TZL 1461 (web)

The PDF edition of The Zweig Letter.

October 17, 2022, Issue 1461 WWW.ZWEIGGROUP.COM


Obstacles for project managers

Committing to this will make your firm safer, more resistant to adversity, and change cashflow and profit for the better. The project business plan

FIRM INDEX Choice One Engineering...............................10 Derck & Edson, LLC.............................................4 J.S. Held ....................................................................... 6 SGA.................................................................................. 8 Wilson & Company Inc. .................................. 12 Winstanley Architects & Planners ............4 MORE ARTICLES n JANE LAWLER SMITH: Rethinking swag Page 3 n Building partnerships: Carmelo Bueti Page 6 n MATT HOYING: Complete transparency Page 9 n MARK ZWEIG: Making your firm a better place to work Page 11 Participate in a survey and save 50 percent on the final or pre- publication price of any Zweig Group research publication. In Zweig Group’s 2022 Project Management Survey , project managers were asked about the PM phases where they experience a high or very high degree of obstacles completing work. Project managers reported managing workload, managing project budget, and managing project schedule as the categories where they face the most obstacles.

W hich parts of your project cause you the most headaches? What are those project issues that, no matter how hard you try, seem to come up time and time again? It might be hard to see, but those difficult moments are some of the most significant opportunities to create value for any project. There are only a few reasons why people start businesses. It’s when they see:

Justin Smith, P.E.

An opportunity to solve a problem.

A chance to meet an unmet need.

■ A way to improve something that already exists.

The modern AEC landscape is no different. Many individuals branch out and start companies to solve a problem they uncover through industry work. These problems might involve getting work done faster, more cost-effectively, meeting a need for clients that is currently unmet, or delivering a better process or experience, among others. Project delivery is the primary vehicle through which any of these businesses achieve their goals; however, conventional project management approaches do not always align with business value. We need to shift the project management focus away from tasking and budgets and schedules and move toward project management being a key driver of business value for your firm. If you were starting a business tomorrow and writing a business plan today, what would be in it? Regardless of the format you use, a good business plan typically includes three main components: 1. A value opportunity. 2. A clear set of goals to realize that opportunity. 3. A roadmap to get there. Creating business value through your projects is no different. We need to establish value opportunities, clear goals to realize the opportunity, and a roadmap to get there. We need a project business plan. YOUR PROJECT VALUE. A 2012 study (Found, P. and Harrison, R., 2012) sought to determine how customers perceive value in working with professional services firms. This research was built on prior works

See JUSTIN SMITH, page 2



JUSTIN SMITH , from page 1

that studied how professional services companies could better understand customer desires and how professional services providers could optimally align their services to the expectations of their customers. The 2012 study concluded that the key to creating and sustaining high-value customer relationships lies in the service provider’s ability to continuously meet or exceed customer expectations. In addition to prior research, the kicker is that this is true whether customer expectations are known to the provider or not. Your project’s business starts by uncovering and understanding your client’s expectations as much as possible. These are the metrics your clients will use to evaluate your value as a service provider. Whether you know of them or not, they are there, and they are the measuring stick for your firm. UNCOVERING EXPECTATIONS. When working with companies, we often start with a deliberate discovery process. The discovery process serves two purposes for us as a service provider: 1. It helps us to understand their expectations and goals. 2. It allows us to ensure we can meet them. Challenges exist when expectations are not well-articulated. These challenges are nobody’s fault, and they occur for various reasons. The key is to identify what kind of expectations you are working with and make them known to you so that, by meeting them, you can deliver a high-value project experience. A research study on expectations management for professional services providers studied this topic and provided a framework for making unknown expectations known to you. This study indicates that client value is derived through focusing, revealing, and calibrating expectations, then delivering services that meet those expectations. What does this look like in practice? We want to focus the fuzzy, reveal the implicit, and calibrate the unrealistic, and open-ended questions are one of the best ways to do that. The key is to ask the questions in plain language and then allow your client to describe their ideal outcome in their words.

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(Ojasalo 2001) When done well, this process helps you understand what your client expects throughout the project. The only thing left for you to do at that point is to deliver, and I have yet to meet an AEC firm that is not willing to bet on itself to deliver. So back to the beginning of this article. Why does this issue keep coming up? Are the expectations fuzzy, implicit, or unrealistic? Regardless of the reason, you now have one more tool in your toolkit to derive value in your projects and, hopefully, one fewer problem to solve. Justin Smith, P.E., is an advisor at Zweig Group, specializing in project management and leadership development. He can be reached at

PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOR AEC PROFESSIONALS Attendees will learn to identify and track key project data, to structure project interactions to get information to the right people at the right time, and the interpersonal behaviors that build successful teams, and will leave armed with a process framework that can be adapted to their firms so they can immediately begin driving greater project value. Click here to learn more!

© Copyright 2022. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Rethinking swag

S wag – stuff we all get. Notebooks and mugs and pens, oh my. We all get it, and put our logos on it, but do we all know what it is, by definition? If it doesn’t support the mission of your firm, enhance your brand story, and provide relatable value to the recipient, it might be time to rethink spending money on it at all.

According to, “Swag is branded promotional merchandise used to promote businesses/brands. Swag is usually given away as ‘freebies’ to the public, leads, customers, and employees. Marketing swag is tangible, tactile, and useful to the recipient.” This is a great description, yet it carries a different meaning this side of March of 2020. THE WAY IT WAS. In the past, swag could be pretty much anything. From stress balls of all shapes and sizes and forms to the ubiquitous pens, with or without novelty features, and a variety of consumable treats. For many firms, the approach was to:

Pass them out to staff for some brand reinforcement too

Jane Lawler Smith

PRESENT CHALLENGES FOR SWAG. We have a chocolate factory in our town. And we have a few conferences that we have attended for many years. People who frequent these conferences generally know us and look forward to the chocolate we bring. A nice big bowl with a spoon and small cups where people can help themselves throughout the day. Of necessitates multiple hands reaching into the same bowl may be suspect. Those entertaining stress balls, that someone else may have touched before you, might still elicit a smile, but may also be left behind. We need to address a basic question: What are course, that was before March of 2020. Now, anything that isn’t pre-packaged and

■ Buy in bulk so per-impression costs were low

■ Use the same items for all events – for every customer market, at every stage of the pipeline






in the South Florida region. Utilizing a strong geometric pattern of hexagonal shapes, the exterior skin has been developed as an exoskeletal structure whose similarity to beehives provides for an efficient use of materials and an exceptional resistance to the Category 5 storms that are becoming increasingly present. The exoskeleton skin also provides the structural support for the building creating column free residential floors. The project includes a restaurant, a nightclub in the lower floor, an amenity floor for the residences, automated parking facility, and a pool on the rooftop. The ground floor has the private entrance to the residences and the garage elevator entrance. The ground floor also has a publicly accessible restaurant and club on the second floor.

Each unit has private elevator access to the unit. The column free floor plates allow for a multitude of arrangements for dividing the floors. From three units per floor to one unit per floor, the structure provides for flexible layouts for the award-winning architectural and planning design studio specializing in projects of distinction from a design, cultural, environmental and political perspective. With design workshops in Washington, D.C. and Miami, the firm is renowned for its ability to seamlessly integrate planning, architecture and interior design in projects across the academic, civic, commercial, hospitality, mixed-use, renovation/historic preservation, and residential sectors in North America and the Caribbean. residences. Winstanley is an

INTERNATIONAL AWARD Winstanley Architects & Planners has announced its Edgewater Tower project has received a Global Architecture & Design Award from the RTF Design Awards program for 2022. The project was selected for the Multifamily Concept over five stories category. DESIGN The Edgewater Tower project is a luxury condominium building in Edgewater – north of downtown Miami. The location offers sprawling views of the picturesque Biscayne Bay and plenty of public parks nearby and in the neighborhood. The 50 story tower was developed as a concept for a luxury condominium building to be branded by fashion designer Philipp Plein. The concept was developed with an eye for resiliency and the recurrence of major storm events

Instead of telling people you are an expert in your field, let your swag demonstrate it. Your ability to deliver value should permeate everything you do. This holds true, even for your giveaways. ■ Do the math. With smaller numbers of in-person attendees, hybrid events, and some fully online conferences, bulk purchases may not be the great deal they once were. The changing landscape of conferences means more specialized approaches. Perhaps smaller quantities or fewer items selected with a specific, planned target is a better approach than stuff we all get. ■ Be original. If you’ve seen someone in your market offer it, rethink using it yourself. Equip your team with something of value versus leaning into the latest promotional fad. Overall, avoid swag for swag’s sake. From Seth Godin’s The Practice , “Everything has a function. Every element of the bridge or the spaceship is there for a reason, even if the reason is decorative. When NASA engineers put together the payload for an Apollo rocket, they had total clarity about tradeoffs. Everything weighs something, everything takes up space. Nothing goes on a lunar module unless there’s a really good reason. Intentional action demands a really good reason … You can’t find a good reason until you know what you’re trying to accomplish.” What are you trying to accomplish with your swag? If it doesn’t support the mission of your firm, enhance your brand story, and provide relatable value to the recipient, it might be time to rethink spending money on it at all. Jane Lawler Smith, MBA, is the marketing manager at Derck & Edson, LLC. She can be reached at

JANE LAWLER SMITH, from page 3

people willing to touch? Going further, what are people willing to take? Sustainability is another global concern with related impact. In an industry that designs green buildings and employs LEED professionals, does your swag support the reduce/reuse/ recycle mantra and/or your firm-wide sustainability position? And then there’s the competition for employees, nationwide but specifically for AEC employees. If you are using your conference swag as a token for your employees, what message are you sending along with that? “In an industry that designs green buildings and employs LEED professionals, does your swag support the reduce/reuse/recycle mantra and/or your firm-wide sustainability position?” A BETTER WAY. When rethinking swag, keep these checkpoints in mind: ■ Consider your recipients. The one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. Think about your audience – are they conference attendees or staff? For conferences, consider the market as well as the roles of attendees in their own organizations. ■ Deliver value. One of the biggest ah-ha moments of my career happened when someone was prepared to pay me for our swag at a conference. They saw real value in what we were giving away. It was collateral, but it was also a book. Not a sales piece, but a resource.

© Copyright 2022. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Building partnerships: Carmelo Bueti Vice president of corporate development at J.S. Held, a global consulting firm providing technical, scientific, and financial expertise across all assets and value at risk.


B ueti is used to carrying out complex financial transactions. He’s responsible for assisting J.S. Held (Jericho, NY) in achieving its inorganic growth initiatives and helping businesses to achieve their short- and long-term growth goals. “We view our acquisitions as ‘partnerships,’” Bueti says. “Each and every acquisition we do is either to further develop an existing service line or to expand into an adjacent service. Firms that ‘acquire to acquire’ often run into snags in building a cohesive business. We fully integrate businesses and provide a global J.S. Held brand, which we believe leads to collaboration.” A CONVERSATION WITH CARMELO BUETI. The Zweig Letter: Specifically, when it comes to working with AEC firms, are there any unique challenges re: M&As? How does it differ from say healthcare or digital environments? Carmelo Bueti: Having worked in the tech space prior to joining J.S. Held, the key difference between a product-based

business (such as software, biotechnology, hardware, etc.) and professional services is that the people are the assets in a service business. With that, there must be a focus on ensuring that people are happy, including titles, wages, and benefits. A happy staff, the main driver of billable hours and therefore revenue, is most important. TZL: Personally, what do you enjoy most about helping companies to achieve inorganic growth? What’s the most difficult part of the process and how do you meet that challenge? CB: While cliché, making one plus one equal something more than two is a joy. Watching former owners of businesses connect, cross-pollinate, and work jointly on files to grow revenue is a fantastic feeling. It can become difficult as you approach the finer points of a transaction leading up to a close. Selling a business is a very emotional endeavor. Throughout the transaction, but especially at the close, I find it vital to continue recognizing that a business often is a life’s work realized and someone is parting with that. To approach the



deal terms from a seller’s view to understand what is truly mission-critical is paramount to me. “Making one plus one equal something more than two is a joy. Watching former owners of businesses connect, cross-pollinate, and work jointly on files to grow revenue is a fantastic feeling.” TZL: Since you’ve been working in the business, what’s the greatest evolution you’ve seen in how business is done? CB: By far, it has been COVID and how that has led to more remote meetings and work. This has been quite helpful in the M&A world, as it is now more acceptable to hold initial meetings virtually. On the other hand, it makes an in-person visit all the more valuable, if you show the extra bit of care. TZL: What are some of the most important factors to consider when entering into a merger or acquisition? CB: While I could focus on strategic fit or financial profile, unquestionably the leading indicator of a successful acquisition versus a failed one is cultural match. The only failed acquisitions I see are when two companies come together and, regardless of how well the products or services fit, there was not proper diligence done for the method by which each company completes its work. This leads to employee attrition and poorly-served clients. TZL: What do you feel will be a top challenge in your business in say the next five years? What is your company doing to meet that challenge? CB: Employee retention has become a top priority and we view both the inflationary environment and work-from-home trends to be the two that drive employee retention. Creating a vibrant company culture is paramount to ensure a business is able to retain top talent despite these trends. Having the flexibility to work remotely is a top concern now, yet it is difficult to build an excellent culture without the ability to bring people together. Therefore, we are focused on having strong physical presences in major hubs (both within and outside of the U.S.) where employees have the ability to collaborate if necessary.

TZL: How many acquisitions has J.S. Held completed in the past three years? CB: Thirty. However, we view our acquisitions as “partnerships.” Each and every acquisition we do is either to further develop an existing service line or to expand into an adjacent service. Firms that “acquire to acquire” often run into snags in building a cohesive business. We fully integrate businesses and provide a global J.S. Held brand, which we believe leads to collaboration. TZL: How does J.S. Held attract so many strong acquisition partners in such a competitive M&A environment? What differentiates you? CB: We have a significant focus during our diligence process on integration and I believe this shows. I firmly believe that few firms are as focused on the success of the staff coming over and the continued joint entity running as smoothly as we do. There is a lot to think about around integration including, HR, marketing, business development, finance, accounting, technology, etc., which many acquirers put aside simply to get a transaction closed. For us, once the deal closes, we have plans, processes, and teams in place to ensure we’re not maniacally trying to figure out, “what’s next?” That sense of calm planning seems to have worked its way around our industry. TZL: What advice would you have for a buyer or seller who is considering M&A for the first time? CB: For a first-time acquirer or seller, ensure your legal and financial advisors are not only strong, but have significant M&A experience. Quite often we meet sellers who will use a general business lawyer or a personal accountant, as the rates may be cheaper. However, what you lose in fees with firms that have significant M&A experience, you more than gain back in improved offer terms. See BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS, page 8 “I find it vital to continue recognizing that a business often is a life’s work realized and someone is parting with that. To approach the deal terms from a seller’s view to understand what is truly mission-critical is paramount to me.”




OFFICE LOCATIONS: 100+ worldwide MARKETS: Agriculture; Construction; Consumer Products & Services; Education, Government; Healthcare; Hospitality; Industrial; Insurance; Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities; Real Estate; Technology, Media & Telecommunications;

Transportation Infrastructure

AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Construction Claims & Disputes; Environmental, Health & Safety; Equipment Consulting; Expert Services; Forensic Accounting/ Economics/Corporate Finance; Forensics; Global Investigations; Project Support Services; Property & Infrastructure Damage; Surety; Appraisals; Dispute Resolution

© Copyright 2022. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

TOBER 17, 2022, ISSUE 1461




dynamic, brand-rich work environments, and campus life facilities for the nation’s leading developers, owners, academic institutions and users of real estate. “Under the new leadership, SGA will continue the transformational work that has established us as one of the most trusted architecture and design firms,” stated Chairman Al Spagnolo. “Our recent growth is a credit to the work of Gable, John, Adam, and the rest of our talented team. They are taking SGA to heights that Jeff, Bill, and I could not have dreamed of when we started the firm in 1991.” CEO Adam Spagnolo will lead and oversee the business of the practice including overall fiscal responsibilities and firm-wide operations. Adam will lean on his many years of organizational leadership in multiple industries including retail, architecture and design. For the past seven years he has modernized SGA’s business practices, opened the firm’s New York City office and managed its exponential growth. John Sullivan will serve as SGA’s President of Architecture. For 17 years he has led the firm’s many large-scale projects in the commercial, technology, life-sciences, and academic markets and often plays a major role in master

planning, conceptual design, and the public approvals process. Sullivan will lead the firm’s robust architecture practice focusing on design leadership and client management. President of Interior Design Gable Clarke has earned many prestigious honors and awards during her 20-plus year career, including 18 at SGA. She has been the driving force behind the expansion of the firm’s interior design practice and is an ambassador throughout the market. In addition to leading numerous interior design commissions and overseeing the Science and Technology discipline, Clarke will manage the firm’s human resources department. “John, Gable, and I are honored to lead SGA and this exceptional company into a new era,” said Adam Spagnolo. “In the role of CEO, I am here to serve the leadership team and our practice to ensure they have all of the tools needed to continue delivering industry-leading, tech-forward projects. SGA’s position as an innovator and trusted advisor to clients is a testament to the leadership and expertise of our founding partners Al Spagnolo, Jeff Tompkins, and Bill Gisness – we will continue to build upon the trusted and highly-regarded reputation they worked tirelessly to create.”

OWNERSHIP AND EXPANSION OF LEADERSHIP TEAM SGA – an award-winning architecture, design and planning firm specializing in life sciences, corporate and academic design – announced an internal transition of ownership and expansion of its leadership team. The firm will now be led by equal majority owners: President of Architecture John Sullivan, AIA; President of Interior Design Gable Clarke, NCIDQ, LEED AP, Certified Generations Trainer; and CEO Adam Spagnolo. Former SGA President and Founding Partner Al Spagnolo, AIA, NCARB will move to the role of Chairman and Founding Partners Bill Gisness, AIA, BSA, and Jeff Tompkins, IIDA, LEED AP, will transition from the firm. Michael Schroeder, CCM, will remain a minority partner. TRANSITION SGA has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, more than doubling the staff in its Boston and New York offices to more than 130 professionals. The firm has 15 million square feet of active projects. Continually at the forefront of its field, SGA has designed innovation campuses, emerging life sciences clusters, R&D accelerators, high-performance sustainable buildings, complex mixed-use developments,

CB: A motto here at J.S. Held is that “we hire adults.” Therefore, if a manager believes the best path for his or her group is to be in the office every day, we support that. If a different manager believes in a fully remote or hybrid remote/in- office environment, we support that as well. We feel that performance is almost always reflected in the bottom line. One of our core values is to think outside the box, so this practice and line of thought has been here for our people, even in the years leading up to the pandemic. We have a distinct culture that anyone can get behind. Anyone can get behind a company that starts small, adheres to its values, puts its people and talent first, does what it say it will do, and grows systematically without sacrificing culture. Talent and acquired firms respect that because it is a language they particularly understand. “The people are the assets in a service business. With that, there must be a focus on ensuring that people are happy, including titles, wages, and benefits. A happy staff, the main driver of billable hours and therefore revenue, is most important.”


Even as a buyer, we sometimes prefer advisors for the seller that may lead to a slightly worse deal for us because we gain efficiency through the documentation and diligence processes by having a party on the other side that has “walked the walk.” TZL: Is J.S. Held taking any precautionary measures relating to what some believe is an impending recession? CB: Our business is structured to temper impacts from cyclicality. Significant pieces of our business include insurance claims often resulting from bad weather events, litigation, and restructuring. All three of these services either don’t listen to the economy (bad weather) or may be counter-cyclical (litigation, restructuring). In my experience through the last two years, costs have increased and talent is a commodity. I feel we have the best talent to offer across many disciplines, so while we may have the aforementioned expertise that we believe may do well in a recession, our top-class talent makes us a sound choice for any client. TZL: How can newly formed entities reconcile disparate work environments behind a cohesive vision? Have you seen any shifts in conversations about work environment and flexibility, telecommuting, etc., post-COVID?

© Copyright 2022. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Complete transparency

Open up and embrace full company transparency, not just financial, to enhance your firm’s culture.

F inancial transparency in the AEC industry is gaining quite a bit of traction these days. It makes sense: Help employees understand how they individually impact the numbers, and each can now help the team work toward common goals, not to mention fulfillment and stability within the company. By allowing employees to understand the finances of the firm and what those numbers mean, employees can understand their worth, make or suggest improvements and efficiencies, and see how to directly impact the company’s bottom line. With the success of financial transparency, then, what would an approach of embracing full company transparency (not just financial) look like?

Matt Hoying, P.E.

At Choice One Engineering, we have found the real value of transparency goes farther when everything is transparent – not just the numbers. This broad sweeping transparency of culture, organizational growth, people development, etc., provides employees the knowledge to truly make an impact on the organization. Yes, it’s hard sometimes, especially when individual lives are impacted when an employee is let go or when a costly mistake is shared companywide so all can learn. But the benefits of dispelling rumors and helping employees feel confident in the direction of the company is worth the short-term pain of being transparent when it matters most. Not sure about transparency? A common concern heard about making a shift from opaqueness to

transparency is that now there is no “barrier” between leadership and everyone else. Leadership actually has to do what they say they are going to do, or actually have to care about the things that they say they care about. If that is truly a concern, we suggest not venturing into transparency quite yet. We would suggest a better place to start improving your organization would be to begin evaluating your leadership team to understand if they are sending mixed signals. Make sure you and your leadership team have clarity about your company priorities (management, culture, financials, etc.) and what each aspect means. Culture to you, for example, may mean something different than culture to your next level leader. That clarity will be important as you introduce

See MATT HOYING , page 10



know where the company stands and how stable it is. No matter the success of your company on the surface, employees will still be wondering “how are we really doing?” Transparency helps address those questions and promotes commitments to make the company even better. “To achieve a high level of impact with transparency, leadership needs to do more than just share information. Clarity needs to be provided around the information shared. The actual sharing needs to be done with intentionality, education, listening, and a sincere request for feedback from employees around a specific topic.” ■ Personal responsibility. Once your communicated topic is well understood, you might be surprised at the passion employees have around furthering any initiative or important company aspect. Suddenly an employee who perhaps previously only focused on CAD design now understands what it takes to manage the company’s vehicle fleet or what was considered when a certain person was selected for a promotion or new position. This can help with understanding the “hidden” parts of running a business, what leadership/owners think about, and encourage appreciation among employees for jobs well done and situations well managed. ■ Worth. By giving sensitive information to all employees, regardless of level of experience or tenure, all employees feel valued in a similar way. When owners or a select few hold all of the information, there is a feeling of power, whether intentional or not, that creates a barrier between those who “know” and those who don’t. Remember when you were in third grade and your classmate told you she had a secret, and she wasn’t going to tell you? That may have made your feel less than you peer. The same things happen in businesses. By holding information over each other, we create a culture of “I know something you don’t know” that, due to our human nature, does not typically provide a positive environment. In closing, it’s understandable to hesitate about being fully transparent – how can this go wrong? But think of the opposite: How can this go right? Consider showing your employees how much their work matters beyond a personal bonus or employee award. Show them the truth, with the story behind it, and open up your company’s culture to creating a more transparent, trusting team. Matt Hoying, P.E. is president of repeat Best Firm To Work For winner Choice One Engineering, a civil engineering, landscape architecture, and surveying firm in western Ohio. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

MATT HOYING, from page 9

it to the organization, otherwise there will eventually be ambiguity of goals or behaviors which will lead to frustration and stress for everyone involved. A word of caution: To achieve a high level of impact with transparency, leadership needs to do more than just share information. Clarity needs to be provided around the information shared. The actual sharing needs to be done with intentionality, education, listening, and a sincere request for feedback from employees around a specific topic. This extra effort is the difference between being transparent and simply being “open” (think about it as being transparent versus translucent). Likewise, all of this commentary assumes you want to hire and employ people who care about their personal growth and the growth of the organization. Let’s take a look at a suggestion of where to start: Your company’s professional management model. Whether you have a formal, documented model or not, you have a professional management model. That model highlights the areas of your business you focus on. Even if you don’t have something documented, your employees notice what is most important to your leadership and that has, over time, become your de facto model. Indeed, a common trap we as leaders fall into is believing that our employees know what we know. They have been around for two, five, or 10-plus years – of course they know what is important here. But ask them. There’s a good chance that if you have never explicitly sat them down and told them what’s important, they won’t be able to articulate it clearly. At Choice One, we follow a formalized professional management model known as the DOC Model. By being transparent with the professional management model we follow, employees know what is important to leadership and know how to help make the company better in those areas. If it is important to you as a leader, why wouldn’t you want it to be important to your people? “Consider showing your employees how much their work matters beyond a personal bonus or employee award. Show them the truth, with the story behind it, and open up your company’s culture to creating a more transparent, trusting team.” Once more transparency is established, what are the benefits? The following are outcomes we’ve experienced by being transparent companywide: ■ Trust. Simply being willing to be transparent shows employees absolute trust in using the information communicated appropriately. Being fully transparent will also create more trust among employees. Suddenly, when everyone has the same information, the concept of one team with one plan and one goal is driven home. The team has a common language, recognizes ways to be more effective, and then gets to see and share the results of their focused efforts. This trust also helps employees

© Copyright 2022. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




T here’s been a real focus on people in our business – one that isn’t going away. We have all heard about the “great resignation” and how people can “quit in place.” When those things happen it costs us – as business owners – dearly. Productivity and quality decrease, morale gets worse, and it makes it harder to hire and keep good people. Four things you can do to build the kind of workplace over time that good people want to stay in. Making your firm a better place to work

Mark Zweig

So what can we really do about it? There is only so much we can afford to pay our people and only so many titles we can give out before everyone in the business is either a “vice president” or “senior (something).” Besides that, those things usually only have a very temporary effect. There are other, more important things we can do that not only don’t cost us as much, but that work better in terms of building the kind of workplace over time that good people want to work in. Here are my thoughts on four of those: 1. Show a genuine interest in your people and follow up. What I mean by this is that you and your managers need to talk to the people who work for you and actually listen to what they are telling you. That means you probe and ask more questions when you hear someone’s daughter

is sick or that their vacation house got broken into. And then you follow up a few days or weeks later to check back in on them to see what is happening. Put your phone down, look at the person you are speaking with, and listen to what they are telling you. If there is anything you or the company can do to help them, offer it. Show a real interest. 2. Provide less evaluation and instead give more help. We had a discussion recently at a company we work with where I am an advisor to their board of directors. They were discussing how they wanted their performance review process to be more positive. None of the managers enjoyed it, and they felt their employees didn’t either. I suggested that instead of rating and

See MARK ZWEIG , page 12



ON THE MOVE WILSON & COMPANY HIRES JOHN D’ANTONIO JR. AS WATER RESOURCE BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Wilson & Company Inc., Engineers & Architects, welcomes John D’Antonio Jr., PE, as the water resource business development manager based at the company’s Albuquerque headquarters to lead the growth of the water resource services in the Southwest region. “We are excited to have John join the team in this key role,” said Dan Aguirre, PE, CFM, senior vice president at Wilson & Company. “John brings tremendous experience in New Mexico and beyond. He has strong leadership and strategic planning skills, which combined with his technical knowledge, makes him an incredible asset to Wilson & Company as we grow our water resource services throughout the region.” D’Antonio brings more than 40 years

of experience in water resources engineering and regulation, water policy, water rights, infrastructure funding, water planning, dam safety, acequia rehabilitation, and construction. D’Antonio was the New Mexico State Engineer and Secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission under three different Governors and developed key relationships with the local, state, federal, and Tribal governments and helped negotiate three key Indian Water Right Settlements in New Mexico. These settlements have led to nearly $2 billion in infrastructure improvements and, more importantly, adjudicated Tribal water rights while bringing wet water to many Tribal communities and reducing conflict for competing water resources between Indian and non-Indian communities. Additionally, D’Antonio has a strong background in coordinating planning, design, cost engineering, construction,

and environmental restoration of many federal projects while focusing on key milestones and deliverables, with NEPA compliance to complete projects on schedule and within budget. In his 22 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, D’Antonio has served in the positions of hydraulic design engineer; chief of hydraulics, hydrology, sedimentation, and floodplain analysis; project manager for civil/military/ international and interagency support; deputy district engineer for programs and project management; and senior executive service roles as the program director for the USACE South Pacific Division and regional business director for the USACE South Atlantic Division. In this role, D’Antonio will identify opportunities to expand services and offer clients expert results through discipline, intensity, collaboration, shared ownership, and solutions.

more. Those readers who knew me 30 years ago know I used to be a hard-liner on certain rules. I am much less so now because I have learned that isn’t the best way to create a healthy and positive work environment. 4. Less division/more focus on the whole. This is something that makes some principals of AEC firms very uncomfortable. They think that we have to do P&Ls on every office or department in the firm and share all of this information – or that we have to pay our bonuses based solely on individual performance – all in the name of “accountability.” While I won’t argue that doing so will make people more accountable, it will also create unhealthy competition and elicit behaviors that can be counter to what should be one of your top priorities as a business owner, i.e., creating a growing and profitable company in its totality. The best way to do that is not always breaking the business into parts that compete with each other for resources and don’t cooperate and/or help each other. We all know that there are cycles to individual disciplines and geographies that mean there will be times one service line or market is hot and others may not be. Yet, they are all necessary to providing a complete service to our clients and to accomplishing our longer term goals. So reinforce that idea versus making yours a culture of “eat what you kill and don’t share any of it.” It will make your business a better workplace and you will get better long-term results. None of these things are easy, mostly because they will force you and your managers to unlearn some of what you could consider cornerstones of “good management practice.” But we live in a rapidly changing world and have to recognize that and act accordingly, or we will find we are plagued with high staff turnover and lower productivity than we used to have. Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

MARK ZWEIG, from page 11

criticizing how someone is doing, they would be better served to instead focus on how they can help the person. What are the impediments to them doing their best job? What demotivates or discourages them at work? How can management help them more? Where do they see themselves in five or 10 years? What roadblocks do they perceive that could keep them from accomplishing that? It’s these kinds of questions and follow-ups that create a more positive and motivational experience for the individuals who work at the company, and that makes them happier workers. It really only became clear to me as a teacher that this has become more of my orientation in the last few years and one I plan on sticking with. My emphasis is not on grading, as it is for many teachers, but rather on teaching and helping. So I don’t give tests that involve recall of information, and instead only have people write papers and do projects and presentations – and I spend more time than ever in one-on-ones with my students. 3. More flexibility versus hard and fast rules. If there has ever been a time to be more flexible instead of having unbendable rules, it is now. The best example of this is whether or not you will allow people to work from home. If the pandemic taught us anything at all, it was that not everyone has to be in the office all day, every day. I’m not saying there aren’t many positives associated with that if we can get our people to do it, but it is not the only way everyone works best. And demanding everyone be there may cost you some good people who have reoriented their entire lives around not having to go in every day. This is just one example. There are many other rules one could be flexible on, such as how people can decorate their own workspaces, when they have to arrive by, whether or not they are allowed to bring their dogs to the office, and

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