through your clients’ eyes and doing all you can to improve their experience with your organization. You can do this in hundreds of different ways, such as: providing faster services, exciting design solutions, “no surprise” project management, financing options, disruptive pricing, hyper-efficient technologies, and many more.

It is more important than ever to show employees and clients that you are committed to being competitive and offering great value. In addition, it is critical to offer each of your clients services that meet or exceed their expectations—and that they are quantifiably better than those offered by other firms.

Thrilling your clients with great value will drive growth, resulting in market share gains in this increasingly competitive environment.

—James P. Cramer