Keep the peeps!

Sep 25, 2017

Bringing good people on board is one thing, retaining them is another. Make a concerted effort to keep your personnel engaged.

I recently facilitated a roundtable discussion. Never mind that the table wasn’t round. It was a long, awkwardly rectangular table. That little fact got us started with a good laugh. Our topic was recruitment. Leadership from within consulting firms in the Bay Area AEC industry comprised the group. We discussed recruitment strategies and shared our stories of hiring challenges. We talked about how the current job market is driving up salary expectations. We talked about how we are all fighting for the same good people. The race is on to be the best game in town. But, based on our discussion, it became apparent that our topic should not have been recruitment, but that other prong of team building – employee retention.

The most relevant definition of retention is “the action of absorbing and continuing to hold a substance.” In our case, “substance” is our people, our employees. How do we keep the people we’ve hired? It makes more business sense than anything else. Hold on to what you’ve got! There is not a silver-bullet answer for employee retention. It takes a mindful, coordinated approach to running a profitable operation with inspiring leadership and a stellar work environment.

Here’s my list of what it takes:

  • Regular communication of company vision. People want to know there is a strong and clear sense of where the company is headed and that they can rely on the firm’s leadership to guide the way.
  • Shared core values. This defines your culture. How can you expect people to toe the line if they don’t know your firm’s core values? Share your values openly and with enthusiasm.
  • Clear understanding of success criteria. Again, it’s about communication and clarity and the shared blueprint for success. Make sure your staff understands how success is measured not only in your firm as a whole, but within their individual roles.
  • Strong leadership. Strong leadership is inspiring. Give people something to follow.
  • Clear path to leadership. Imagine how motivating it is for people to know exactly what needs to be done to get to the top.
  • Feedback. People crave feedback. Train managers to regularly tell their staff how they’re doing. Turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Give kudos when they’re due.
  • Open-book management. Why keep secrets? All that does is make people think the worst and feel disengaged. Share the details regularly.
  • Financial stability and growth. Is your firm business-minded and profitable? Are you able to pay bonuses regularly? If you’re not, your competitors probably are.
  • Competitive compensation. Pay for what you want and get what you pay for.
  • Profitability. Set revenue goals and pay attention to the numbers on a regular basis. Care about making money so you can pay for the infrastructure to grow and afford to attract the good people.
  • Work/life balance. Show that you truly care about your people being happy in their lives; you’ll get the most out of them if you do.
  • Fun work environment. Who doesn’t like to have fun? If it’s fun at work, people are much more likely to stick around.
  • Challenging work. Our industry is comprised of people who want to be challenged. Seek the work that feeds your employees’ minds and satisfies their need for creativity.
  • Feeling valued and heard. Include your staff in developing the vision for the future! Ask them what they think. Make them feel included.
  • Nurturing a learning environment. Provide opportunities for continuing education, lunch-and-learns, seminars, design charrettes, paid continuing education, etc.

Now it’s time to sit down and create a retention plan with your firm leaders. Approach this like you would a business plan, with goals, a schedule, action items, and assignments. Each person in your firm plays a part in making this happen and has responsibilities. Talk openly about the fact that you care to hang on to your staff. They’ll thank you for it by staying put!

Chris Catton is Zweig Group’s director of executive search. Contact her at

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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.