President and CEO of VHB, (Best Firm Civil #23 and Hot Firm #46 for 2017), a 1,400-person firm based in Boston, Massachusetts.
By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent
“Listening, of course, is incredibly important,” Carragher says.
A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL CARRAGHER.
The Zweig Letter: In the event of failure, how does your firm react?
Michael Carragher: VHB is a generational company which means that we act as company stewards. It’s our responsibility to leave the company in better condition than we found it. The second important tenet of being a generational company is to keep balance between delivering outstanding performance for our clients and a focus on the needs of our own people. When faced with challenges, tough decisions – even failures – the generational company philosophy guides us as we think about the right thing to do for the company, our people, and clients.
If you’re thoughtful in how you plan and what you do, then you should be prepared to react to an unanticipated occurrence. Our leadership team takes the time to think things through, thoughtfully communicate and work through potential outcomes. I think this encourages, by example, all of our employees to do the same, which helps when things don’t go as planned. And, when there is a challenge or problem, we face it head on. We listen and understand all the issues – often in formal debriefs – and then prepare the repair plan or the approach to making the outcome more successful next time.
TZL: Monthly happy hours and dog friendly offices. What do today’s CEOs need to know about today’s workforce?
MC: I think it goes beyond perks like monthly happy hours or casual Fridays. Employees want to be engaged and be connected – they’re invested in making a difference and in succeeding. Communicating with employees openly and honestly and being approachable is incredibly important. Employees want to know where the company is headed and how they fit into the big picture. They want to know what the company is doing to make a difference in our communities and they want to help VHB do even more.
VHB’s strategic plans are developed through a collaborative process, seeking guidance and input from all corners of the company – different offices, regions, markets, services, and across all generations. From there, we make it a priority to engage employees in the process and then communicate our vision and strategic plan so that everyone understands and embraces it, and can contribute to moving us forward with enthusiasm.
Listening, of course, is incredibly important. I travel throughout VHB often so I get the chance to talk with employees from all offices. Last year, I began conducting “Week in the Region” visits, where I spend a week immersed in each of our five regions. My time is spent with regional managers and office managing directors, meeting with our team members and clients, visiting project sites, or helping to strategize on important initiatives and pursuits. During these visits, I learn so much about our people, their interests, challenges, concerns, and passions. I hold town meetings in each of our 24 offices. Last year, our discussions were focused on our core values and maintaining our culture as we grow. This year, we are focusing on “OneVHB,” and our approach to building our understanding of how we can collectively think, act, and collaborate better and more aligned across the company.
Providing opportunities for employees to openly share interests and ideas has led to some of VHB’s most successful programs and initiatives such as Green Team, Emerging Professionals, and VHBCares. It’s also yielded increased engagement. Our employees drive our noteworthy charitable efforts, including a company-wide online auction, VBay, which raised $27,000 this year, and our Annual Jimmy Fund Golf Tournament which has raised nearly $1.2 million over the past 26 years. People want to participate in and lead these activities, build relationships with one another, have fun, and make a difference.
TZL: The talent war in the A/E industry is here. What steps do you take to create the leadership pipeline needed to retain your top people and not lose them to other firms?
MC: VHB focuses on creating an environment that is attractive to multiple generations; we have exciting and challenging projects to work on and a highly supportive culture. One of the hallmarks of being a generational company is to make sure our employees can fulfill their full potential. Ownership transition is an important part of that. We have an ongoing program that identifies and rewards new generations of outstanding professional owners, allowing us to continue to thrive. This is part of our unique culture and one of the things our employees value about VHB – that we’re constantly encouraging our professionals to continue to grow their careers and the careers of others. We have created robust learning opportunities for our employees at different stages, beginning with onboarding, to foster leadership development.
Opportunities for employee learning and continuous improvement at all levels is a priority. We provide active investment in professional development outside VHB as well as inside the company through our Center for Education (accredited by IACET); robust on-the-job learning that is embedded in how we work; and knowledge sharing through our Spotlight Series, project lunch-and-learns, work sharing, a technical resource website highlighting online PD programs, project reviews, and quality reviews.
We offer VHB Leads: Maximizing Your Leadership Impact and Influence – a two-day workshop designed for VHB leaders to build personal effectiveness and continue to enhance VHB’s status as a generational company and an employer of choice. It focuses on linking VHB’s business goals with individual leadership priorities.
Perhaps most importantly, we engage our employees in our strategic planning process and keep them well-informed about how we are doing and where we are headed. By participating in our business and strategic planning processes employees are better informed and invested in their work.
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