How to define and nurture your firm’s “virtuous cycle”

Apr 09, 2023

With the right set of values and organizational alignment, you may find yourself in a positive feedback loop where shared principles guide you toward collective goals.

What is the virtuous cycle? The virtuous cycle refers to chains of events that reinforce themselves through a continuous feedback loop, resulting in favorable outcomes. Firms that discover the key elements of their unique virtuous cycle find themselves in an advantageous feedback loop that drives success.

At Dudek, our employee-owners deliver customized, knowledge-based services to our clients, so our virtuous cycle starts and ends with our most important asset – our people. We support our staff by cultivating a culture of trust, equity, transparency, and employee wellness, which, in turn, spurs employee engagement and purpose. When staff are engaged and committed, they bring immeasurable value to their work; it makes our clients successful, which in turn fuels the success of our business and allows us to reinvest in our employee-owners. That’s our virtuous cycle.

Culture as the core of the virtuous cycle. A strong culture, aligned around shared principles and ambitions, fuels and sustains the virtuous cycle and forms the basis for business continuity and evolution as the pedestal on which all business activities rest. When culture takes precedence in business operations and planning, it allows firms to strategically grow, evolve, and meet changing needs while staying true to their core values.

At Dudek, we’ve identified three essential elements to sustaining our culture and maintaining our virtuous cycle:

  1. Prioritize your people
  2. Let your values guide our decision making
  3. Make your clients successful

These sound pretty simple, but striking the right balance requires commitment and consistency at all levels of your organization.  

Nurturing the Virtuous Cycle

1. Prioritize your people. A company’s culture is defined by its people and their actions, which is why we place so much emphasis on hiring the right people. Like any other firm, we’re always looking for the best practitioners to support our client’s needs; however, technical proficiency is only the first checkpoint. We’re also looking for employees that live our values and will enrich our culture. In our case, our values include:

  1. We trust each other to use good judgment
  2. We act professionally and treat each other fairly
  3. We come together, share openly, and apply diverse perspectives
  4. We take our work seriously…not ourselves
  5. We care about each other’s health, safety, and total wellness.

This people-centric approach requires more diligence during the recruiting process, but it pays dividends in the long run. Hiring employees that align with your firm’s values drives employee engagement, which in turn drives positive outcomes for clients, which fuels business performance.

When your virtuous cycle is built on a culture of trust, the benefits are multiplied. You can operate with minimal bureaucracy when you trust your employees and don’t manage to the lowest common denominator. When you trust each other to use good judgment, you can share information transparently and prioritize peer accountability over heavy-handed rules and mandates. Employees who feel trusted are more motivated, productive, and satisfied. Trust also breeds innovation, better communication, and a more resilient workforce. This is why we’re uncompromising on culture fit when we hire new employees –it allows us to focus our attention and energy on client service.

2. Live your values. By hiring people who mesh with your firm’s culture, you hope to find yourself in a position where interests align. Dudek staff varies in many ways, but they share values and goals. These values have remained essentially unchanged over our firm’s 40-year history and have served as our compass as we’ve navigated significant growth. A clear set of values that your organization embraces will sustain your virtuous cycle through:

  • Attracting and retaining employees. Employees expect their job to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives. Companies with clearly articulated values attract and retain more employees, as they can provide a strong sense of purpose, meaning, and identity.
  • Better decision making. Corporate values serve as guiding principles that can help to shape the company’s decisions and actions. At Dudek, our values are embedded in everything we do, from strategic planning to daily operational decision making.
  • Enhancing reputation. Clearly defined values can help enhance the company’s reputation, as they demonstrate a commitment to ethical and responsible business practices.   

3. Share in the rewards. Rewarding employees based on collective success “closes the loop” of the virtuous cycle. Determining what rewards are of the most value to your employees and which align with your firm’s culture and values is essential. It also helps to diversify rewards, offering a range of incentives tailored to the varying goals of your diverse workforce. For example, Dudek staff receive merit- and tenure-based rewards, including annual discretionary bonuses (short term), 401K and ESOP contributions (long term), and the public acknowledgment of successes. By rewarding above-and-beyond efforts at all levels of the organization and sharing our profits widely and generously, we’ve seen decades of sustained financial performance and client success.     

These sound pretty simple, but striking the right balance requires commitment and consistency at all levels of your organization.    

Discovering your virtuous cycle. American mountaineer and environmentalist Arlene Blum once said, “The greatest rewards come only from the greatest commitment.” This invaluable insight rings true in many of life’s circumstances and certainly when it comes to nurturing the virtuous cycle. The effort devoted to identifying and cultivating the cycle will hopefully correlate directly with positive outputs that continue to propel it.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula to discovering your virtuous cycle. The magic lies in the process. First, in discovering what is fundamentally important to your business, and second, in implementing the identified values. With the right set of values and organizational alignment, you may find yourself in a similar positive feedback loop where shared principles guide you toward collective goals.

Eric Wilson is an environmental consultant and planner with 25 years of experience he leverages as Executive Vice President and leader of the Environmental Division at Dudek. During his career, Mr. Wilson has helped clients develop creative and effective solutions for complex environmental, planning, and design projects.

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.