Turn HR upside down

Jul 24, 2022

It’s time to turn your firm’s HR upside down and make some big changes to your policies and practices.

AEC firms are usually too slow to change. I have always said we figure stuff out 10-15 years after the rest of American industry. In that vein – in this employee-driven job market we are in – you may conclude it is time to turn HR upside down. That means doing some seemingly radical things that may conflict with your thinking up ‘til now.

Here are some big changes to your HR policies and practices that I would suggest if you want to keep up:

  1. The old days of once a year pay reviews are gone. With inflation rates higher than 9 percent, and the average firm needing 15-20 percent more staff than it has (this is an estimate), I would strongly urge you to look at everyone four times a year. It doesn’t mean they will get four raises a year, although some of your most junior people could. It means that their pay is reviewed that often. Most of you reading this would never consider what I am suggesting, but you may be smart to consider it when you think about the time, expense, lost revenue, and disruption of replacing someone who quits.
  2. Performance appraisals. I despise them and always have. So, for the most part, do your managers and your employees, which explains why you will probably have a hard time getting these done on time. They take up valuable time, cause stress, and are typically fundamentally flawed for a wide variety of reasons. How about giving people feedback when they need it? Immediate and frequent. I can tell you that when I was a manager, I never saved anything for review time. I did it now. Stop following what everyone else does and strongly consider dropping your formal reviews.

  3. Recruitment is selling. Stop putting lists of questions together that could trip up a job candidate and instead devote your time to figuring out how you can make them desperately want to join your firm. Find the best realtor in your area who can sell out-of-towners on living there. Find the best route from the airport that shows off your area. Get your best people meeting with job candidates instead of those with nothing better to do. Meet at good restaurants. Have an office that looks like an exciting place to be. Show them your best projects. Give them a summary of all your unique benefits and policies other firms don’t have. SELL instead of thinking your job is to eliminate bad apples. Change your orientation.
  4. Peanut butter profit distributions. Some percentage of the firm profits needs to go to everyone. It’s not “socialism.” It’s just smart. Make everyone feel like they are owners. Reward everyone for being part of a high-performing overall company. Encourage cooperation. If someone doesn’t deserve to get anything, either “fix” them or fire them. Your job as a manager is to do just that. And pay this out monthly or quarterly, not next April after the fiscal year closes. The faster rewards are tied to overall company financial performance, the more consistent your performance will be.
  5. Work from home. You may think it’s better with everyone in the office and I wouldn’t disagree. I think it’s great when everyone is in one place working together. But like it or not, COVID proved many people can work from home and do perfectly well. Work with your people. And people have other options for where to work, many of which will offer that opportunity. Don’t have a one-size-fits-all policy on this stuff. You could lose some good people you need if you are too hard-line on this one.
  6. Job titles. In my experience, the more you have, the worse morale will be. This is especially true with “status” titles like vice president, senior vice president, associate, senior associate, etc. I don’t want people feeling bad because someone got a title they didn’t get. Focus on functional roles – and what someone does if in that role. And roles change. Some people fill multiple roles. It’s a team. You don’t see baseball or football teams with status titles. There is no “senior pitcher.” That’s because they are unnecessary.

You want to look more like a tech company than a stodgy, no-growth law firm? If so, turn HR upside down and do something different, now! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.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.