Asking questions

May 14, 2018

The more you ask, the more you learn, and that knowledge can be driven back into your firm for the benefit of clients and employees.

Maintaining a leading position in the AEC industry requires that we are always on our toes, watching for new opportunities to work, influence, and grow within the markets we serve. In terms of human resources for our organization, I believe that growth is most likely to occur when we are all motivated as individuals and employees to think of – and do something – outside of the norm. Westwood has woven that type of thinking into our culture with a program we call our growth planning process.

The process requires that we ask a lot of questions. The more we ask, the more likely we will discover something new. Here are four that stretch our thinking:

  1. What do we need as individuals and employees to excel in our lives and careers? We recently introduced the growth planning process to replace our old performance reviews. The name-change alone implies a much more positive approach to personal and professional development. I mean, who wouldn’t rather plan for their growth than review their performance? Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t measure our efforts, but rather than put a lot of energy into looking back, we are diligent about planning ahead and regularly track our accomplishments against our plans. Westwood employees initiate and lead the process. They are encouraged to envision new opportunities and set goals to capitalize on them. Supervisors are there for support along the way, but the initiative starts with each of us. As a result, we believe that our people are better equipped to be the best that they can be, in that they develop and own their personal growth goals.
  2. What do our clients need that they don’t know they need? Our culture of professional and individual growth also helps us to anticipate the needs of a client. As Westwood’s growth planning process challenges each of us to come up with ideas for the future, we become better equipped to apply this thinking toward our work. I personally have found that this consistent exercise stretches how I approach my work and consequently helps me to better foresee the needs of those I serve.
  3. How do we respond to areas of the business that need improvement? When something isn’t working well in a business, it is tempting to look at completely new technologies or external resources to fix the issue. Westwood tries to limit this temptation by first looking inward. The growth planning process provides another great example of this. When implementing the program, we wanted the process to be highly efficient and effective for staff. We asked, “What technologies are we using now that can be used differently?” and “Who do we have on staff that can help us expand our capabilities?” Tapping into the talent of our team, we were able to weave our growth planning process into our existing ERP/vision system – which minimized our costs and gave staff a tool they were already familiar with using. Even better, it provided a growth opportunity for those involved in program development. Westwood was able to maintain consistency in our workflow and advance in our efforts to create a single source of truth for our business. It is easy to track your plans, and to see what goals you have set, since it is on the same system that we use every day in the normal course of business.
  4. What are we doing to have healthy employees? Westwood stretches our thinking with ways to encourage wellness and safety as a lifestyle choice. Recognizing that our people are our greatest asset, it only makes sense that wellness has a place in our priorities. We challenge and incentivize staff for participating in healthy activities, which also creates some healthy competition between people and office groups. Whether it is ‘wellness bingo’ companywide or walking and drinking water challenges, making health and wellness fun adds to a positive workplace. And yes, wellness and safety are areas of focus in each of our growth plans!

The goal of our growth planning process is to support multi-faceted growth by creating a culture that motivates us to try something new. Simply put – provide the fuel to think outside of the norm and it can be habit forming. Adjust your thought process when responding to a question and make the end result so much better!

Kevin Larabee is vice president of human resources at Westwood Professional Services. He can be reached at

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