TZL 1393 (web)


BD: Prior to 2018, I spent too much time working “in the business.” My founding partner and I came from another firm where too many of the principals were detached from billable work and had essentially retired on the job. We told ourselves from the beginning that we would not run our company that way. We were able to grow the business to 24 employees prior to the last recession and then to about 35-40 employees post-recession. But we eventually reached a point where both our growth and revenue stalled out for a few years. It wasn’t until we changed the partners’ mindset to realize that it was OK for someone to not be involved in billable work as long as that person was focused on working “on the business.” For the past three years, I have had the support of my partners to focus entirely “on the business” and since then we have seen year over year revenue growth in excess of 20 percent, staff has increased approximately 60 percent, we have two branch offices, and we have added two disciplines to our previously single discipline firm. Staff retention is also up because our growth has provided many employees with career opportunities that didn’t exist before. We’re firm believers that it’s critically important to have the CEO focused on working “on the business” rather than in it. TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients? BD: We preach to our young project managers that the pinnacle of success with our clients is to become their “trusted advisor.” The trusted advisor is the person clients call first even before an idea turns into a real project; the person clients call first to bounce ideas off even if they know it’s outside of our area of expertise. We get there with our clients by always being honest and always doing what we say we are going to do. We get there by forming strong relationships in the jurisdictions where their projects are located. We get there because we know something about their families. And we get there because, for the most part, we genuinely just like hanging out with them. TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue? BD: We’ve always known that our industry lacked diversity, but until 2020, we never took big enough steps to address it. I think we believed that because we were a small engineering company and there was little we could do to affect change. The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement has since raised our awareness and has changed this mindset up and down our organization. Over the past eight months, we started our DEI journey by hiring two outside DEI consultants to help facilitate education and change. The first consultant worked directly

company culture. We’re constantly re-evaluating our company benefits and perks to make sure we’re being creative and staying ahead of our competition. While some of our perks are not possible now due to COVID-19, we have found ways to show our appreciation for our employees in different ways. For example, we recently gave all employees an employee wellness bonus for them to choose an item or activity that would increase their emotional or mental well-being. Hiking boots, spa appointments, exercise equipment, and childcare were just a few of the suggestions. TZL: How do you anticipate COVID-19 permanently impacting your firm’s policy on telecommuting? BD: We’ve had a telecommuting policy in place for years and had three telecommuters working in separate states prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. We spent lots of time and effort up front to make sure these telecommuters could work as efficiently outside the office as they could inside the office. This included investments in hardware and software to ensure workflow and communication was seamless. In early March of 2020, we made the decision to recommend employees work from home before it was mandated in our state. The investments in the telecommuting tools were already available for our entire company to use, so the transition to remote work was relatively painless. But more important than anything else, it was our employees who proved to us beyond a doubt that they could be trusted to balance working independently while communicating and collaborating as necessary to keep projects moving forward. While not officially stated in our pre-COVID telecommuting policy, the unwritten rule was that employees had to earn our trust through tenure before they were allowed to telecommute. Going forward, I believe we will allow all employees the option to telecommute regardless of tenure. And in addition to making sure employees have a dedicated workspace at home as well as the minimum hardware specs, their supervisors will also be inquiring into what full-time telecommuting employees have planned for what we call the “phantom commute.” The phantom commute is the routine employees have at the beginning and end of their workday. It could be going for a walk, exercising, reading a book, meditating, or just about anything to provide a mental barrier between their home and their work lives. We feel the phantom commute concept is a critical factor for our employees’ mental well- being, especially those who telecommute full-time. This is more important than ever with the additional stress that COVID-19 has put on our lives. It is something that we will continue to encourage long after COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror. TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”


OFFICE LOCATIONS: ❚ ❚ Kirkland, WA ❚ ❚ Tukwila, WA ❚ ❚ Mill Creek, WA

SERVICES: ❚ ❚ Civil engineering ❚ ❚ Land use planning ❚ ❚ Landscape architecture

MARKETS: ❚ ❚ Public works ❚ ❚ Residential ❚ ❚ Commercial


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AY 24, 2021, ISSUE 1393

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