2011 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For

October 2011 » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
The best firms give employees the tools to excel
Christina Zweig

Good firms know the easiest way to be great is to have great people. Winners of this year's annual Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For were set apart from their peers through superior leadership and the careful creation of an environment that allows every individual to access their full potential.

ALL4 employees take a break in the firm's headquarters courtyard, formerly a barn's stable area. This area affords employees an area to dine, hold meetings, and host onsite "Recess Activities" for the group.

The top-ranked firms showed an exceptional dedication to giving their employees the tools needed for not only success, but excellence!

Fifteen firms participated in the 2011 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For ranking. These varied in size, ranging from 19 to 752 full-time employees, and were based in the United States or Canada.

Judges for the 2011 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For were Jeremy Clarke, director, Executive Search Services for ZweigWhite; Nancy J. Usrey, FSMPS, CPSM, principal consultant for Partners Usrey; and Larry Gard, Ph.D., consulting psychologist for Hamilton-Chase Consulting.

First place: Barr Engineering Company
Barr Engineering is an employee-owned consulting company integrating engineering and environmental expertise to help clients develop, manage, and restore natural resources. Simple aphorisms such as, "We treat people like professionals and trust them to behave accordingly," "We share the rewards of our success with the people who helped create it," and "In the end, we've got to get the rock in the box," define the firm's candid style of management and the relationship of care and trust with the rest of the staff.

Judge Usrey said, "Barr provides its employees with the tools and freedom to manage their own careers and to make choices, ensuring an entrepreneurial environment that works across business units and project teams."

Judge Gard said, "Three words describing the firm appeared over and over again in their Employee Survey: flexibility, freedom, and friendly. The firm's strategic planning process is exemplary; using a bottom-up approach that is driven by employees, it harnesses their enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment. Given the firm's flat organizational structure and free-market staffing model, employees have enormous control over the nature of their work and their professional development."

Barr Engineering's growth over the years is no accident; by embracing good practices, giving comprehensive benefits for employees and their families, generous performance bonuses, and an employee training allowance, "Barr's employees feel a great sense of pride in working for their firm, and they tend to stick with the company for a long time," Gard noted. Barr recognizes anniversaries monthly, some of which are as long as 45 years.

Judge Clarke remarked on the lack of salary freezes in 2010 and also stated, "Additionally, Barr awarded annual bonuses in this very tough economic climate to a staggering 97 percent of 2010 staff. What's more, [Barr has] a generous employee referral bonus program, comprehensive benefits offerings for family and employee alike (and with low premiums), full tuition reimbursement benefits paid out to over 400 employees, and robust opportunity for training and professional development."

Employee surveys were filled with a number of raving reviews about company culture and benefits. "I recently started at Barr Engineering and have been so impressed with the friendliness of everyone. The employees are smart, intelligent, and are very good at what they do. I also enjoy the flexible work schedule, great benefits, and the freedom to excel as much (or as little) as you desire!" said one employee. "The culture at Barr is like nothing I've ever encountered. All employees/owners are valued for their contributions and given many opportunities to participate and grow," said another employee.

Employees share a laugh during Comprehensive Environmental's fall party.

Second place: ALL4 Inc.
ALL4 Inc., established in 2002, has 26 full-time employees. This young firm made the Inc 500 Fastest Growing Companies in 2009, proving that they are not only successful in growth and profit, but also care genuinely about their employees, making them a true Best Firm To Work For.


Judges
Larry Gard, Ph.D.
Consulting psychologist
Hamilton-Chase Company
Chicago

Jeremy Clarke
Director, Executive Search Services
ZweigWhite
Fayetteville, Ark.

Nancy J. Usrey,
FSMPS, CPSM
Principal consultant
Partners Usrey
Rowlett, Texas

William Straub, president and principal consultant said, "ALL4 has a ‘flat' and close-knit organizational structure, so I would describe my relationships with co-workers as both personal and professional." He describes a change in dynamics as the company has grown. "In the early days, the four principals were the ‘drivers' of the ALL4 culture," he said. "Now that ALL4 is nine-plus years old, it is neat to see others drive the culture. It is very rewarding for me to find out after the fact that younger staff is perpetuating the culture of ALL4 through their relationships and extracurricular activities."

ALL4 has an open-door policy with all management – employees are encouraged to approach any member of management if or when they have an issue that can lead to low morale. Employees also are allowed to bring ideas forward during a monthly "best in class" meeting. "We have a very open and honest dialogue with ALL4 employees regarding our decision making. The decision-making process at ALL4 is well thought out, involves multiple points of view (i.e., owner/non-owner and manager/non-manager), and is clearly communicated throughout the organization," Straub said.

According to Gard, "The employees of ALL4 Inc. describe an environment of trust, transparency, and true appreciation for a job well done. The staff is very satisfied with the company's benefits package overall. Opportunities for growth and development are solid; despite its relatively small size, the firm promoted several people."

As a result of benchmarking, ALL4 increased compensation for select employees whose compensation was not on par with the ranges that were determined to be competitive.

However, sometimes it's the simple things that can show how much a firm cares. A take-home frozen meal program paid for by the company, a snack closet, and a "Recess Coordinator" who plans fun activities for employees and their families throughout the year, show how much the owners care about their employees and appreciate their dedication to their jobs, while still valuing employees' commitments to their families and outside interests. The firm also makes an effort to give back to the community through giving to various charities and participation in philanthropic events.

"I like the concept of ‘recess' activities to reduce stress during hectic times, which builds camaraderie and strengthens the team as a whole," said Usrey. "Offices located in a renovated 19th century barn that includes an onsite fitness center make for a pleasant work environment."

Clarke said, "They are doing a lot of ‘best-in-class' things to include generating suggestions from employees for new programs, and even rewarded ideas with on-the-spot bonuses. Further, ALL4 empowers employees by allowing peers to nominate their co-workers for an ‘ALL4 Accolade Award' (employee of the month award)."

Usrey said, "The employees of ALL4 voice appreciation for the way the firm cares for, respects, and challenges them; they enjoy working there."

Third place: Comprehensive Environmental Inc.
Comprehensive Environmental (CEI), established in 1987, has 25 full-time employees. An astounding 100 percent of respondents said the company was a "Best Firm to Work For," that it was "client-focused," provided high-quality work for clients, and made important contributions to the industry.

Additionally, the employee survey revealed great appreciation for transparency and openness. "Everyone's opinion counts and the staff really participates in the decisions that guide the future of the company," said one employee. This employee-oriented decision-making process was a major source of job security and company pride.

An employee ownership transition program has provided the opportunity to share ownership with a few key employees, both technical and non-technical, improving morale and generating an increased understanding of business decisions.

Gard said, "The employees report a great sense of trust and security, and they believe that the firm is truly interested in their well being. The firm is to be commended for its approach to performance management; employees know exactly what is expected of them, and mistakes are viewed as important opportunities to learn."

Flexibility was another positive attribute mentioned by many. "CEI is flexible and employee oriented. A happy staff with a good work/life balance is the basis for a strong company," said one employee.

Stephanie Hanson, principal scientist/project manager said, "We also have many benefits that are not necessarily written down on paper but are reflective of the company culture and team atmosphere. For example, an employee with car problems is generally more than welcome to use a company vehicle if available to get by while repairs are made."

Clarke said, "CEI offers a very generous PTO schedule and comprehensive medical benefits; paying a significant portion of employee and family premiums. What's more, CEI has never laid off a single employee in its 23-year existence … and, in fact, has been hiring during these past few years of recession. That is a remarkable accomplishment that cannot be overstated, and in my mind demonstrates clear commitment to people and their families."

Conclusion
The 2011 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For weather today's economy by providing both professional and personal staff development while maintaining a commitment to employee benefits. These remarkable firms demonstrate that success comes from having the best people, and the best people want to work at the Best Firms To Work For.

Rank
Name
Number of employees
Year est.
Headquarters Website
1
Barr Engineering Company
523
1966
Minneapolis www.barr.com
2
ALL4 Inc.
26
2002
Kimberton, Pa. www.all4inc.com
3
Comprehensive Environmental Inc.
25
1987
Marlborough, Mass. www.ceiengineers.com
4
NGE LLC
19
2002
Pittsburgh, Pa. www.ngeconsulting.com
5
A-C-T Environmental & Infrastructure
64
1987
Bartow, Fla. www.a-c-t.com
HM
Geosyntec Consultants Inc.
752
1983
Atlanta www.geosyntec.com
HM
Dudek
202
1980
Encinitas, Calif. www.dudek.com

Mark your calendar for 2012
If your firm didn't apply this year, if you didn't make the list, or even if you are a ranked firm, you are encouraged to apply for the 2012 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For. The process begins earlier; the entry period begins in November! To be sure you don't miss out on the 2012 application information, sign up today for our Contact List at http://tinyurl.com/2012BestFirms. We will notify you directly via e-mail when the 2012 applications are posted online. One important note to newcomers: The names of firms that apply but do not make the list will not be revealed. Hope to see you on the list in 2012.


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