All Professionals Really Need to Know You Can Learn in Kindergarten

Jul 01, 1993

Good professionals have a lot in common— no matter what their profession. Take my six year-old’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Donohoe. Many of the professionals working in design and environmental consulting firms could learn a thing or two by watching her: In spite of a lousy budget, she keeps a good attitude and still gets results. Natick, Massachusetts, just like many other cities and towns throughout the U.S., isn’t funding its public education system like it should be. Yet Ms. Donohoe never complains. Instead, she concentrates on what’s within her control, like how much care and individual attention she gives her students. More A/E and environmental consulting firm principals and project managers need to do the same. She develops those coming up behind her. Ms. Donohoe is a teacher. She is supposed to help her students become better prepared for a happy and successful life and she does. You can also see it in her own children, both of whom have made significant achievements academically, in the arts, and in sports. As professional engineers, architects, and scientists in a consulting organization, it is our role to do the same thing with the generation coming up the ladder behind us. She has a passion for her work. Ms. Donohoe loves her work. That’s why she’s good at it and getting better. Fortunately, most successful design professionals share this passion. Those who don’t should get out of the business and do something less demanding. She communicates like crazy with her clients. Ms. Donohoe’s clients are her students’ parents. She never gets out of touch with them because every Monday she sends each child home with a newsletter on what happened last week and what will happen in the coming week at school. Those A/E/P and environmental consulting firm leaders who take the time to call their clients, who regularly provide them with information of value, and who stay in touch even when there’s no new work in it for themselves, are almost always successful. She really cares about people. Ms. Donohoe cares about every child in her class— the smart ones, the ones with learning problems, and all the ones in between. One of the built-in problems with the design business is that the people who choose to go into engineering, architecture, or scientific fields in the first place are often those who are more interested in things than they are people. Yet, concern for the people who will be affected by the construction process and who will use the facilities that these professionals design can make the difference between a truly successful project and one that is only mediocre. She juggles lots of things at once. As anyone who has ever taken care of two or three young children at once can attest, it’s a lot of work. Yet, Ms. Donohoe, with the help of a single teacher’s aid can handle 22 kindergartners for more than six hours a day, every day, five days a week without blowing her cool. It’s not unlike the situation of A/E/P and environmental consulting firm principals and managers. The phone never stops ringing. The in-box constantly fills up. The meetings seem to go on forever. Staff continually interrupt. And yet on top of all this, you still have to find the time to actually do the work. That’s why the best professionals stay highly organized and get things done quickly. The A/E/P and environmental consulting community needs to go through some self-evaluation. We need to do learn from the world around us to do a better job at being professionals. A good place to start is by looking at what makes people successful in other professions. You’ll find that, in most cases, it’s a lot more than technical prowess. The average annual salary and bonus compensation for A/E/P and environmental consulting firm principals is approaching six figures, and the average kindergarten teacher earns only around $25,000. We should be able to demand a great deal from our people in terms of their attitude, willingness to train others, work ethic, communication skills, personal pride in their work, and ability to juggle lots of balls, especially when you consider what people have to do for their money in other professions. Originally published 7/01/1993

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