Becoming THE place to work

Oct 06, 2003

It is so valuable… being THE place to work. What I mean by THE place is the firm that everyone wants to work at. It is the cool place, the desirable place to be, the hip place…. A lot of firms— us included— may have gotten a little carried away during the height of the dot-com era competing for the best younger talent. “Beavis and Butthead” videos in the break room are definitely not a recruiting draw in 2003. But then you go into firms with reception areas that look like somebody’s grandmother’s living room— and that’s not going to be too exciting to potential new employees, either. Here are my thoughts on what it takes— right now, in 2003— to become THE place to work: Work— and lots of it! There’s nothing like a lot of work to make everyone feel good, safe, and motivated. There really just isn’t any substitute for a lack of work when it comes down to being able to hire people. First, you will be more confident about the future, and that will come across to candidates. Second, there won’t be those pesky rumors floating around about your firm’s eminent demise like we all hear about certain firms. Talk about putting a damper on recruiting! Success in the market when others aren’t having it. The firms that are gaining market share at the expense of the other guy become known to those who work in the market. And these are the first firms that anyone who is thinking of making a change is going to contact when that time comes. Success begets success. Being really noisy with your marketing. One of the ways to gain market share is by spending more money on marketing and PR. The visibility in the market that comes from this strategy has ancillary benefits in recruiting. You WILL get more candidates as a result, and they will be favorably predisposed toward your firm. And you will also help keep employees working in your firm who are already there. They, too, want to be associated with a good firm, one that they perceive is going somewhere. NOT having policies such as across-the-board salary freezes. When times get tough, many design and environmental firms end up adopting policies that keep costs down, such as across-the-board pay freezes. Yet, inevitably, needs to hire in this kind of environment still arise. Key employees may leave suddenly, and their role has to be filled. It’s hard to be THE place to work with these kinds of policies and practices in place. The best people always expect to do better. Telling everyone— superstars included— that they cannot get a raise under any circumstance due to a policy— is not the way to attract and keep those stars. A proper work environment. In 2003 you don’t need a juice bar in every department and indoor swimming pool in every office to have a work environment that feels good and is energizing to the workers. It takes plenty of natural light, larger common spaces, and most of all, cleanliness and organization. The window blinds can’t be bent, the carpet stained, and the coffee pots filthy. And too many empty offices and cubes are bad for morale and send a bad sign to potential new hires. Consolidate your space! Carve off the excess if you have been downsizing (and many firms have). And if you cannot sublet it, close it off and close the door. Get everyone back together. An appropriate balance of good projects and good management. Not every job has to be the Golden Gate Bridge or the Petronas Twin Towers to attract good staff. Some firms have the mistaken impression that that is the case. On the other hand, if all you do is crank out Burger Doodles, you better be darn sure that your firm offers many other ways for project-oriented staffers to get their creative satisfaction and feel successful. This whole issue takes a real balancing act. Good projects and a good firm— it really takes both to attract and keep the best people. Over-emphasizing one of these at the expense of the other will result in problems when it comes to hiring and retention. FUN. You don’t need a beer blast every afternoon at 5:00 p.m., though an occasional one might not be a bad idea. And you do have to be willing to make a joke, say something funny on the PA, and smile a little if you are the boss. If it’s all business and you are too worried about being proper and professional, younger workers, in particular, won’t want to work for you. We all spend too much time at work for it not to be any fun. Fun goes a long way to offsetting less than the best pay or benefits or working conditions. Think about how things were at your shop when you started there and then think about how you can add more fun back in to your office. Clarity of direction and confidence of leadership. I have said this so many times but need to keep saying it. The business plan can be one of your best recruitment tools. It is essential that you have one, that it does not sound like it came out of Dilbert, that everyone knows what the plan is, and that you are tracking progress toward the goals in the plan throughout the year IF you want to be known as THE place to work. Being able to get control over your firm’s future is vastly preferred to floating on an unpredictable economic sea. And the leaders, particularly the president, CEO, managing partner, COO, and others at the top, must express confidence in the plan and confidence that no matter what is happening right now, the firm will emerge victorious. The word will get around, and you will end up with better people on your bus. So what are you doing right now to become THE place to work? Are you paying attention to some of these things or are you taking your staff and future recruitment efforts for granted as you rationalize for a lousy economy? Now is the time to get your firm ready for the next wave. Whether it’s boom times or bust times that lay ahead, you can count on one thing to make a difference— the quality of your people. Originally published 10/06/03

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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.