Leaders of employee-friendly firms talk about recruiting, culture, and the importance of employee feedback.
Eileen Pannetier, President, CEI (winner in the 1-49 employees category): We’re truly honored to be recognized as a Best Firm To Work For, especially knowing that this award not only reflects CEI’s professional achievement and industry leadership but exemplifies that our employees are our No. 1 asset. We value our clients who have helped grow CEI with a high degree of repeat business, but we recognize that our success is the result of a highly dedicated staff. CEI is employee-owned and, with little turnover, we feel that our people love working here for a variety of reasons, including great benefits, flexibility, and a friendly office culture, and professional support including mentoring and state-of-the-art technology, advanced learning, and the opportunity to direct and broaden professional interests. As we look beyond 2020, we strive to continue promoting an environment focused on our employees, while achieving success with our clients and strengthening our industry.
Gordon Greene; Executive Vice President; Patel, Greene & Associates, LLC (winner in the 50-99 employees category): I would describe the PGA culture as one of selfless and humble excellence. From top to bottom, our attitudes are nearly always outward-focused. Nobody is left on an island to work late on “their” project, as our folks are always ready to jump in to help “fight the fire.” Even when I know dang-well that a certain person already has more than enough on their plate, I will see them offer their help to someone else if they think they might bring value to whatever is needed (QC review, presentation feedback, etc.). This attitude, which is exhibited by so many, time and again, helps to build a sense of camaraderie that really helps us feel like family. That family feel makes it easy to keep things fun. Whether it’s 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning or 2:30 a.m. on a Friday night, we joke and have fun, helping each other with whatever challenges we are facing. When we set out to develop our five-year strategic plan in 2018, our overarching focus was on maintaining our culture. We really took for granted that we would continue to grow as we have, so what kind of company did we want to be when we are at 100 staff, 500 staff, and so on? The answer was that we wanted to be the same company, at least in terms of our culture. We knew that wouldn’t happen on its own, so we wove it into every aspect of our plan.
Many of our folks have that important quality of simultaneous pride and humility. The pride in our work drives us to do what it takes to make whatever we are doing the best it can be. No mailing it in. Our humility tends to work the same way, in that we are never truly satisfied and are always looking for ways to improve. This quality results in a group of folks who go out of their way to praise their colleagues. We have “ICE” awards we give out, which are custom chocolates with our “ICE” logo and represent our core values of Integrity, Commitment, and Excellence. We use these to provide regular recognition when someone demonstrates these values, which we try to do as often as possible.
We are often astounded at the quality of staff we have been able to attract. We never want them to feel underappreciated, so we make sure to keep a true open-door policy, provide all sorts of opportunities for input, and then actually listen to them! One example of our efforts here is our Mentorship Program that kicks off in a couple months. This program was a suggestion we received from several folks as part of a Best Firms To Work For survey (thanks Zweig Group!). By providing these venues for ideas and then appreciating and implementing the good ones, we hope folks feel like PGA is their own. When they feel that way, they will work that way, and everyone wins.
We all want to see PGA succeed, or as we like to say internally – dominate. We want to eventually dominate every market we are in, and we have people who know we can only do that together. I have two examples. The first is how our leadership has attacked goals that we set at the beginning of the year, from technical performance, to marketing, to HR. These are stretch goals, and “extra” work that we are asking of folks. You might expect that we have to nag and remind constantly, but not so. In fact, every goal we assigned that was completely within our control to complete (i.e. we just had to put the time into it), we are going to complete, and all was self-driven by the leads that were assigned the goal. It’s awesome. The second example is our ownership transition. Hiren and I (Patel and Greene) know that we can’t continue to grow and dominate without expanding our leadership and establishing the foundation for the next generation of owners. We have no ego about being “the man” that is responsible for whatever success PGA enjoys. We believe our efforts to begin this transition early, and to continue this transition for years to come, will strengthen this sense of “us” and never “me.” This unifying vision will continue to draw in more good, kind, and smart folks that buy into the PGA culture, and never dream of working anywhere else.
Elyse Conti, Marketing Manager, Traffic Planning and Design, Inc. (winner in the 100-199 employees category): Over the years, the annual survey for Zweig Group’s award program has really helped us understand what our staff likes (and doesn’t like) about our company and culture. It has proved to be an invaluable tool to us in our evolution. In our opinion, the key to creating an outstanding work environment is truly listening. TPD’s management works to integrate as many staff suggestions as possible into our workplace practices. These annual surveys also hold us accountable by ensuring we continue to improve and prioritize what matters most to staff.
Hands down, the most common answer to “Why is TPD a best place to work?” is the work/life balance. Rather than dictate set work hours or a flex schedule (where an employee can start and leave an hour earlier or later) like most companies, each TPDer is empowered to set their own schedule, provided they coordinate with coworkers, colleagues, and clients to whatever extent is necessary to fulfill their responsibilities. This flexibly allows individuals to work from home when needed, or modify their schedules around personal obligations – such as attending a sporting event or visiting the doctor during the day, work as needed after welcoming a new baby into the TPD family, or skip work to participate in their child’s school activities, all without needing approval or having to take a personal day or paid time off. These pre-existing cultural norms have helped TPDers sail smoothly through COVID-19 currents with little to no adjustment issues and focus on the task at hand.
Brian Bowers, President, Bowers + Kubota (winner in the 200+ employees category): It is an honor to receive the Best Firms designation in the 200+ category. Our philosophy at Bowers + Kubota Consulting is to strive for excellence and to be better than we were the day before. Our leadership team lives our values, listens to our employees’ needs, and engages them at all levels.
I believe the number one reason why people love working for the firm is our culture. Our culture is based on our values – Superior Quality, Wellness, Integrity, Family, and Teamwork. Employees feel valued and engaged as a part of the Bowers + Kubota Consulting Family.
One of our employees, Jhune Mals, hit the milestone of 30 years with the firm this past month and I believe he sums up why people decide to stick around best: “Changes are inevitable, challenges and obstacles come with it. Adaptation to an ever changing environment is a constant battle in life. For more than three decades, I have learned how to adapt and overcome challenges. I am grateful for Brian and Dexter for motivating me to face those challenges and to overcome with great results. There goes the saying, ‘I like what I do, and I love what I do.’ Over three decades seems like yesterday. The ups and downs during those years keep me motivated to pursue higher and higher goals. Having been with the firm for this long, it is a second family to me. The wonderful camaraderie, teamwork, exemplary contribution to the community, and of course, the firm’s recognition of being a best place to work.”
2020 has been a challenging year. Our leadership team is continually striving to grow the business despite the challenges. The firm’s No. 1 priority is to keep everyone safe and healthy. Given the varied and changing restrictions placed on us, we are still looking at creative ways to engage our team. We are unable to gather more than 10 people, so we are having our Annual ESOP Meeting virtually and we are doing a Drive-By Summer Paina (picnic). Employees and families will be able to drive through our main office building area and stop off at a variety of socially distant tents to pick up lunch, shave ice, get their picture taken, prizes for the kids, etc. It’s about adjusting to the circumstances that we have been given and making it fun!
We have been fortunate at Bowers + Kubota Consulting to be able to continually employ our team as well as hire new staff. We have found that a good way to engage the team has been to give back to the community. We have done collection drives to provide food and health and safety items to our partners at Kahauiki Village (the program provides homes for the homeless). The team also continually participates and have lead food distribution drives for those in need.