Support your support staff

Mar 27, 2022

Set a tone firmwide to recognize the valuable work that’s done by people in every role at your firm – not just your technical staff.

In the AEC industry, it’s common to distinguish between “technical staff” and “support staff.” Generally, we all understand what those terms mean. Technical staff are engineers, architects, contractors, surveyors, planners, scientists, landscape architects – the list goes on. They may have a few letters at the end of their name, they are responsible for the company’s billable work, and they are experts in their chosen professions. Support staff are financial controllers, marketers, business developers, office managers, contract specialists, administrative assistants, IT, and human resources staff. It’s a workforce that is (let’s be honest) largely female, fulfills a huge variety of roles that make the day-to-day operation of their firms possible, and are often also experts in their chosen professions.

Unfortunately, professionals in these support roles can be regarded as interchangeable, easily replaceable, or even an unavoidable burden; they may not be offered the same professional development opportunities as their “technical” colleagues and/or their hard work may not be fully recognized for the benefits it brings to the firm at large. It should go without saying that such notions or practices are not only unwise but can pose a real threat to the success of a business. At the very least, it can seriously dampen the work culture and company morale.

I’m proud to say this is far from the case at Patel, Greene and Associates, LLC. I genuinely believe our firm’s success is thanks, in large part, to a shared mentality that everyone plays a crucial part and that each should strive to achieve excellence within his or her area(s) of expertise. Our core values of Integrity, Commitment, and Excellence guide this way of thinking, as every member of our staff embraces the call to excel for the benefit of PGA’s growth and success, for our clients’ success, and for the opportunity to reach their own highest potential.

At PGA, our “support staff” span three departments: Administration (financials, office management, and contracting); IT; and marketing (pursuit tracking and proposal development, advertising, graphics, and internal and external communications). The value of their contributions is irrefutable. When we secured a prominent contract last year that required an exhaustive and detailed monthly invoicing effort, we recognized that delivering accurate and reliable progress reports and invoices was just as critical to the contract’s success as delivering quality engineering services. With that in mind, our administration worked to develop a process that has allowed us to consistently submit documents early and accurately. Thanks to the excellence of our administrative staff, our overall capabilities and reliability have been further strengthened in the client’s eyes.

When I was considering joining PGA in 2018, I could tell right away the firm understood the value of marketing and business development just by reading the robust job description for my potential position. Since then, our group has optimized pursuit workflows, implemented a CRM system, begun overhauling our website for stronger recruiting and brand positioning, and continued to build a team that has grown in step with the rest of PGA. Our marketing staff can focus on their areas of expertise, while having time to continue exploring new skills, all while understanding their supervisors care about their day-to-day experience and that their hard work is appreciated. The quality of our proposals and presentations, our ability to be proactive and organized, and our commitment to promoting brand recognition all further PGA’s growth.

It would be a mistake to assume that just anybody could do the job of an AEC marketing/BD professional, financial controller, IT specialist, office manager, etc. These people think high-level, long-term, are constantly multi-tasking, and generally are required to master a broad spectrum of skills for a wide variety of responsibilities. They amass an enormous amount of contextual knowledge, knowledge of the firm, understanding of how best to support and motivate the technical staff, and they are arguably some of the hardest to replace because rarely is someone waiting in the wings who can be easily plugged in.

I am fortunate to know AEC marketers and business developers across the country who are true rock stars. Most have worked very hard, arguably harder than they should’ve had to, for the recognition and authority they deserve. Many of us have been in situations where our work is boiled down to “making proposals look pretty,” or our recommendations for how to win a pitch were disregarded because we weren’t seen as “technical staff.” Don’t make your support staff fight harder than anyone else in the room to be heard. Because these professionals are most often women, they are already working to overcome the challenges of succeeding within a male-dominated industry. What’s more, their unique areas of expertise mean they likely have valuable perspectives no one else can offer.

Every successful team is made up of many parts, with distinct strengths and specialties, and a successful AEC firm is no different. Responsibility falls to leadership to set a tone firmwide, one that recognizes and emphasizes the work that’s done by people in every role. It is an understanding that investing in support staff, as well as technical staff, will not only strengthen your company culture, but will also assuredly strengthen your bottom line. When you do that, you will find that such sentiment reverberates throughout the company and its people. It tells everyone at all levels that they matter, that their work matters, and that both are seen and appreciated. 

Katie Batill-Bigler is marketing director at Patel, Greene & Associates, LLC. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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.