In two years’ time

Jan 09, 2022

How employees answer a question about where they see themselves in two years, and what their responses really mean.

In my last article, I presented insights on Zweig Group’s Best Firms to Work For data – specifically about the categories in which the largest differences were present in employee sentiment between the top five and the average Best Firms To Work For scores. Over the past year, we’ve been putting a great deal of effort into further harnessing the power of the data that we have at hand. This is an ever-evolving and iterative process that is designed to benefit the entire industry – both firms and employees alike.

The raw data alone is insightful, but pairing data strategically can bring even more powerful insights. For example, one of the questions that Zweig Group asks employees in the survey is, “Where do you see yourself in relation to your firm in two years?” This is an open-ended response so we get all kinds of answers, but they normally fall into a few broad buckets. These buckets include “same role,” “leaving the firm,” “project manager,” “technical role,” “no answer,” and “principal/upper management” – although my all-time favorite response was “Mastermind Genius Rainmaker.” The way bucket proportions vary between firms alone is in itself fascinating and reflects a lot about the culture and the firm’s organizational project management, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s important now is, what do we do with that information? How do we go about understanding with great clarity what our employees are trying to tell us?

Before I go any further, this data is completely anonymous. We do ask for demographic data to allow us further insights, but we do not provide the raw data to management – only a summary, to protect the participants, and to protect the integrity of the data and the process. In other words, the firm’s management will not be able to identify that a white male aged 25-34 in the Minneapolis office answered that he is unhappy with the level of mentoring opportunities at the firm, or any of the other answers that he gave. That being said, what we can do is correlate groups of answers with the remainder of the dataset in order to pinpoint the source of not only the things that aren’t working, but also the things that are working, because we don’t want to overbalance and lose the things we’re doing right.

So, let’s go back to our buckets that I mentioned above. You would want to look at all those buckets and develop some correlations, but just as an example, let’s dive into that “no answer” bucket. I think a lot of times that is written off as somewhat of a neutral answer. But what does that mean? Is it apathy? A correlation to this group of employees’ level of satisfaction with performance management areas of the survey could lend some great insights on the implicit messages your performance management systems are sending and get all the cylinders firing. In my previous article, we looked at how important performance management (I interpret this as growth and opportunities to improve) was to employees – nearly as important as compensation.

Does the “no answer” really mean “too busy to answer”? A correlation of this group of employees’ perceptions of project management processes or resource allocation areas of the survey could help you to identify areas where greater efficiencies could be achieved, or where administrative hires are best placed.

Do the “no answer” folks just not know what options are available to them? It may pay to take a close look at the communication areas of the survey within this group, and compare it to the group that did respond to the question, “Where do you see yourself in relation to your firm in two years?”

Or (terrifying thought), is “no answer” really a “leaving the firm” answer? Diving into those nuances can make all the difference in understanding how your policies and norms are shaping your workforce.

This is why it’s important to quantify the apparent neutrals in questions like this. We celebrate the promotors, emphasizing the areas where we are succeeding with them, and we obsess and lose sleep over the detractors, and shore up the things they’re identifying as our shortcomings. The truth is, while we can learn something from both and apply valuable lessons, there’s often not a great deal that will change promotors or detractors from their positions. The neutrals, however, could lead to some significant insights. 

Stephanie Warino is a licensed professional and an advisor with Zweig Group. Contact her for systems-level thinking evaluations of compensation and performance programs at

Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter for free!

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.