PM Perspectives: Project Management at the Best Firms

By Christine Brack
Principal, Business Planning Consulting
ZweigWhite

Our Best Firms To Work For Summit, held in San Diego in late September, celebrated the firms with the best work environments, commitment to strong values, dedication to professional development, and consistent leadership through these tough times.

Part of my job is to scour through the survey results and analyze what new benchmarks have been set, what significant changes have taken place year over year, and what, if any, transformations are happening right before our eyes.

While the survey data is chock-full of statistics that are valuable and interesting, there are particular areas relevant to project management worth noting this month.

  • Not all recognition is equal. Although I have heard much about how new generations prefer to work in teams, participate in teams, and find solutions together, they still crave individual acknowledgement for their work and contribution. When asked about their level of satisfaction for recognition of team performance, 80 percent of the employees at the top firms indicated a positive response (agree to strongly agree). When asked about their level of satisfaction for recognition of individual performance, it dropped to 74 percent. Teams are great because they leverage the differences and the varying strengths all participating members – not because everyone is on a level plane. Even though we are often pressed for time, recognition can’t be spread like peanut butter. Thank the individual a little bit more. You may find the rising stars will ascend a little sooner.
  • Teams are challenging settings. Managing a team is serious business. This is just one small reason why we need to choose our project managers with care. We all have an occasional off day or had to work on something we were not fully familiar with. Most firms, though, still have some employees who aren’t inspired by what they are doing and it shows in the work they produce. I’ve written about team dynamics before and what happens when you let the slacker stay aboard. Recall that everyone knows who that is and what is (not) being done about it. When asked if sub-par work is addressed, only 61 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively. This, by the way, is one of the lowest scoring questions of the 126 in the employee portion of the survey. This is a project manager, principal and leadership issue and it happens even among Best Firms. The response level speaks highly of the employees who agree this is unacceptable, so do what’s right and start changing this situation.
  • Pride isn’t the same as security. When you think of your project managers and the teams they lead, perhaps you believe you’ve got the strongest and best bunch you could assemble under one roof. Maybe you’ve got great reward systems in place and plenty of personalized acknowledgements to let them know how much you value them. According to our survey, that’s not the same as feeling really safe. When asked about pride in their work, 93 percent of employees said they were undoubtedly proud. When asked if they felt appreciated for the job they did, the positive rating slid to 84 percent. When asked about job security, that rating dropped to 78 percent. Is it possible to love one’s job and continue to do the best at it even though recognition doesn’t come as often as expected and the fear of losing one’s job still hangs overhead? It’s not optimal and not fun. Whether that fear is real or perceived, it resides even in the Best Firms – and likely in yours as well. Lots of communication helps; as does celebrating good work and fortunate wins that come in the door. It’s worth exploring what your employees would say to these questions.
  • Who’s inspiring whom? There are just five open-ended questions in the employee survey. This means thousands and thousands of statements to sift through. We often think that inspiration comes from the corner office or the person with the CEO title. Participants were asked: “What do you feel is the most important attribute that a company must have to be considered one of the Best Firms To Work For?” I was impressed with these replies:
    • A place where you want to get up and go to work every day. Do I? Yes. Very much.
    • Many people working together on one goal.
    • Great leadership that recognizes individuals’ need to feel part of something bigger than themselves – and allows them to stake their claim.

    When asked: “What have you experienced or heard about at other firms that you would like to see implemented at your organization? They replied:

    • Better connection with our other offices.
    • I don’t care about other firms.
    • Further my skills to better assist engineering.

That’s wonderful stuff, isn’t it? That’s what great firms are made of and that’s why it’s essential to know what’s going on in our project environments and what’s brewing in the minds of our project managers and team members. While I congratulate our winners, I also encourage those who did not participate to look behind the curtain and under the surface. You will find the things you need to work on as well as some powerful meaning everyone can feel good about.

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