Personal leadership and growth in marketing


What is your first reaction to this statement: “To maintain career satisfaction and job security, you must remain relevant?”

Do you exclaim: “Challenge accepted!” Does it create anxiety? Or does it perplex you because you’re not exactly sure what it means?

For the purposes of this article, let’s define relevance as the ability to provide practical, pertinent contributions to your sales process, clients, peers, and design solutions. Here, relevance will be about making an impact and a difference.

Your reaction to the notion of relevancy may be guided by your generation, as well as by your current position. Perhaps you are a well-known, highly revered business owner. Perhaps you are fairly seasoned, but you haven’t yet secured a position of ownership or senior leadership in your firm. Perhaps you are about eight years into your career, and you are still aiming to make your mark. In any of those positions, you may find yourself stuck. Do others seek you out for advice, input, and ideas? Do you often have a seat at the table? Are you involved in the firm’s strategic and sales efforts? If the answer is “no” to any of those questions, you may want to challenge your own relevancy.

How to Stay Relevant

The obvious step: One way to stay relevant is continuing education—advanced degrees, CEU credits, certifications, online adult education (i.e. Udemy), and specialty training.

Many AEC firms recognize that your intellectual growth is mutually beneficial. And while they allocate funds for training and education, it’s your responsibility to proactively identify the highest and best choices.

Questions you should ask: What will get you the most return for your efforts? Can you strategize with HR about what’s most needed at the firm? Do those needs align with your own aptitude and interests? Is it better to build upon your existing knowledge base or to learn a brand-new, but complementary, skill? Are you LEED accredited? If not, does it matter? Have you taken sales training courses? Does it matter? Are you up to date on the latest project management tools? Does it matter? Do you clearly understand the trends in your clients’ industries? Does it matter?

Find out what matters, and then make a plan to grow your credentials in that area.

The less-obvious—but completely logical—steps:

“Findability”: Are you findable? If someone were to search for you online, what would they discover? Would they think “savvy, progressive, and intriguing”? Or would they think “outdated, stagnant, and stale“? Or even worse, would they see very little—or nothing at all—about you? Are you the author (or subject) of articles, blog posts, speaking engagements, or industry events? Are your profiles robust and up to date on sites such as LinkedIn, your company website, and industry membership lists (AIA, ACEC, IIDA, AGC, IFMA)? Do you have any presence on social media? Conduct a vanity search, and then objectively assess the results. Consider the varied perspectives of your clients, employer, and peers.

Stay versed on the offerings of other business units (if you work in a multi-disciplined firm). Years ago, I worked in the Interiors Studio at a multi-office architecture/engineering (AE) firm. Our department was award-winning and profitable. And yet we felt like the firm’s stepchild. Why? Because we represented the least amount of revenue relative to the other business units. Our project scale was smaller, so we had to work extra hard to prove our value. By remaining educated about the efforts of other business units, we were able to make a solid case for our own worth. Bottom line: it’s easy to develop tunnel vision and focus only on your area of the business. If you want to remain relevant, don’t let that happen.

Become proficient in at least one tool within each communication category. Even if you are a billable technical professional, you are probably exposed to sales. The business developers in your firm have likely mastered the latest in terms of communications technologies. For example, rather than making in-person visits to the prospective clients, your BD folks may use Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Citrix Online Meetings, and other resources to communicate with them. Join them at the forefront of communication technologies. Experiment on your own time with these tools until you attain proficiency. This will keep you relevant.

Stay abreast of current events and innovations. Do you know about 3D printing and how it will impact your business? Have you tried to use the Uber car service app (at least once) to learn what the buzz is about? Do you have methods for quickly procuring top news items—whether from sources such as Daily Beast, Feedly (or other RSS feeds), or a customized home page in Google or Yahoo?

But wait a minute. What about all of your core responsibilities? And what about the decent amount of intellectual capital that you already possess? Won’t additional content in your brain become a distraction?

Don’t worry. It’s not necessary to cultivate an in-depth understanding about the latest and greatest sales technique, computer-aided drawing software, or public-private partnership approach. This is about establishing an initial awareness, and then targeting areas worthy of a deeper working knowledge. You can file away some topics as “good to know,” and keep other topics on the forefront if they truly add to your relevancy.

Is Relevancy Really Just a State of Mind?

In addition to expanding your knowledge, there’s a lot to be said for expanding your confidence as a means for increased relevancy.

Maybe some of you remember that old commercial featuring a brokerage firm that went something like: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen?” Imagine that feeling of everyone stopping abruptly to hear what you have to say. What are some additional ways that you can exude an aura of value and confidence, which will in turn encourage others to perceive you as relevant?


Physical fitness and appearance: Do you believe in the impact of first impressions and how your appearance might convey and aura of relevancy? If yes, then aim to be impeccably groomed, reasonably fit, and dressed with a fashion-forward sensibility that is suitable for your personality, work environment, and client types. While the topic of physical looks may be somewhat taboo in business hiring circles, it doesn’t change the fact that aesthetics matter, particularly if you are involved in sales and client interface.

Reverse mentoring: If you don’t have people in your life that can help you to maintain a pulse on the cultural landscape (kids, grandkids, etc.), then try reverse mentoring. Identify a younger, vibrant, promising staff member, and schedule regular times to meet—much like a normal mentor-mentee relationship. Not only can these folks share what’s happening from a general pop culture standpoint, but they can also converse about the latest terminology, trends, approaches, and innovations in your industry. While you may already be somewhat versed with these topics, your reverse mentor will offer a fresh, highly curious, youthful perspective. Your awareness of their perspective will impact your overall relevancy.

Teach at the university level: An additional method to stay attuned to culture is teaching a university course. Not only will you grow to understand more about a younger generation, but you’ll also master the latest communication technologies while interfacing with students. This translates to relevancy.

Does remaining relevant sound daunting or cumbersome? If so, consider this. Relevancy falls on the lower end of the “reinvention spectrum.” High-profile entertainment stars, such as Rob Lowe and Madonna, reinvent themselves. Professionals in the AEC industry reinvent themselves. While reinvention is fantastic, it also requires a great deal of work. So, relatively speaking, the notion of remaining relevant is far more realistic, and you’ll reap plentiful rewards.


To sum up how to remain relevant in business: Aim to be a lifelong learner, striving to be your best. Or as the tech geeks might say, “Growth hack your personal brand, and see what happens!”


RainToday; Modern Steel Construction