A people-first culture

Jan 28, 2024

Four steps for building a strategic plan that supports a people-centric, talent-attracting culture.

A people-first culture within an organization isn’t something that just happens on its own. At Garver, we have found that it needs to be intentionally integrated into a company’s strategic plan. Firms that cultivate a culture that aligns with their business objectives and employee values have an advantage in today’s market. So, how can you build your strategic plan to foster a strong, people-centric culture of connection and engagement?

There are four key steps:

  1. Listen to your people. Historically, our firm utilized a strategic plan, but it tended to be a document geared more toward the C-suite. When we were approaching our second century in business, we flipped the mentality that a strategic plan only applied to those at the executive level. Instead, we started asking our employees what they were looking for in a company-wide growth plan and surveyed them to ask how they would like to contribute to that growth.
    Supplied with employee input from the survey, we gathered a group of leaders from different levels of the company to inform the development of the plan. We also dedicated a senior leader as project manager, with the responsibility of guiding the pre-planning, coordinating with the planning committee, and shepherding the process. Though he was heavily involved as a committee member, our CEO recommended that the project manager for the strategic planning process be someone else, so that everyone would feel that their input was equally valued.
    After listening to our employees and applying the survey results to create the framework of a plan, we shared a draft and allowed employees to respond. Varied input throughout the development process created buy-in from both leadership and employees.
    Now smack dab in the middle of our five-year strategic plan, we continue to strengthen our culture by listening to our employees. One way we do that is through our annual Town Hall Tour. This year, our CEO and COO visited 28 offices across our footprint, meeting with hundreds of our people, hearing their questions and concerns, and getting their feedback. Because we like to celebrate the small stuff and have a lot of fun at Garver, we branded the “Town Hall Tour” with a rock ‘n’ roll theme, which promoted friendly competition among offices, drove engagement, and made for some memorable experiences. How many people who work at companies with more than 1,000 employees can say they get that kind of face time with their CEO and COO?
  2. Create a plan that everyone can contribute to and be sure the plan is not solely about financial growth. Our business lines have their own strategic plans with financial components, but Garver’s company-wide strategic plan prioritizes non-financial objectives like internal development and external differentiation. That’s not to say financial and non-financial objectives aren’t interrelated. Since business units drive market strategy, alignment between business strategy and company-wide strategy is required.
    Keep the plan’s goals simple. Make driving employee engagement a priority. Employees, both technical and non-technical, need to feel that they are moving the needle. In the original survey, our employees told us that they wanted to expand their skills and therefore increase their contribution to Garver’s growth. The goals of the strategic plan enabled employees to do that in three clear ways: through quarterly career development check-ins, 40 hours of professional development annually, and involvement in professional organizations.
  3. Communicate the plan frequently and in a creative way. Brand your plan so when your employees see it, they know and feel connected to it. We integrate ours across the board, in multiple formats – in our weekly newsletter and daily announcements and during the onboarding process.
    Have transparent communication around progress of the plan. We do that through a live dashboard. At any time, employees can log in, see the metrics, add their activities, track their professional development, and earn “Connectedness” points in different categories. Leaderboards show them how their team stacks up against others in the firm, which encourages healthy competition and further increases engagement. Let progress be seen!
    Talk about the plan regularly at recruiting and company events, so that it’s a part of the company’s shared vocabulary. We talk about our plan during the recruitment process, the Town Hall Tour, and at our annual company-wide event, Summit.
    Use the plan to keep employees and offices connected across geographical boundaries and business lines – and include remote employees. We now have a designated Remote Office Support Administrator who assists remote employees with day-to-day tasks and helps them stay connected.
    Our COO Michael Graves says, “You cannot talk about the plan enough.” And it’s true. Keep it in the conversation. And know that you’ve got to be ready to dedicate internal resources to keep the core message in front of your employees over the duration of the plan.
  4. Celebrate your firm’s successes and your employees’ contributions, highlighting the way they connect to the overall strategic plan. We like to celebrate milestones at Garver, and we do that in ways big and small. For example, through incentive and competition. We also create opportunities for engagement across the firm with different activities and events – some social, others more work focused. This builds connection.
    Give your people the freedom to participate in the plan in a way that reflects their office culture. We do that in several ways. For example, after Zweig Group releases its rankings of Best Firm To Work For winners, each of our offices marks the occasion by holding their own unique Best Firm Friday celebrations on the same day.
    Summit is our biggest celebration, an annual event where we bring all our employees to a different city each year for two days of company meetings, awards presentations, and Garver-style fun – all centered around the goals of our strategic plan.

The most important thing Garver can do going forward is maintain our culture. It’s an integral part of our strategic plan, it’s what sets us apart, and it’s critical to attracting and retaining talent. It’s also an investment, and the payoff is having happy employees and happy clients – and that fuels growth. 

Laura Nick is chief communications officer for Garver. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.