Recession Strategies

Recession Strategies

As Martin Heidegger has said, “We move between the no longer and the not yet.”

Every day, we hear that a recession is coming. What can we do to survive the rolling wave of economic change that may reach us very soon?

Back in December 2013, as the A/E/C industry was moving out of The Great Recession, Nancy Egan and I wrote an article for Marketer, the journal of the Society for Marketing Professional ServicesThe Hinge: Talent and Leadership in the Business Cycle. At the end, we said, “Luckily, the A/E/C world specializes in solving challenges in unique, creative ways.”

At that time, we added, “Over the past decade, we have seen an explosion of change — not only in the design and delivery of our services but also in what matters most to our clients in their own markets and segments. Disruption has become the norm, creative confidence is the new competitive advantage, and agility is our platform.”

We challenged our readers to ask whether we were really changing the way we work.

Learning from the Past

This morning, I was thinking about George W. Hellmuth, Sr., one of the three founders of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK). I remember Bill Hellmuth, the current Chairman and CEO of HOK, mentioning an article that his uncle had written on “The Depression-Proof Firm.” I wasn’t able to find the original paper, but in 2020, Patrick MacLeamy, who preceded Bill as Chairman and CEO of HOK, chronicled it in his book on HOK, as well as in an article on LinkedIn — 5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Architecture or Creative Services Firm, It’s definitely worth reading again.

How are you preparing for a possible recession? What are you strengthening, and what are you attempting to change?

Recession Strategies

More than a decade ago, Nancy Egan and I wrote an article on recession strategies, also published in Marketer. It included information about the OECD Business Cycle Clock and business cycles through the years, as well as the seismic shift that hit A/E/C practices in The Great Recession. We included advice from Alan Murray — Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal and now CEO of Fortune. He called for “a new business model where managers think more like venture capitalists.” Applying that to the A/E/C industry, we said, “It’s time for firms to rediscover their startup mindsets and leverage evolutionary force to find new resources, processes, and markets in order to emerge from the recession stronger and more nimble than ever before.”

Then in December 2011, Guy Horton interviewed Nancy, Paul Nakazawa, and me for an article in ArchitectThe “R” Word – Looks like you might survive the recession. Now what? Guy wrote that Nancy, Paul, and I were “focused on new ways of thinking about what we called the ‘ecology of practice,’ including evolutionary growth and long-term strategies for practice management.”

Moving Forward

In The Hinge (2013), Nancy and I wrote that “the correlation between business cycles and the demand for talent and leadership in professional services firms seems obvious.” We commented on strategies that firms had used to reframe their marketing strategies to not only survive the recession, but to accelerate recovery and expansion. We also identified the challenges of tomorrow, which we have experienced in the decade since.

“We are once more at a hinge — a point or circumstance on which subsequent events depend.” And once more, we should ask ourselves whether we are prepared for the next seismic shift.

  • How has disruption affected your firm and your clients?
  • What performance outcomes are you rewarding?
  • What are your strategies for creating the future for your firm and yourself?
  • Who will lead change in your firm?
  • Do you have the talent and leadership that you need now and into the future?

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