Taking care of your team

Nov 13, 2017

Transparency, training, and feedback are all important, but so is remembering that people don’t live to work, they work to live.

In recent TZL articles you’ve heard my thoughts about sharing the company’s financial results with everybody, building a dream team, and making the difficult decision to part with misaligned members of your leadership team. In this article, I would like to discuss what we’re doing to take care of our very valuable team members.

Purging underperformers at every level of the organization is critical to creating an admirable, well-run firm. It’s required. But so is what we do every day to help make our team members feel like their toil is not in vain.

What does taking care of our team mean to us? It means transparency. It means feedback on how team members are doing in the form of regular formal and informal reviews. It means demonstrating that there is an executable plan in place for the company and for the individual. It means providing training opportunities where our team members can learn from each other and from our company leaders and clients. It means having a well-conceived menu of benefits. It means that there is upward mobility in responsibility and pay for proven performers. And it means making exceptions for exceptional team members or circumstances.

Does BIG RED DOG do each of these things well? Hell no! Any member of our team can tell you that, and if you asked, I suspect that they would be very honest. But we do work every day on delivering on those promises and we regularly seek feedback from every level of our organization on how we’re doing in that regard.

Transparency is paramount to how we operate our firm. From day one, we’ve maintained an open book and open office mindset. Following the conclusion of each accounting period, we provide an open-book management report to every person in the company. This report shows our revenue, our profit, our sales, our proposal volume, and metrics related to our marketing and recruiting. Everybody in the firm needs to know these things! Why? Because we have a plan, remember? And if we expect a large group of people to execute that plan together, they need to know what the goals state and how we’re tracking against our goals on a regular basis.

Increasingly, constant feedback streams are becoming table stakes for a solid team-building atmosphere. Our team members deserve to know how they’re doing against the expectations we set for them. And we let them know in a formal review process twice a year. In between, informal reviews reinforce the strengths of each team member and remind him or her that we all have weaknesses that could use some love.

Many firms operate like a university where tenure means something related to pay and job security. That’s a whole lot of BS. If a firm hopes to attract and retain the best talent, those A players that we all want, then that firm has to provide the opportunity for rapid advancement based on results. This doesn’t mean an annual promotion with a 5 percent raise. That means move them up in rank and pay as soon as they’re proven. Four or five projects should be enough. Don’t wait for 20 or 30 because they’ll be on the BIG RED DOG team well before that!

Finally, every once in awhile, if we’re lucky, each of us will have a moment of clarity that will help us really understand what is important at the office. For me, that moment came the morning of August 28. On this morning, I watched on television as one of our team members in Houston, complete with his bright red BIG RED DOG shirt, was there with his brother pulling his neighbors to safety through the flooded streets in a boat that had run out of gas, many of them kids and women.

I wish I could show you the photo that is burned into my mind’s eye. In that moment, each of the “very important” work issues that we were dealing with was put into perspective. Our people do not live to work; they work to live. And when something exceptional like a natural disaster takes away every material possession that one has, it’s a great time for a company to step up and do something exceptional for their people. So that’s exactly what we did. No committees, no meetings, just action.

We don’t provide the perfect work environment for our people. And, truth be told, no firm ever will. That is a moving unicorn of a target. But every day we strive to get a bit closer to that goal because our team members deserve the best we can give them, and in return, we will get more of their best.

Will Schnier is CEO of BIG RED DOG Engineering & Consulting. He can be reached at will.schnier@bigreddog.com.

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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.