Success as one firm

Jul 29, 2019

Connections across teams and offices increase employee engagement and performance, but the connections must be fostered.

You never know where a lead might come from. Architect Cami Manley heard that a major insurance company planned to build a new headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. It was early in the process with no designer on board yet. Cami quickly reached out to experts within her firm to put together the best team for an introductory meeting with IMT Insurance. Initial meetings went so well that the project team rolled into design without going through a competitive request-for-proposal process. Today, the new headquarters is open for business and exemplifies a one-firm success for Shive-Hattery.

The IMT story represents the best of working as one firm: Creating exciting opportunities for employees; and providing the best value and most creative solutions for clients. Our one-firm philosophy is an umbrella strategy to accelerate growth by instilling a strong culture of collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation, and connectedness.

The benefits of behaving as “one” are many. You feel part of something bigger and better as one firm. With more natural connectedness and community you create more meaningful relationships across the firm, effectively growing social capital. This leads to better retention of employees and exciting opportunities like the IMT headquarters.

A highly networked organization compresses the time to learn new skills. Nick Hatz, a young civil engineer, participated in Business Development University and the Leadership Development Program.

“These programs gave me a better understanding of business overall – leadership versus management, the philosophy of professionalism, business acumen, soft skills/emotional intelligence, marketing, and business development,” Hatz says. “The other wonderful outcome was time carved out of a busy schedule to meet people from different offices, backgrounds, and roles to feel more connected and comfortable as one firm.”

On this journey as one firm, employee engagement is central to the philosophy. This means employees are doing what they want to do, what they are good at, and what the company needs. This sweet spot is where meaningful work and learning happen. That’s why instead of measuring “satisfaction” Shive-Hattery is consistently checking the pulse of employee engagement. This is done through ongoing coaching, not performance reviews, and an employee engagement survey every 18 months. Employees respond to questions in 10 areas:

  • Communication
  • Feedback mechanisms
  • High-performance culture
  • Leadership (it starts at the top)
  • Engagement of first-line leaders
  • Personal engagement
  • Rewarding the right behaviors
  • Creating a motivational culture
  • Tracking and communicating progress and success
  • Hiring and promoting the right behaviors and traits for your culture

“Average Percent Agree” results are compared with the norm of 130 AEC firms. You then know how you stack up with your competitors. Best-in-class comparisons are the top 15 percent of “all industries surveyed” (with a three-year rolling window). This includes companies outside the AEC space. Both perspectives are good to know as you seek to make your firm better and become best-in-class. Some things we measure to gauge progress as one firm include:

  • I am well informed about the financial performance
  • I am committed to Shive-Hattery as a career opportunity
  • I am informed about what is happening
  • There are real opportunities here for meaningful career and professional advancement
  • We have quality training opportunities to improve skills
  • There is adequate communication between disciplines
  • There is adequate communication between locations

Another interesting insight is visualizing work sharing across teams and offices. Revenue follows the employee at Shive-Hattery so we can create an import-export visualization between locations. Line thickness represents the amount of work flowing between offices. This daylights work sharing in a unique way and generates conversation about how we can share work in a better way.

Other future one-firm metrics we’re considering are tracking the number of multi-office pursuits and projects – again to daylight the collaboration happening across the firm. Mentoring, marketing, and presenting will be tracked by a “one firm” time code. If you take time to mentor someone in a different location, you can use this general administration number to daylight this beneficial activity. The company rewards and recognizes those who take time to do these activities.

Finally, we’re gamifying awareness of markets, services, and experts throughout our 400-person firm. The “You Do What?!” quiz on the company intranet is brief and asks questions about particular markets, services and experts. Employees who do well on the test have a chance to win a prize. More than 50 employees participated in the first quiz, with 12 people earning 100 percent.

“You Do What?!” videos are funny, two-minute features with experts explaining what they do. Interviewed by a fictitious host, Marcus Wellington, experts answer questions and explain what they do day-to-day. It’s a fun way to recognize employees and increase awareness.

Greg Kanz is marketing director for Shive-Hattery Architecture-Engineering. Contact him at

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.