President, Choice One Engineering Corp. (Best Firm Civil #2 for 2018), a 45-person firm based in Dayton, Ohio.
By Richard Massey
“Work-life balance is a phrase thrown around a lot, but we believe more in work-life satisfaction,” Hoying says. “Regardless of anyone’s best intentions, we all bring work home and home to work, so do we really have balance? What is happening in one area of our life affects other parts of our life, so we focus on making Choice One an enjoyable place to live.”
A CONVERSATION WITH MATT HOYING.
The Zweig Letter: There is no substitute for experience, but there is pressure to give responsibility to younger staff. What are you doing to address the risk while pursuing the opportunity to develop your team?
Matt Hoying: We identified our lack of experience in younger employees as an obstacle for us to overcome several years ago in our strategic planning sessions and have been working on this ever since. We have one of our engineers whose responsibility it is to help our designers and engineers to shorten the traditional experience gap. He has developed training programs for our people that include both on-site and in-house training as well as leading discussions in our monthly production meetings to make sure knowledge is being shared within the company. We also make sure that we have our more experienced people taking the roles of plan and design reviewers.
TZL: Engineers love being engineers, but what are you doing to instill a business culture in your firm?
MH: Transparency, education, and hiring with intention. Not only do we share the financial numbers, we take time to educate our employees on what the numbers mean, how they can affect the numbers, and why the numbers are important. We also educate around our professional management model to the point where these are part of the daily conversation. With that culture in mind, we are intentionally hiring people who have an interest in being involved in the business side of the business.
TZL: If the worker shortage continues, do you see wages increasing to encourage more talent to enter the AEC space, or will technology be used to counter the reduced work force?
MH: I think as in all industries, wages will have to increase to keep up with demand, but I also believe technology will be utilized to improve efficiencies. I see the rate of change in technological advances outpacing the rate of change in wages.
TZL: The seller-doer model is very successful, but with growth you need to adapt to new models. What is your program?
MH: Rather than a new model, I think of it more as a modified version of the same model. We talk frequently within the company that our most important business development comes from the people doing the work, not the people with a specific business development role. If it wasn’t for the surveyors, designers, and front office staff excelling at what they do and having a client relationship focus, those clients wouldn’t keep coming back, and we all know how much easier it is to keep a client than to develop a new client. Additionally, if we are performing what our business development people are sharing to our prospective clients, eventually our ability to walk the walk will be apparent, and word of that will spread. So, are our doers the sellers? In many ways I would say yes, they are selling the experience that turns clients into repeat clients, and repeat clients into long-term relationships.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion is lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
MH: This is an interesting question, particularly in today’s social climate. We believe strongly in hiring the best candidates regardless of their backgrounds, as we believe that is our responsibility to our clients and the industry. The dangerous thing about quotas is that this model runs the risk of cheapening the product in an effort to achieve a metric. For the same reason, we don’t chase a revenue number every year. We want the relationship to be more important than just getting another project to achieve a goal. With more diversity comes more creativity and progressive thought, so we do believe it is in the industry’s best interest to get a more diverse, qualified employee pool. That being said, we are doing much more public outreach than we have in the past, attempting to educate younger and younger people about what engineering and surveying are, what types of careers there are in those fields, and why they make a difference, all in the hopes of appealing to a broader range of individuals and get them interested in engineering and surveying sooner in life, before they form harmful stereotypes of the profession.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
MH: It’s hard to list one or even a couple of things to answer this question. The answer is our culture, but to break it down more than that is difficult. I would say some important aspects of continually evolving that culture is listening to our employees and doing everything we can to provide them a place to work that satisfies their needs across all aspects of life. Work-life balance is a phrase thrown around a lot, but we believe more in work-life satisfaction. Regardless of anyone’s best intentions, we all bring work home and home to work, so do we really have balance? What is happening in one area of our life affects other parts of our life, so we focus on making Choice One an enjoyable place to live. We provide opportunities for our employees to grow and take on more responsibilities at work, and we also provide life coaching for our employees during work that often involves more personal life conversations than work-life conversations. Our ability to keep staff around is tied a lot to being clear about our culture, hiring around our culture, and spending time developing our employees.
TZL: Benefits are evolving. Are you offering any new ones due to the changing demographic?
MH: We aren’t really offering new benefits in the traditional sense of benefits. We do spend a lot of focus on evolving our culture and getting clearer about our culture, which we believe is the biggest benefit we can offer to employees. If we can be super clear on what our culture is and make it clear to our employees and potential employees, then they will know whether they will enjoy being a part of our company. We review our benefits every year and make sure they are in line with those of other organizations. But our experience is that if people can see a purpose in their work and enjoy what they do, then that is what’s most important to them. The other more traditional benefits are nice, but are an afterthought as long as they are reasonable compared to those of other organizations.
TZL: Tell us about the last time you named a new principal from outside the firm.
MH: This has not happened in the sense of specifically hiring someone and naming him or her a principal. We have, however, hired people that have worked other places and brought them into our culture and organization just as if they were a new hire straight out of college.
TZL: What scares you about the geopolitical environment today?
MH: From a future of society, this could be an endless conversation. From the perspective of how it relates to our business, the answer is not much. By and large, we are going to have to deal with the hand we are dealt, so to speak, and our clients are feeling much the same way. So for us, we need to be acutely aware of how our clients are being impacted so we can best serve their needs regardless of whether it fits our current services today or not. “Scare” is extreme in my opinion, but today’s environment will challenge us to be more nimble and more aware on a regular basis to make sure we are staying relevant.
TZL: How are the tariffs impacting your business and that of your clients?
MH: Currently, we have not noticed an effect. However, in theory, rising construction costs will affect the ability of our clients to achieve their objectives within their budgets. With fewer potential projects being designed, we will have to rely even more on developing deep relationships and providing value that clients want to bring the less work they may have our way.