Moonshot given

Apr 23, 2018

If you’re a CEO, you need to take a good look at your team. Their passion projects outside of work could end up being multipliers for your firm.

The title printed on my business card is “project engineer” and its job description reads much the same as any other production-level design professional in this industry, but that’s roughly where the similarities end. At our firm, your position isn’t a potted plant, all compact and comfortably delineated; it’s your spot in the collective garden, connected to an ecosystem where diversity and synergies are cultivated and elevated. As a member of the team, you are recognized for your depth and are empowered to reach laterally to impact the organization and yourself. Everyone is responsible for enhancing our unique value proposition.

My introduction to BIG RED DOG came in the form of something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for nearly a decade – podcasts. An interview with our firm’s CEO presented almost all the information I needed to know that it was going to be a cultural fit for me. I wanted to set my roots at a place that started with the client and the employee experience and worked its way back to a profitable organizational structure.

The duties of my position do not vary wildly from my peers in this industry – I provide value to clients, help manage projects, perform engineering design and analysis, guide permits along their process, and expedite construction phase duties. But it differs in one singularly important aspect – there are no walls. I’m not referring specifically to our open-office and remote-friendly work environments, but rather to an operational framework that gives team members unparalleled access to their firm, its leadership, and its resources.

With this support behind me as a project engineer, I have felt empowered to grow further into a complete engineering professional – to pursue initiatives that leverage the special skills that I have developed or have wanted to develop in my career. The most recent example comes at hardly six months into my tenure – I sent up a one-page proposal on something I had dreamed of doing for some time. The leadership took a radical investment in my personal moonshot, and, in a stroke of serendipity, I interviewed the CEO on the company’s very first podcast (you can give it a listen at

Your team members have moonshots too, and, with your help, their passion projects could be a multiplier for your team. Young professionals today have unprecedented access to resources that develop skills and experience outside of their current careers – some may even be monetizing it. Do you have a CAD tech who’s a whiz with a drone at home? Does your newest engineer have uncanny videography talent because they grew a personal YouTube channel to thousands of subscribers? Is there someone on your team who spends weeks of their vacation time every year to help build water wells in disadvantaged countries abroad? While these skills likely won’t be creeping their way into your scope of services anytime soon, they could be just as impactful to the success of the firm as meeting your target metrics.

But what’s in a utilization rate? A billable hour by any other name could be just as sweet (to your bottom line). Accountability and performance are paramount, but if you aren’t investing in the personal growth of your team members there’s little use obsessing over a KPI that can morph into a measure of employees’ skill at stretching their work onto a timesheet rather than one of productivity. Your team cannot be a place where you go to get something. It must be a place where you go to give. And when you put in that investment, its returns are exponential.

Shaun Theriot-Smith is a project engineer with BIG RED DOG Engineering & Consulting working on land development and infrastructure projects in the Greater Houston Area. A U.S. Army veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Shaun first became passionate to build communities at home by helping build those abroad. You can find more at his Building Bayou City blog

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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.