A golden hour

November 2009 » Columns » INSIDER'S VIEW
The recession has affected us all in various ways, from dropped projects to layoffs to outright business closures. As amazing as it may seem, there are still organizations that continue to grow and thrive in this environment —€” not because of luck, but because of careful, measured moves in the right directions over a long period of time. If yours is not one of them, I suspect you know of examples among your competitors, and it is difficult to avoid envy and admit that someone else has something that you don't.
Jason Burke, P.E., MPEM

It has been, to say the least, an interesting year. In retrospect, it should have come as little surprise that the last two columns dealing with motivation and stress struck such a chord with several readers. The recession has affected us all in various ways, from dropped projects to layoffs to outright business closures. As amazing as it may seem, there are still organizations that continue to grow and thrive in this environment — not because of luck, but because of careful, measured moves in the right directions over a long period of time. If yours is not one of them, I suspect you know of examples among your competitors, and it is difficult to avoid envy and admit that someone else has something that you don't.

Even so, we all have something to learn. No matter how good any individual or organization may be, that success hinges on particular variables that could have profound effects if they go the wrong way. Successful firms share a common thread, if not in practice, at least in philosophy. Just recall how many resumes you and your HR department have seen this year. Most have been poor fits for your needs and your clients. But then there are those few gems...

If your firm has been successful this year, I'll wager that it has made a strong effort to hire a clearly qualified employee even if the workload didn't quite support it. In other words, the firms that rise to the top have a philosophy of hiring for "quality" rather than "quantity." It is simple enough to say that this gives them an advantage when the tide rises and they have a workforce poised to take on the new jobs. But there is more to it than that.

To be truly successful, every firm needs to work well on several fronts, not just "get the work done." The new hire who fits the above vision brings with him or her a "golden hour" of excitement, passion, new ideas, and potentially innovative methods — especially in creative environments such as engineering and architecture. Further, I believe this to be true whether that person has 20 years of experience or is fresh out of school. Your challenge as an employer is to pay close attention to these ideas and not let these important insights be squandered to a rigid "onboarding" scheme (apologies to HR departments around the world). Assimilation into the organization and proper orientation are still key, but unless you view your staff as commoditized workers, there is plenty of room for mutual growth. In addition, the golden hour does indeed represent a finite amount of time. It may be 60 days, it may be a year; but there will come a time when that individual's perspective will be heavily influenced by the organization and culture — perhaps not for the best.

As firms grow, mature, and, yes, die, it is more important than ever to ensure that the right people are doing the right things at the right time. Engineering, like so many other industries, depends less and less on physical presence at a workstation to draw lines, push buttons, and produce a product. Rather, we depend on a constant flow of new ideas, new abilities with technology, and new means of communicating within the project team and to the public.

To throw yet another cat into this bag, consider your own professional development — a requirement of most states, but upon which many engineers still manage to look with disdain. Do you face the challenge of implementing what has been learned? Do you come back to the office with a briefcase full of ideas and no one who will listen to them? Are you actually learning new skills and expanding your expertise, or just checking off the box? If the leadership only pays lip service to its own staff, how likely is it that they will be receptive to an outsider's point of view? Is this the environment that will attract the best and brightest of the next generation? I'd like to hear your thoughts as we wrap up this interesting year. Send comments in care of bdrake@stagnitomedia.com.
 


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