Support constant growth

Jun 15, 2020

Staff training fuels a culture of continuous education, enabling your firm to stay competitive, relevant, and profitable for the long run.

Finding a balance between providing training that individuals need and want is always a challenge when it comes to topics, locations, and times. When making training decisions, I often find myself reflecting on Henry Ford’s quote, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave, is not training them and having them stay.”

Henry Ford’s insight changed my perspective on training staff, especially when someone laments that they couldn’t participate in a professional development opportunity. There is no doubt that projects must be completed on budget, on time, and correctly to allow a firm to pay for professional development either directly (paying for a seminar and paying someone to attend) or indirectly (giving someone unpaid time off), but I struggle to understand why many firms and government agencies simply don’t recognize or acknowledge that training is an investment that will pay for itself by efficiencies and capabilities.

As a manager, I recognize that training is one of my most important responsibilities. Staff training is a critical part of my strategic and short-term plans. It is what fuels a culture of continuous education, helping my group be competitive, relevant, and profitable for the long run.

For example, the same tools that allow us to take advantage of unexpected opportunities quickly and communicate a large amount of information over long distances have also brought about the need for staff education on the power and potential pitfalls of social media, interacting with the public, and, in some cases, simply how to have conversations and build real personal relationships (being friends on Facebook may not meet this criteria).

These outside influences/interactions can ruin a project and destroy a client relationship. Yet they are all too often overlooked. They are examples of what I call non-traditional training – things that they don’t teach in school and aren’t required for any professional license, but are critical for survival and growth.

Advancements in technology have also profoundly impacted design professions by dramatically affecting how we create project plans and specifications. While I have no hard numbers to substantiate this claim, I’m betting that most individuals who are using CAD software (Revit, Civil 3D, InRoads, etc.) are only utilizing about 25 percent of the software’s capabilities.

We never seem to get beyond that 25 percent due in part to the constant upgrades and planned obsolescence. Yet we need to stay current with the software or the pain and disruption caused by having to get “current” can cripple a firm. The software is to our industry what laser cutters, drill presses, and milling machines are to the manufacturing industry. Having skilled operators means constantly training them. But how many design professionals have a program in place to try and get beyond that 25 percent, or to even train new hires in how to use the software?

As a profession today, success goes to firms that understand client needs, know how to connect the myriad of resources available, and create solutions in the most efficient way for the highest value.

Knowing how to connect the dots is simply not possible without having the right combination of specialists with a significant understanding and appreciation for the other professions they work alongside of (both directly and indirectly). Neither of those is possible by staying within the traditional bounds of a single profession or by only interacting with like professions in your firm.

An overlooked great example is the non-technically educated staff who often have amazing backgrounds that can be leveraged to great advantage and whose skill sets can fill critical gaps. Think of that assistant who so easily interacts with strangers. Why isn’t he/she helping with public presentations? There is limited success in trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, as it is with being such a specialist that you are oblivious to the world around you.

A new mindset is needed to address this challenge. Training shouldn’t simply address a specific goal. The mindset today must be continuous, never-ending learning and growth in specific technical skills for a profession as well as related and “soft” skills.

Staff do what leaders check and value as important. As leaders, we need to be at the front of this shift and support constant growth across the board, for professional staff and “overhead” staff alike. Otherwise, you will have unengaged employees producing mediocre work and looking for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Max George, PS, CFM, is survey group manager and associate at Fleis & VandenBrink. Contact him at

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