Moving Forward while Honoring your Company’s Roots

Business Viewpoint with Hank Spieker

Hank Spieker an architect and partner of Selser Schaefer Architects, was recently featured in the Business Viewpoint section of the Tulsa World.

Companies are often formed through entrepreneurial spirit and, undeniably, a lot of hard work. Such is certainly the case with Selser Schaefer Architects.

Formed in 1993, the firm made a name for itself as one of the best design firms in Tulsa. But what happens when the company’s founders decide to hand off their life’s work to the next generation of leaders? That’s a pretty big deal.

How do you ensure the company’s success continues? As one of five individuals fortunate enough to be offered such an incredible responsibility, it is — and continues to be — a remarkable and rewarding learning experience.

Each day is a balancing act of honoring our foundation, while moving forward with our own perspectives and vision. While we certainly do not call ourselves experts, there are a few things we’re learning along the way that may be beneficial to other new owners taking the reins.

Never forget your origins.
There is a reason a company grows, sustains and garners a great reputation. Be sure you know what that reason is. And never abandon it.

In our case, Janet Selser and Bob Schaefer built this firm on the core principle of quality design. Clients knew they could count on the firm. It was that passion for excellence that meant a few late nights and early mornings. This dedication to excellence, despite any changes down the road, must never be compromised.

One way to ensure this core principle is not compromised is to keep your founders close. In our case, Bob and Janet remain active at the firm and serve as mentors to the new owners.

Strategically communicate.
Everyone will tell you transitions of leadership sink or swim based on communication. Few things are more important than how you strategically communicate the changes both internally with your team and externally with your clients and community partners.

Nothing should be left to chance. Create a rollout plan and ensure necessary stakeholders are informed appropriately and through the right messengers. Most importantly, ensure everyone is on the same page and speaking with a unified voice.

Don’t discount emotions.
The individuals who work for your firm are people first and employees second. Change, and in particular leadership transition, causes people to feel a broad range of emotions. Fear, excitement, nervousness and even grief are common and should never be overlooked or disregarded.

Longtime employees may have deep personal relationships. Be sure employees know it is OK for them to feel these emotions and do not mistakenly interpret this as a lack of support for the new leadership team.

Make (strategic) change.
We have all heard horror stories of new leaders coming in on day one and shaking up everything. This is almost always met with resistance and even revolt. On the other hand, in order to maintain the status quo, some new leaders bind themselves into making no change at all.

You have been given the confidence and responsibility to lead your company or organization forward. That means you must lead. No two people will run a company the exact same way. Do not be afraid to make changes you feel are needed. But ensure they are strategic and clearly communicated.

Change can be difficult. Change can be exciting. Change can even be fun. Embrace the ups and downs, lead with integrity and confidence, and never forget why your organization exists in the first place.