As a staff engineer on the cusp of securing my professional license, my employer gave me opportunities to support new business pursuits. While I happened to be successful on the first few, I don’t give myself the credit. I give the credit to the owners and senior managers of the firm who gave me the opportunity. After over 30 years of witnessing professional services firm’s operations I now know that most staff engineers don’t have this opportunity and that this is a business mistake. Billability is important, but only as measured over a fiscal year. A few weeks on one or two pursuits that leads to broader new business participation pays off in spades.
And, it is not just about getting exposed to a new pursuit. For long term success, it is imperative for staff to learn all the modern approaches to creating revenue. I am also fortunate that the same owners/project managers, who were pretty good at selling, recognized that there were persons who were more expert than they on both sales techniques and training methods. There is quite a gap between the smart principal who puts on a brown bag on sales tips and a professional trainer. The pro knows how to transfer knowledge such that it changes behavior. The better pro’s provide ongoing support to their clients after the training to make sure barriers, that always exist, are overcome so the desired results actually become reality.
This employer had all technical employees attend a workshop on how to win business by being a good listener. (I have delivered a similar program Listening for Relationships for over 15 years.) That further galvanized me. And, I find it interesting that over my career, how few people are challenged to move outside their comfort zone by a senior person who was willing to take a risk and also to invite a junior person to business training. Stop being so conservative. Better to blow a proposal than a bridge design!
If you are a junior architect, engineer, scientist, marketer, or HR professional, ask for this kind of curriculum and coaching. If you are a CEO, lead by example and take a junior employee aside and give them an opportunity to engage on broader business activities. You need not worry whether it fits your grand plan. You might learn something that improves that plan.
I will never forget those who had faith in me to let me try something other than technical services. My complete focus and vigorous pursuit of best business practices for technical firms has become my life. It has been very rewarding helping others to excel in areas they never thought possible. Many are now owners in their firm.
P.S. This Harvard Business Review blog questioning the value of external education and coaching for managers and executives has grown to over 200 perspectives from academia, corporations and consultants. What is your organization’s perspective?