President of BranchPattern (Overland Park, KS), a building consultancy dedicated to creating better built environments through its many interwoven specialties.
By Liisa Andreassen
More than 20 years ago, Maniktala first started his work at BranchPattern as an intern. He did everything from working in the CAD department to running the blue-print machine. He quickly moved into project management and ran a small branch before taking on a principal role in the early 2000s. It’s working as a team to solve complex problems for the company’s clients that he finds to be the most fun and rewarding.
“We are one firm with many interwoven specialties, with the purpose of improving life through better built environments,” Maniktala says. “Our intense focus on purpose is what has evolved the firm from its humble MEP engineering beginnings. The home-grown service expansion has led us to a new defining brand: BranchPattern. It better reflects that we are much more than MEP engineers. We’ve assembled a talented group of building scientists, enclosure consultants, and net-zero integrated design specialists.”
A conversation with Rick Maniktala.
The Zweig Letter: Your website reads, “Improving life through better built environments® is our purpose.” Can you provide a recent example of a project that the company has worked on that speaks to this phrase?
Rick Maniktala: There are many examples, as we seek better built solutions for all our projects using our human-centered design approach, the D.I.V.E. Project Framework®. A recent example that has received a lot of attention is the Pikes Peak Summit Complex. Our engineers and scientists leveraged research and first principles thinking to engineer unique solutions for the Pikes Peak Summit Complex Project, located 14,115 feet above sea level. Its impact on people’s lives is going to be the best part, with 600,000 people visiting the summit each year.
TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?
RM: This is always a challenge. We’ve always discounted our 90-day projections by about 10 percent and 18-day by 25 percent to account for delays and uncertainty. We’re planning for significant growth over the next five years, but it’s increasingly challenging to reliably predict beyond about six months at this time.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
RM: I seek a work-life harmony. Harmony is achieved when the two are overlapped and add to one another. They are certainly not in opposition to one another as might be implied by a balanced scale. Family is a very big part of the work culture at BranchPattern. We are one big extended family; I see everyone cheering for and supporting one another within and outside of work.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?
RM: We emphasize one-on-ones, feedback, and coaching to provide the resources necessary to grow our talent. Everyone has a regularly scheduled one-on-one where anything can be discussed. Culturally, we seek improvements through regular feedback using the tactics described in Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Coaching works when we set measurable time-bound goals for a skill or behavioral improvement. This happens throughout the year and during annual professional development planning meetings in January.
TZL: How are you balancing investment in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff? This has always been a challenge, but seems heightened as investments in development have increased.
RM: We seek equity in all its forms, including between generations. We are reporting our status to ILFI’s Just program. Just is a nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations. Per the Just website, “it is a transparency platform for organizations to disclose their operations, including how they treat their employees and where they make financial and community investments.” We use the reported data to plan year-over-year improvements and are committed to this transparent reporting and to being even more socially just over time.
TZL: How did the name BranchPattern evolve out of ME Group and Forte Building? What message are you working to communicate?
RM: We are one firm with many interwoven specialties, with the purpose of improving life through better built environments. Our intense focus on purpose is what has evolved the firm from its humble MEP engineering beginnings. The home-grown service expansion has led us to a new defining brand: BranchPattern. It better reflects that we are much more than MEP engineers. We’ve assembled a talented group of building scientists, enclosure consultants, and net-zero integrated design specialists. Every BranchPattern employee-owner seeks to achieve the same purpose and vision for Better Built Environments®.
TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.
RM: Yes, change is the only constant. Managing change is the responsibility of leadership. Change can be very difficult for people, as was evident when many had to shift to working from home. For some, working from home is now the new normal. So, it’s going to be important to help manage the change of working from the office again.
TZL: How do you handle a long-term principal who is resting on his or her laurels? What effect does a low-performing, entitled principal or department head have on firm morale?
RM: Through feedback and goal setting. We are very thorough in our evaluation of future principals. That’s most important. A low-performing principal or department head who is negatively impacting culture would need to be coached up or out, relatively quickly.
TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?
RM: We conduct customer surveys once per year and employee engagement twice per year. Reviews and professional development planning are completed once per year. The behaviors and KPIs for performance are tied to our vision, purpose, and core values. We complete these in-house.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
RM: Not emphasizing project management enough. Effective project management is the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful one.