“According to a McKinsey report, employees spend 1.8 hours every day—9.3 hours per week, on average—searching and gathering information.”
One of your employees, let’s call him Brett, is struggling getting all his work done. Brett is getting frustrated because he doesn’t know what to do about it. He often feels like he doesn’t know the best way to get his work done efficiently.
When Brett tries to use the company’s systems, they seem cumbersome – like there are too many steps. He can never find information about his clients and projects that he’s looking for, and it’s really slow trying to access the systems outside the office. Plus, there are so many emails every day he wastes about 45 minutes to an hour every day responding to emails and looking for old emails with information about projects.
Brett is also not sure about what he should or shouldn’t say to clients. Because his firm is so busy, he has to work lots of extra hours and he feels he hasn’t had enough training. He works for several different project managers (PMs) and they are usually too busy to spend time with him teaching him the best way to do his work – and every PM and office does things differently.
He is also confused about the communications from his firm’s leaders and corporate headquarters. He hears a lot of information about the “business” such as keeping utilization high or doing his timesheet, but to him it seems less important than getting his projects done and keeping clients happy. How can they expect so much of him?
Brett often feels like he is in the dark. He wishes he could talk to his boss about this but really doesn’t know how to articulate his frustration. Brett decides to look for another job – maybe it will be easier to work at a firm that supports him better.
Could Brett be one of your employees?
It doesn’t matter whether your firm is large or small – many of these same issues exist to some extent in every firm.
Obviously, this situation is not intentional. In fact, most of your firm leaders have no idea that employees like Brett are struggling. You may have put an incredible amount of effort into improving processes and invested tons into the best system on the market for your current and expected future needs. But the busyness of the last five years has made it difficult to get all your teams and offices functioning as one company doing everything the “right” way.
If your employees are struggling to be productive and efficient, your firm is losing profits and potentially experiencing challenges with consistent client service. In fact, most A&E firms have not implemented a set of client service standard practices designed to ensure client satisfaction.
Our research surveying thousands of A&E professionals over the last five years shows that there are about a dozen areas where employees struggle to be productive. Aligning your people with your company’s processes and systems gets harder and harder as your firm grows.
By addressing each of these challenges from the standpoint of helping employees to be successful and happy, you will not only help your bottom line but reduce employee frustration and turnover:
Document your processes
Our research shows that even the largest firms lack documented streamlined processes that ensure employees do things easy, fast and effectively. If processes are not documented, they don’t exist. Employees need guidance and structure to be effective and productive and ensure consistency across the company.
Automate key processes
Automation exists to help employees be productive. If systems are cumbersome to use or require entry of the same data in multiple places it will slow your employees down.
Develop effective onboarding practices
The first few weeks and months of an employees’ time at your firm are critical to their success, and their job satisfaction. Yet most employees are on their own after a few days and “guessing” about how to do their jobs. Onboarding should be carefully planned to ensure employee success for the first 90 days and beyond.
Get employee feedback about their work effectiveness
We may believe that employees are naturally good or bad and don’t take into account the environment they work in. If employees are frustrated, they might keep it to themselves. Employees are usually happy to tell you the truth if you ask them. An anonymous Business Management Assessment is a good way to understand how your processes and systems are supporting their work, and what they do and do not know about the business operations.
Don’t promote employees into positions they are not trained or prepared for
With A&E firms so busy these days and a tight labor market for experienced professionals, many firms are forced to assign greater responsibility to employees that are not prepared for their increased roles. This can lead to issues with projects, increased risk for the company, frustrated employees, and of course, write-offs.
Getting your leadership team to focus attention on the most important decisions facing your firm is critical to continued growth, profitability and harmony in your firm. By intentionally implementing the five steps above, you can create a basis for reaching consensus and ensuring that your firm can capitalize on current and future business opportunities.
You have invested in expensive systems, but employees are lost as to how to use them or continue to use spreadsheets they are more comfortable with. As the quote above indicates, employees potentially waste a lot of time looking for information every day. Looking for these time wasters and dealing with them could save each staff member anywhere from ten minutes to an hour a day in lost time.
Communicate better about project tasks
Many employees, especially less experienced ones, need more instruction about how to do their jobs including expectations about how long each task should take and the level of detail required. If they aren’t clear about how to execute their work, they will guess. This causes mistakes, wasted time and budget overruns.
Emphasize business priorities
When faced with multiple tasks in front of them employees must decide what is more important. When metrics like utilization are constantly mentioned, but not project profitability, employees will actually take longer to complete tasks thinking they are going to “look” better.
Share more information
Many employees feel like they are working in the dark, with little understanding about project scope, deliverables or financial goals. Sharing key information can keep employees focused and connected to project outcomes.
Explain the why
Most A&E professionals didn’t learn about business in college and don’t understand the connection between their timesheet and their paycheck. Teaching them the “why” behind everything they are required to do helps them to connect the dots, understand the big picture and do the right things.
Employees often work alone or have their heads down trying to get tasks done. They rarely understand how what they are doing affects others in the firm or the eventual success of their projects and clients. Having clear goals that align with their peers and the firm helps them make better decisions and use their time more wisely.
Train employees on systems, processes and business acumen
A&E professionals are doing technical work inside of a business but often don’t understand the financial needs of the organization. Without a clear understanding of business best practices, they will waste time doing things that don’t increase the bottom line or goals of the firm.
Best business practices have a direct impact on employee satisfaction, retention, and ultimately, profitability. By addressing the daily workflow issues, bottlenecks and employee development gaps described above, you can vastly increase employee efficiency, reduce daily frustrations and serve the financial needs of your business at the same time.
AEC Business Solutions has developed a proven program that transforms employees’ mindsets and behaviors and refocuses the culture of the firm on business excellence so that leaders can easily grow their businesses and profits and focus on doing what they love most – working on great projects.
Do you need help implementing any of these ideas? Or just want to bounce some ideas off of someone outside of your inner circle? Reach out and let me know what your biggest challenge is, and I’ll see if I can help or point you in the right direction.
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