A performance coaching culture

Apr 21, 2024

This type of culture drives people to compete at their best, challenges everyone on the team, and pushes boundaries to elevate the entire game.

Winning feels good. Whether you were a high school debate champion, competed as a college athlete, or simply enjoy jumping into a backyard game of bocce ball, earning the win brings a feeling that is often slow to fade. This is what makes athletes step up to the plate every day.

But, as professionals, how do we achieve the wins? How do we bring that desire to compete, and ultimately succeed, to our teams? Is it feasible to structure an AEC firm’s culture to bring forward this type of drive and desire? Let’s take a look:

  • High performance isn’t accidental. When you’re competing as an athlete, the results of your performance are extremely measurable. There are individual records that calculate every moment of every game, as well as the less quantifiable factors like your form, drive, strategy, and teamwork. When you perform well, everyone around you knows it. When you don’t perform well, everyone around you knows it.
  • As an AEC professional, you also compete. There are results from your performance, but the metrics aren’t as obvious. It is easy for some firms to hold employees to metrics like utilization rates, but that isn’t enough. ISG is a young firm with an average age of 36. We are growing our future leaders and need to make sure we are persistent in helping them. This is where a performance coaching culture comes in. Similar to athletics, a coach helps you with awareness, enabling you to see what you are good at or need to work on. Without coaching, you aren’t forced to reflect on your performance.
  • Improvement requires keeping score. Based on Zweig Group’s annual employee survey, ISG is an award-winning Best Firm To Work For. We know that professional development, growth, and career advancement are valued by our team. Even so, from 2019 to 2022, survey results in the categories of training and mentoring had 6 percent to 7 percent lower ratings than the average of all questions. It’s our responsibility to ensure we push to improve this and maintain an environment for team members to thrive, that includes leaning into a performance coaching culture to raise the bar.
  • Coaching maximizes elite potential. Driving high performance has been an important part of ISG’s culture from the beginning. In the early days, our founders served as the coaching staff. They helped less experienced engineers and architects reflect and improve on their performance. As we’ve grown, an increased emphasis on coaching helps new ISGers understand and embrace our high-performance culture, while seasoned employees mentor and hold each other accountable. We believe in doing the hard things to produce greater results and avoid a punch in, punch out mentality.
  • Versatility fuels high performance. Competing is important to us. We look for professionals with a competitive drive. Former athletes often find success at ISG due to our team mentality, hunger to win, and focus on progress. This important piece of our culture is elevated by a robust, in-house performance coaching program led by a seasoned professional with a background in sports psychology. Our more than 500 employee owners have varying levels of experience, motivation, and expertise. We recognize that one-size-fits-all professional development does not work for us. Success requires a dynamic and flexible coaching strategy that can quickly and effectively elevate our employees.

Success stories. Like athletes, professionals want to know how they are performing and what they can do better. In 2023, 95 percent of ISG employee owners attended at least one coaching presentation and used at least one performance coaching resource. As a key component of our firm’s long-term strategy, we look forward to the lasting impact of this and future employee engagement.

Sam B., ISG structural engineer and former collegiate football player, said, “As a college athlete, I had four years to improve. As a professional, I have my entire career. If I’m not intentional, I won’t improve. Performance coaching feedback has helped me realize I need to be more decisive and use data to make quicker decisions.”

As individuals find success, they become coaches themselves. They share what they’ve learned, help others become more self aware, and perform at a higher level. The program builds upon itself and allows our teams to achieve more by diligently focusing on continuous performance improvement, ultimately increasing ISG’s success.

Tiara M., ISG project management group leader, said, “There has been a noticeable acceleration in my team’s performance since we’ve increased the focus on performance coaching. I’ve seen numerous individuals who more confidently give and provide feedback as they work on projects. My direct reports are also initiating more frequent discussions about their performance, looking for opportunities to improve and grow.”

The final sprint. When done well, leaning into a performance coaching culture drives people to compete at their best every day. It challenges everyone on the team and pushes boundaries to elevate the entire game. 

Samantha Boeck is the director of talent engagement at ISG, a nationally recognized architecture, engineering, environmental, and planning firm. 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.