from the publisher
The phrase “the road less traveled” has been used many times. There are at least 10 albums as well as several television shows and movies that are titled using the phrase. It’s also a book by M. Scott Peck, given to me by the late Larry G. Pleimann (1934-2020) who has my structural engineering class professor at the University of Arkansas during my undergraduate years.
The road less traveled
Looking back, I now realize that Larry was the first person I would consider a mentor in my civil engi- neering journey. Structures was not an easy class for me, and so I used those office hours to get the help I needed. What I ended up with was more than just help on structures, but insight on the structure of my career and life. Our conversations were the first where I realized my interest in being a civil engineer was not for the traditional role, but rather an interest in a profession that was largely unknown to much of the university population and beyond. If you polled the 15,000 students at the University, engineering was the college where kids that liked math and science tended to go. Civil engineering was one of the five or so primary degree programs and also, the one with the lowest starting salary. Once I was in the program, I realized the full impact of civil engineers, essentially designing the world around us. How could this not be one of the most well-known and sought-after career choices. How could it not be the highest paid? Despite some of the challenges in the “CVEG” curriculum, Larry Pleimann started the conversation about what the road less traveled might look like and finding the “why” of my choice to become a civil engineer. After I graduated, the first 14 years of my career were spent at Garver, a firm well known for transportation and bridges in Arkansas and the surrounding states. The first 6 years of my career was spent in the design of municipal and state DOT transportation projects with some avia- tion projects as well. Those early years were certainly on a path that was well traveled and highly structured as the focus was on earning that professional engineers (PE) license. Early in my career, I was fortunate to find new mentors and to get the support I needed for my career to evolve and to find new roads. Since then, my roles evolved from marketing to strategy and now to an overall business resource for engineering firms though this awesome platform called Zweig Group. Today, the generations have evolved significantly since my time sitting in Larry Pleimann’s office in the mid 90s. The current generation wants purpose more than ever, and civil engineering is one of the most purposeful careers, in my opinion. They also want training and development as it is now the number one ranked benefit from our Best Firms To Work For data. Training and development is not about putting everyone on a linear path to the same destination, it is about helping people find that road less traveled where they can contribute in a unique and powerful way. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered working with a number of firms over the past eight years: Your people want mentors and role models. I hesitate to use the word “mentor” because it’s been so overused in most discussions of manage- ment in our industry. However, true and natural mentoring is a powering thing as I testified to. This is not a once-a-year lunch with someone that lacks interest or effort. It is taking the time to really get to know someone as an individual and then giving that person a lot of feedback and advice such that they become successful. That’s what real mentoring is all about. It is two-way as well– those who want to be mentored have to face their responsibility to seek out a mentor. Likewise, mentors have to do their part by being accessible, showing interest, and making time to build a relationship of trust. This is not a process that can just be mandated by top management. I highly doubt Larry Pleimann was handing out copies of “The Road Less Traveled” to every student. He took the time to get to know me and give me more than help on structures. He went beyond and gave me something that would serve me in the real world for the rest of my life. Your people want training. I am not just talking about computer and technical design training. Instead, they need training in the business of our business. The schools turning out the new grads aren’t, for the most part, providing this type of training. That is what attracted me to join Zweig Group eight years ago. In fact, our most recent data from our Principal, Partners, and Owners survey shows that only 41 percent of firm principals have ever had any college level business education. It’s up to leaders to show the next generation how to actually run an engineering firm. Spend some effort on this. It’s worth it to do it well as it will make your firm far more competitive. Your people want a commitment from you. With the industry being so busy right now, “Employees' sub-par work is addressed” is one of the lowest rated areas of the Best Firms To Work For data. Employees want us to be committed to their success and to inspire performance. When we do not confront people for being toxic or for underperformance, we are sending a dangerous message. This management practice reinforces the idea that companies have no loyalty to their best employees— so why should the best employees be loyal to the company? Commitment to people means a commitment to management practices that send the right message. Chad Clinehens
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