What does it mean to be the best?

Aug 10, 2015

Top ranking AEC firms have positive organizational cultures, provide employees with the tools they need to be successful, and foster open communication.

How do you get your firm to a place where every one of your employees, or at least most of them, love coming to work and, more importantly, working on great projects? Over the past few months, we’ve polled hundreds of employees AEC firms to get the low down on what it’s like to work there. Zweig Group received a ton of responses, which help to paint a picture of what separates the good firms from the great ones when it comes to employee performance, satisfaction, and general happiness. As one of the chief recruiters here at Zweig Group, I’ve always said that money and a title only last for so long. You have to speak to the needs of the complete employee. Are they adjusting to your corporate culture and, more importantly, is that culture easily adaptable? Have you given your employees the tools and the training they need to be successful? Do you encourage open thought and allow for differences of opinion? In my opinion, all of these factors – and more – help to determine the Best Firms to Work For awardees in the AEC industry. THE CULTURAL COMPONENT. I recently discussed company culture in an article for our recruitment blog (ZGRecruiting.com), where I pointed out the ways for a candidate to determine the cultural fit of a company before he/she signs on the dotted line. The same guidelines are true for those currently employed with a firm. A good firm will make sure that its mission statement and goals are easily understood by everyone. And a firm with a clear cultural component has employees that eat, drink, and sleep its mission statement and know where the company is headed, or at least the general direction. In addition, these employees will identify with the key leaders of the firm, in addition to their teammates. All of these people have to care enough to make sure that everyone is being well taken care of. Finally, because of the strong culture, employees enjoy coming to work on a daily basis and giving it their all. TOOLS AND TRAINING MAKE CHAMPIONS. The Best Firms to Work For make sure that their employees have the latest tools to do the job they’ve been hired to do. Updated computers, a cell phone, and Internet access while out of the office are just a few of the ways that the best firms ensure that their talented employees are adequately prepared to take on any challenge they face. Having an arsenal of the proper tools is great, but training is just as important. The AEC industry is constantly changing, and the firms that have stayed ahead of the curve are the ones that consistently allow their people to be trained on new procedures, technology, and, most importantly, project management, which is the lifeblood of our industry. Any employee will tell you how exciting it is to learn new things and stretch themselves – at least the ones that want to grow personally and professionally will. These are mostly the only types of people that Best Firms to Work For have on staff. It has been my experience that a mediocre firm has a hard time keeping good talent like this. OPEN THOUGHT AND DIFFERENCES OF OPINION. While it’s important to hire and work with like-minded people, it can also be dangerous if no one raises his/her hand from time to time to ask the question that everyone is afraid to ask. A well-rounded AEC firm allows for differences of thought and opinion, and it’s clear to everyone that they won’t get their head bitten off for sharing. This is the type of healthy work environment that smart and intelligent talent usually gravitate toward. Even if a firm’s leadership feels very strongly about something, the mere fact that they will listen to all aspects of an argument can go a long way in cementing trust with employees. Trust me, no one wants to work at a firm where they feel like they are not being heard. This is an issue that Best Firms don’t usually have. There is an old proverb: “It’s a pitiful frog that doesn’t praise his own pond!” Obviously, professionals in the AEC industry, like most places, should be proud of where they come from and where they are going. If an employee is welcomed into a strong culture of excellence, where they understand the mission and goals and feel like they have a voice, they will shout it from the rooftops. Over the past few months, AEC employees from all over the country have been shouting to Zweig Group the virtues of their companies and why they are the Best Firm to Work For. On September 3 and 4, we will hear more from these firms and their representatives at the 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Boston. I will be there, and I hope you will join us!
RANDY WILBURN is executive search director for Zweig Group. Contact him at rwilburn@zweiggroup.com.

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.