4 Crucial Questions to Ask About Your Company’s Retention Efforts

You’ve probably seen the news headlines, all telling variations of the same good news:

Last year was the best year for employment and hiring since 1999.  This year will be an even better year for hiring than 2014.  The economy is nearly back to full strength.  And so on and so forth . . .

This is good news for civil engineering companies, all of which are looking to achieve healthy growth and profits in 2015.  However, there’s a “flip side” to this equation, the consequences of which could potentially sabotage these plans for growth and prosperity.

With a better economy come more employment opportunities and more workers who make the decision to leave their current company for “greener pastures.”  Make no mistake about it: top candidates in the field of civil engineering are viewing the economy differently then they did a year ago.  Specifically, they’re thinking about career advancement, and they’re certainly open to the idea of advancing their career with a new employer.

So—how can you prevent your best employees from exploring other opportunities by offering them the advancement that they’re seeking?  The first thing to do is ask yourself the following four crucial questions about your company’s retention efforts:

#1—Do we have a path for professional growth?

Are you encouraging our engineers to participate in professional societies?  (Okay, that’s two questions and not one, but they both speak to the same issue.)  If employees can’t see a definite path for professional growth within your company, they won’t be able to envision themselves working there for much longer.

#2—Are we changing our workplace to reflect the changing needs of our employee base?

The first step is to identify those changing needs, which in today’s market include job sharing and telecommuting.  With resources such as Skype and GoToMeeting, it’s becoming easier to get the team together for quick meetings.  Employees value these resources and the flexibility that they offer.

#3—Do we offer the benefits that are important to our team?

Sometimes, the benefits that seem important to the more senior staff members are not as important to the Millennials and Generation X members—or important at all.  If you’re not making sure that what you offer is in line with what your employees actually want, then you’re at risk for those employees leaving.

#4—Are we tracking statistics on employee turnover?

As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure.  During the Great Recession, it wasn’t as important for managers to effectively motivate their staff.  That’s because employees were gritting their teeth, happy just to have a job.  That time has now passed.  These days, if you’re not effectively managing and motivating your best employees, those employees are going to leave.

When is the best time to pay attention your company’s retention programs?  NOW is the best time!  Actually, you should always be paying attention to these programs.  That’s because, by its very nature, employee retention is a pro-active process.  If you wait until your best employees submit their two-week notice, then it’s already too late.

And that is definitely not good news.


We Can Survive Without Oil . . . But We Can’t Live Without Water

We Can Survive Without Oil . . . But We Can’t Live Without Water

“The U.S. population grows by one person every 15 seconds.  The total amount of water grows by one gallon never.” Will Jernigan 

These days, it seems as though you can’t go more than a day without seeing a national news headline about the price of oil . . . or the factors that determine the price of oil . . . or the possible future price of oil.

And what about natural gas?  How many times have you heard or read the word “fracking” within the past year?  Probably more times than you can count.  The price of oil and gas affects all of us but when was the last time you saw something in the mainstream media about the impending scarcity of water?

For example, Sao Paulo, Brazil has approximately 60 days left before its water supply runs out.  There are over 12 million people living there.  Quoting a recent article on the BBC, “they are sleepwalking into a water crisis” while the government has been too slow to acknowledge the problem.

As another example, the level 4 drought in California: towns in California are also running out of water.  This is not a problem that exists “somewhere else in the world.”  Even with severe water restrictions over the past three years there, the rich and famous are not heeding the warnings to conserve.  Oprah Winfrey has water trucked into her 40 acre estate over and above her allotted water ration. The swanky Biltmore Four Seasons was fined nearly $50,000 for using a million gallons of water over its allotment in one month.

You are probably well aware of the extreme weather patterns—including severe drought—that have occurred globally on a more consistent basis during the past several years.  These patterns have not followed any discernable pattern, and as a result, they are not predictable.  This phenomenon only underscores the urgency of the water scarcity situation.  Although many scientists point to the deforestation of the Amazon contributing to climate change that is contributing to the severe drought in Brazil, nothing is being done to slow this from happening.

As an executive recruiter in the civil engineering niche, I read these articles more than most people because it’s important in my field of work.  It should be a priority for everyone whether they are a civil engineer designing stormwater retention ponds or nurses caring for the sick, or farmers or factory workers or accountants.  The wrong priorities can have dire consequences.

We can survive without oil . . . but we can’t live without water.

What are your thoughts?  Without sounding like Chicken Little, what can we do to continue to raise awareness of this issue?


The Latest Comcast Controversy – (Insert ENR Top 500 firm?)

You might have already seen the story in the national headlines. (If you haven’t, you can read it by clicking here.)  The short version goes something like this:

Conal O’Rourke held a non-accounting staff position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. O’Rourke had a problem with his Comcast service and bill. Specifically, he was charged nearly $2,000 for equipment he never received and didn’t need.  Needless to say, O’Rourke lodged a complaint with Comcast. Despite the fact that the charges were removed, his account still went to collections. As a result, O’Rourke had to complain again. (Who wouldn’t?)

Eventually, the matter was cleared up. A happing ending, right? Unfortunately not. O’Rourke was later fired by PricewaterhouseCoopers, with company officials stating that an investigation determined that “he had violated its standards and practices.”  What’s the connection? PricewaterhouseCoopers does consulting work for Comcast….to the tune of about $30M a year.  Comcast has publicly apologized for poor service but O’Rourke has filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and other charges

Did O’Rourke have a legitimate complaint? It certainly seemed that way. Was O’Rourke fired because he escalated his complaint to an executive within Comcast who discovered that he worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers?  It’s become a case of “he said, they said,” but it’s also a case where it’s fairly easy to connect the dots.

What does this have to do with Consulting Engineering?  It poses an interesting ethical question: could this same scenario happen with an ENR Top 500 consulting engineering firm?  For instance, let’s say that engineering firm does consulting business with a national client, such as Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola. What happens if a Civil Engineer who works for that firm slips and falls and sustains an injury at Wal-Mart . . . and that injury is a direct result of negligence on the part of Wal-Mart?  What if that Civil Engineer decides to sue Wal-Mart? What if a Wal-Mart executive discovers that he works for said engineering firm? Can Wal-Mart put pressure on the firm to fire this employee if he pursues the lawsuit?

Okay, that’s more than one question, but you get the idea.

Business relationships between consulting firms and powerful companies operating on a national level can cause potential complications such as these.  At the very least, if you work for a consulting firm, you should know the specific companies with which your employer has a business relationship. Because ethical or not, these things can happen, even if there’s a very real and strong possibility that you haven’t done anything wrong.

Just ask Conal O’Rourke.

What do you think about this story? Do you believe O’Rourke was fired for complaining about his Comcast bill? Or is there more to the story? I invite you to share your thoughts.

Article link:


Why ‘Back to School’ = ‘Back to the Job Search’

Believe it or not, summer is coming to an end.  Labor Day is almost upon us, and that holiday typically signals the end of summer fun.

As most of you already know, this is “back to school” season.  But what you may not already know is that it’s also “back to the job search” season.

The months of August through December are usually my busiest time of the year as a recruiter.  The reason for this is that once kids are back in school and vacations are over (for the most part), companies begin to once again assess their workforce.

In many instances, companies are starting to make these assessments in preparation for the coming year, which means if they have a hiring need, they want to take care of that need before the end of the current year.  Not only that, but right now, there is also a marked decline in candidates who are “available” to fill these open positions.

And THAT means the job market is starting to heat up!

As a candidate, this is a great time to evaluate where you currently are in your career.  You can accomplish this by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Am I on track with where I want to be in my career?
  • If I’m not on track, why aren’t I?
  • Can I get where I want to go in my current position?
  • If there’s opportunity for advancement at my present employer, how far can that advancement take me?
  • Should I be seriously exploring other career opportunities?

So don’t think of it as just “back to school” season . . . think of it as “career upgrade” season, as well.

This could be the season that your employment situation—and your career—change for the better.


LeBron James and the Art of (Not) ‘Boomeranging’

As just about everybody in the world knows, professional basketball player LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years and two NBA championships with the Miami Heat.

In other words, James is “boomeranging” back to his former employer.

Human resource consulting firm Robert Half recently published a blog post on its website titled, “Coming Home: 6 Lessons Boomerang Employees Can Learn From LeBron’s Return.”

While I’m sure that some people have successfully “boomeranged” back to a previous employer, I speak from two levels of experience when I say that doing so is the exception far more than it is the rule.  Those two levels of experience include both my own experience attempting to “boomerang” and my 14 years of experience as an executive recruiter.

My own attempted “boomerang” did not last very long.  Not only that, but my experience has also been shared by many people with whom I’ve spoken during my professional career.

To be sure, the evidence that I’ve collected along the way has been largely unscientific.  However, after a while, patterns begin to emerge.

That’s why I’m confident in saying that in MOST cases, attempting to “boomerang” back to a previous employer ultimately doesn’t work because the initial reason the person left was because they were unhappy with something tied to the core culture of the organization.  Those things typically involve one (or all three) of the following:

  • The personalities of upper management
  • The idiosyncrasies of co-workers and/or supervisors
  • Broken promises at all levels


The “boomeranging” phenomenon mirrors that of a bad relationship.  After you end such a relationship, you tend forget all of the “bad stuff” that convinced you to end it in the first place.  Instead, you begin to “wax poetic” about the way things used to be.

What happens next?  As you might expect, once you’re back working at your former employer, all of those cultural idiosyncrasies you forgot about begin to rear their collective ugly heads.  Eventually, “waxing poetic” has been replaced with the employment equivalent of a M. Night Shyamalan plot-twist ending.

Yes, James wrote in the letter announcing his return that “his relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”  He could be “waxing poetic,” and if he is, to what extent is he doing so?

There’s a chance that James might be in for a rude awakening.  “Coming home” may not be as easy as he thought.  As with all employment situations of this nature, only time will tell.

To be fair, the Robert Half article does state that “being a boomerang employee isn’t for everyone.”  I would agree, but it goes further than that.

Being a “boomerang employee” isn’t for the vast majority of people . . . unless, of course, you’re the most talented basketball player on the planet.

What do you think?  Is LeBron James’s situation unique?  Have you successfully “boomeranged” back to an employer?  Did you try and fail?  What’s been your experience?


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An Important Question to Ask About the AECOM-URS Acquisition

Sometimes, the word “mega” is used in an unnecessary fashion, designed to infuse a situation with hype in order to lend it more perceived credence. However, “mega” is absolutely an appropriate term to describe the recent “mega merger” of AECOM and URS, an acquisition that was officially announced this past Monday.

Both companies are giants within the Engineering and Construction industries. They’ve been “gobbling up” smaller, mid-sized, and even fairly large Engineering firms during the past five years. However, those acquisitions pale in comparison to the convergence of these two titans. Consider this statement from the official press release announcing the sale:

“The combined company will be a leading, fully integrated infrastructure and federal services provider with more than 95,000 employees in 150 countries. It would have calendar year 2013 pro forma revenues of more than US$19 billion and EBITDA of approximately US$1.3 billion.”

The press release went on to describe all of the benefits associated with the merger, including the positive impact it will have within Engineering and Construction. However, in the midst of all the “buzz” surrounding this recent announcement, there’s one important question that should be asked about the AECOM-URS deal:

How well will the two firms be able to merge their company cultures, and if they aren’t able to merge those cultures well, what form will the fall-out take?

The inability to successfully integrate the different cultures of two companies has proven to be the outright downfall of quite a few large mergers in this country’s history. Below are just a few examples:

  • AOL and Time Warner
  • Daimler and Chrysler
  • Sprint and Nextel

However, Martin M. Koffel, chairman and chief executive officer of URS, made it a point to address this issue. He’s quoted in the press release as saying the following:

“Our two businesses are complementary, and our cultures are highly compatible. We anticipate that employees from the combined company will benefit as the organization integrates its leadership talent and capitalizes on its greater scale to invest in its people, improve their career opportunities, and advance their capacity to compete globally.”

When ARCADIS acquired Malcolm Pirnie a few years ago, there was quite a “ripple effect” in terms of employees and personnel. Obviously, not all of the employees from both companies remained with ARCADIS. Many moved on for various reasons, the majority within 18 monthsof the acquisition.

There is no reason, considering the industry-wide impact of this most recent development, such a “ripple effect” won’t happen again . . . only larger this time. While the question posed above may be the most important question to result from the merger and accompanying “ripple,” there are other pertinent questions, as well.

How many key employees from both companies will be leaving within the next 18 months? What will be the reasons they leave? Where will they be going? What companies will benefit from this transfer of talent? How will they service their clients?

Only time holds the answer to all of these questions.


How Companies Invite Candidates to Reject Their Opportunity

You’ve probably heard this saying before: “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

The fact of that matter is that candidates looking for their next great career opportunity abhor a vacuum, too . . . and I have a recent experience that illustrates this.

One of my clients conducted both a telephone interview and a face-to-face interview with a candidate.  Afterwards, company officials said they loved the candidate and wanted to have them return for another face-to-face interview, and most likely, an offer of employment.

However, after the second face-to-face interview, I encountered “total radio silence,” so to speak, from my client.  It wasn’t until four weeks later that the hiring manager called to inform me they weren’t moving forward.  I passed that information along to the candidate, who said the following:

“Yeah, I was already starting to think that the location wasn’t that great and maybe it wasn’t the best fit for me.”

So how did a candidate who went on two face-to-face interviews with a company effectively talk themselves out of the opportunity?  Because the company did not provide timely feedback.  In fact, after a certain point, the company did not provide any feedback at all.

In a situation like this, the candidate “abhors a vacuum.”  In other words, when presented with no feedback or new information, their mind begins to search, subconsciously or otherwise, for reasons why the job is NOT a great career opportunity.

And the longer there’s no feedback, the more reasons the candidate comes up with.

This is a lose-lose situation for the company, regardless of whether or not they decide to move forward with the candidate.  Here’s why:

  • If the company does decide to move forward, they now have a half-interested candidate at best.  At worst, they have a candidate who has already accepted an offer from a competitor.
  • If the company does not decide to move forward, the candidate feels that they’ve been strung along and they’re left with a “bad taste in their mouth.”  As a result, they’re far less likely to speak highly of the company in the future.

When the interviewing and hiring process drags on too long, candidates start to mentally protect themselves against possible rejection—especially if the company does not communicate or provide timely feedback during the process.  Candidates fill their own heads with what might or might not be going on behind the scenes, and regardless of what is actually happening, they talk themselves out of the opportunity.

So effectively, companies are inviting candidates to reject their opportunity.  And in the majority of cases, candidates are accepting that invitation.


Improving Economy Driving Up Salaries for Civil Engineering Grads

An improving economy can have numerous consequences, and one of those consequences is currently affecting new graduates in the field of Civil Engineering.

A few years ago, the Engineering industry, like all industries, was still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, which started in 2009.  As a result of that recession, the starting salaries being offered by companies to Civil Engineering graduates were quite low.  Those graduates, simply pleased to land a job out of college, were happy to accept those starting salaries in lieu of the alternative.

This was the situation roughly between 2009 and 2012.  However, that situation has changed during the past year and a half.

Due to a steadily improving economy and a growing demand for talent, new Civil Engineering graduates have different expectations in terms of their starting salary.  In fact, these graduates are asking for, and in many cases receiving, a higher starting salary than graduates were three to five years ago.

This means a fair number of Civil Engineering graduates are earning more than Civil Engineers with between three and five years of work experience.

This trend mirrors a larger trend overall in the Engineering industry.  According to the latest Engineering Income and Salary Survey conducted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the average total annual income for engineers in 2013 was higher than in previous years.

According to the survey, the average income for engineers in 2013 was $104,303.  That’s an increase of nearly 4.5% from the average salary of $99,738 reported just two years before.

This means quite a few things in terms of hiring throughout the rest of 2014 and beyond, including the following

* More Civil Engineering graduates will be asking for (and expecting) higher starting salaries.
* More Civil Engineers who have been in the market for three to five years will be looking to increase their level of compensation, to bring it more in line with what recent graduates are receiving.
* Civil Engineers who are not able to increase their compensation at their current company will look to do so by seeking out employment with a company that will help them to achieve their financial goals.

What we’re witnessing with starting salaries for Engineering graduates is a “domino effect” that can impact your compensation structure and your ability to retain the talent that’s already on your team.

Assess your current recruiting and hiring process to take this effect into consideration.  Make sure that what you’re offering in terms of compensation is in line with what Civil Engineering graduates, not to mention superstar candidates with years of experience, are expecting.

show me the money


The Danger of Interviewing One Candidate at a Time

I was recently reminded of the dangers of interviewing one candidate at a time through completion.  While you may feel that one particular candidate has more of what you are seeking in terms of experience, cultural fit, qualifications, etc., the danger lies in putting all of your eggs in one basket.  Recently, I presented two candidates to a client and they fell in love with one and instantly started the courting process with him.  I suggested that they also interview the other candidate just to keep their options open but he was a little less experienced and they felt like they really wanted the other candidate as their first choice.  Fast forward 4 weeks…

The prime candidate turned the job down because he had another offer that he felt was a better match for his career goals.  When the client (very frustrated now that they had “invested” 4 weeks of time and energy) asked me to go back to the other candidate, it was already too late.  The second candidate had two other offers pending and it was too late in the process for him to start with another firm.

The economy is heating up in many parts of the country and we are seeing a return to pre-recession hiring trends where candidates have more than one offer from which they can choose.  The moral of the story is keep all of your options open so that you have options.


The Talent Wars…

This is a first of a few blogs on this topic; essentially, a book report on what appears to be a very good book I am currently reading called The Talent Mandate by Andrew Benett.  As an executive recruiter, I hear so often from my clients, “We really value our people…they are our greatest asset.”  Even more often, I hear from my candidates, “I feel like a number here.  They don’t value me.  There’s nowhere for me to go.”

So which is it?  Mr. Benett spent a lot of time interviewing some the most forward-thinking companies in the Silicon Valley: a veritable Who’s Who of the tech darlings.  He asserts that managing, mentoring and taking care of your people needs to be THE top item of a corporate strategic plan and starts with the C-suite.  So much has been written about this topic, yet it seems to be a perennial favorite topic of the business book genre authors.

Did this topic show up on the agenda in your corporate strategic planning sessions for 2014?  What is your company doing to grow and retain top talent?  I’d love to hear from you.

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