This is a guest post by Jacob Valentien, PE
As I am sure everyone in the civil engineering industry and associated disciplines would agree, it seems like there is always a need for more help. With how fast it seems that things are moving and how quickly some markets are growing, building a quality team in a timely fashion is no easy endeavor. Balancing the backlog with the appropriate number of team members has always been challenging.
I want to tell you…
Over the last couple of years, I have been helping grow a satellite office of a larger firm from less than five people to now close to 20 — and still growing. I wanted to share some of the helpful guidelines and thought processes that we use as navigational beacons for recruiting, interviewing, and hiring to build our team.
Getting the Right People on the Bus
As we are currently growing at a fast pace, similar to many other firms in our industry, we need more qualified, talented, and eager team members. Below are my top three methods for increasing your chances of getting the right team member:
- Understanding dilution
- Optimizing team chemistry
- Visualizing goals and growth
Filling positions with the first resume that enters your inbox, or the first interview that is conducted, is dangerous. Especially when your group, team, and office is small and growing, you need to account for the dilution factor. If you only have a group of four and you add that fifth person who rocks the boat or does not hold their weight, you now have a larger issue than if you just did not add the team member. This demonstrates the criticality of taking the time and effort to ensure that your initial team is strategically assembled.
2. Optimizing team chemistry
Remember, good cultural fit does not just happen — it requires strategic placement and continual effort to ensure a proper team chemistry. Understanding different personality types and how certain potential team members will mesh with your current team is critical. While ensuring that someone will integrate initially is critical to managing current workloads and onboarding of the team member, it is likely more important that a long-term chemistry can be developed as this will determine your team’s ultimate growth trajectory.
Thanks to COVID we initiated an excellent new method, virtual interviews. We have found success in doing an initial virtual interview and if we really like the candidate, then we like to follow up with an in-person interview, possibly in a more casual setting. This interaction can shed light on how a cultural fit can be best accomplished and better ensure the potential hire works for both parties.
3. Visualización de metas y crecimiento
During times of growth, we view it absolutely critical to be transparent about the vision for growing the office and sharing what the goals are so that the candidate understands the environment that they will be working in. Forcing ourselves to be transparent also provides benefits in making sure the selection team is aligned on the internal goals. This transparentness also leads to clear goals for the new team member from day one.
Putting People in the Right Seats
Once you find a great candidate who will mesh well with your team, it’s critical to be upfront with how you envision their role within the current team. This is what we define as finding that perfect seat on the bus for each team member. Below are my top two methods for organizing your team into the right roles:
Every person has different strengths and weaknesses, and a quality team is not just a team of technical engineers or a team of outgoing personalities. Usually it’s a unique blend of both that can grow a team to its full potential.
Understanding individual goals
Make sure to have discussions with each candidate and new hire about what their goals are so you can ensure they are aligned with your team’s directive. It’s also important so that you can provide the opportunities for them to grow and achieve their own personal work satisfaction. Overall job satisfaction and a higher growth trajectory can be achieved by finding people with goals that align with your own and by providing opportunities for that person to tackle and execute on their own goals.
Keep People on the Bus
As we have all heard, we are going through the “Great Resignation” time period. While there are a million external variables that may be contributing to this potential issue, we know that it is only valuable to focus on the variables that we can control as a manager. Below are my top three methods to maximize retention:
We find that there is value in stressing balance. I’m not necessarily referring to the utopian attempt of a perfect work/life balance but more so of a challenging/rewarding work balance. It can be helpful to monitor and be aware of your team members who are currently being challenged and growing so that you can be sure they get rewarded for those efforts. This does not necessarily need to be monetary; it could also be ensuring that they get an interesting project, easy project, rewarding task, or opportunity to lead a certain endeavor. Find that balance between being challenged, being rewarded, working hard, having a few easier weeks, or whatever it may be. We can help find that balance internally to where work is not always an existential grind but has its own ebbs and flows so that your team stays more energized and ready to tackle future work.
Identifying the personnel who naturally are more of the fun-seekers and collaborators can be very effective at ensuring the team stays glued together by allowing those persons to take the lead for coordinating fun events such as community activities, happy hours, or even just impromptu team lunches. The small and quite simple get-togethers might not be noticed as any one event, but over time can lead to a better integrated and collaborative team.
As we discussed with individual team members having different personalities, it should be obvious that each team member likely will have unique driving passions for why they work or what they are working for. The more that you can understand that about each team member, the more likely that you can provide opportunities to cater to their individual motivating factors and keep those team members feeling valued and rewarded.
Reward and acknowledge
Most importantly, focusing on showing value to each team member early and often should go without saying, but as we are all busy, this can often go by the wayside. We are nothing without our high-performing teams, and waiting until year-end to show or discuss how valuable someone may be to the team can sometimes be too long.
To conclude, as we all are covered in more work than we can handle and we strive to continue to grow our teams, groups, offices, and companies, we should focus on ensuring we not only get the right people on the bus, but also put those people in the right seats and do whatever we can to make sure those team members want to stay on the bus. As one of the better people managers that I have worked for in the engineering industry once said, “The engineering is the easy part — it’s the people that can make this job hard.”
There is no shortage of engineering talent out there, but without the adequate focus on empowering and valuing the people, this industry can be a true grind. You can surround yourself with like-minded people and watch your team grow to a level you could only imagine.
About the Author Jacob W. Valentien, PE
Jacob is a Senior Project Manager with Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers, Inc. and has over 9 years of engineering experience in municipal infrastructure with a focus on water & wastewater treatment design and construction. He received a B.S degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas and is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Texas. He has designed projects and managed teams on local and state public & private sector projects. Jacob is responsible for project management and delivery, business development in the public works sector in Central Texas, and client success. He previously completed the 2019-2020 Emerging Leaders program through ACEC Houston, has presented on topics such as pre-chlorinated pipe bursting to the Association of Water Board Directors, and has co-authored a technical article on Wastewater Treatment Plant Design. He also has developed curriculum, organized programming, and led project management and professional development training courses for his teams.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Jacob W. Valentien, PE.
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Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success