Thursday, February 27, 2014

8 Links That Will Make You a Better HR Professional

Canvassing the HR blogosphere—especially as it relates to the A/E/C industry--can be like searching for a freebie in a change order. The landscape is filled with futile attempts, but out of the fog arises a cluster of stalwarts.
  •  Workforce, with its index of more than 150,000 seminars and articles from Workforce magazine, is a veritable mine of HR information. 
  • HR Hero: This blog collection—all from different authors—takes on topics related to employment law.
  • WeFollow on Twitter: Tag yourself under #humanresources on Twitter to align yourself with the thousands of followers who identify themselves as part of the human resources community on Twitter.  Tweet about your day, ask a question, or make new friends.
  •  Human Resources Professionals Worldwide on LinkedIn: Often overshadowed by the much larger human resources group Linked:HR, Human Resources Professionals Worldwide on LinkedIn is a smaller community that allows more directed conversations limited to HR topics by HR professionals.
  • WorldatWork: Including articles from WorldatWork Journal and News publications, this website also has extensive information on benefits and compensation.
  • Evil HR Lady: Using real-life examples, the Evil HR Lady posts blogs with her thoughts on HR issues, answers questions, and gives advice.  The “Dear Abby” of HR.
  • Six Degrees from Dave: Authored by Dave Mendoza, known for his expertise in social networking, recruitment, and branding, this blog highlights staffing practices and HR industry leaders
  • The HR Daily Advisor: Think “Word a Day” but for HR—here, you’ll get free daily updates, news, advice, and tips on everything related to HR.
Is there a website that you can’t live without?  Let us know! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be an A/E Marketing Professional

by David Whitemyer, AIA

A/E marketing isn’t for the faint of heart, lazy, or whiny. It’s fast paced, requires multiple skill sets, and demands flexibility. There’s a reason why most A/E marketing professionals only last a few years in each firm: they’re just not ready for the speed and heavy workload. Are you ready? Here are eight reasons why you might want to rethink your A/E marketing career.

1. You’re introverted.

Whether your focus is in business development or proposal presentation, your position requires frequent communication with others, good social skills, and an outgoing personality. If you’re introverted, you’re not going to be making the connections you need to be making, and you’re not going to be the bubbly person that others enjoy working with.

2. You think that no one appreciates you.

If you’re the kind of person that needs frequent praise, A/E marketing isn’t the place for you. Your skills are very different than those of the architects and engineers that surround you, and they’re essential to a firm’s marketing efforts, but it’s the architecture and engineering skills on which the firm’s strength is built. If you feel underappreciated, get over it.

3. You’re hoping for a bigger budget and more staff.

A/E marketing is typically an underfunded segment of a firm’s spending. Keep in mind that it’s only been since the 1980s that marketing departments in A/E firms have become a more standard practice, yet still, according to PSMJ’s 2013 A/E Financial Performance Benchmark Survey Report, nearly half of A/E firms don’t have full-time marketing staff.

4. You don’t have a thick skin.

Following on the backs of the three previous items. A/E marketing professionals have to “go with the flow.” You’re not going to get everything you want (i.e. bigger budget, more time, etc.), and you’re going to have to deal with a range of personality types – some quite annoying. If you have a thin skin and a lot of things bother you, A/E marketing isn’t the place for you.

5. You’re stuck in the old ways of doing things.

Believing that “this is the way we’ve always done it” just isn’t going to cut it in 21st century A/E marketing. From social media to paperless proposals to new ways of networking and finding work, changes in B2B marketing are happening at lighting speed. If you’re stuck in your ways and not willing to learn about and embrace new things, you won’t succeed in A/E marketing.

6. You’re too rigid.

If you’re a strong A/E marketing professional, you’ve got a good handle on the schedules and tasks required to develop solid proposals and presentations. However, the reality of these schedules and tasks is that they’re probably going to change during the process – and probably at the last minute. You need to be flexible and willing to make changes when necessary.

7. You’re content.

This rings true for any professional career position. As an A/E marketer, you should always be striving to learn more, to improve your firm’s position, and to develop tools and ideas that strengthen your marketing efforts. If you’re simply just doing your job and filling out your timesheets, you may want to consider a new career. Contentment is not a strength.

8. You’re focused on your career more than on your firm.

A/E marketing professionals are notorious ladder climbers, jumping from firm to firm, looking to up their titles and salaries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus of your work. Your efforts should be spend building the reputation and marketing materials of your firm, not of yourself. And if done well, you can find great enjoyment in that.

David Whitemyer, AIA, is a Contributing Editor at PSMJ Resources, Inc., a licensed architect, and project manager at a Boston-area design firm. He can be reached at

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Difficult Clients vs. Bad Clients

by Dave Burstein, P.E.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all our clients were great to work with?  Unfortunately, if your firm worked only with great clients, there probably wouldn't be enough work to keep everyone busy, much less allowing for growth.  So sometimes we have to work for clients that aren't great.  But difficult clients aren't the same as bad clients.  Here is a typical list of what we consider to be bad clients:

  •  Establish expectations that are impossible to meet
  • Sue your firm if things aren’t perfect
  • Don’t pay their bills
  • Require you to do things that are illegal or highly unethical
  •  Lie to you 

You might add a few more things but it’s a fairly short list.  Most difficult clients aren't bad clients, they just have a different view of your relationship.  Let’s say you have a client that doesn't view you as a professional partner, but as a contractor.  That’s not necessarily bad – as long as you understand the relationship and act accordingly.  In dealing with such clients, ask yourself how a good construction contractor would handle them – and do the same.

Sometimes clients are difficult because their internal bureaucracy prevents them from dealing with you the way you’d like them to.  In this case, the best thing you can do is to learn how their bureaucracy works – inside out.  That knowledge will help you navigate through their maze of procedures to get what you need.

So the next time you get stuck with a difficult client, ask what it is that makes them difficult – and develop a plan to deal with it.  And if have a truly bad client, finish the project as best you can and recommend to your principals that you no longer pursue work with them.  There are plenty of good clients out there!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

If The Most Important Factor In Firm Valuation Isn't Growth Or Profit – What Is It?

By Kate Allen, P.E.

Whether a firm is being valued for internal transition or for external sale, two key drivers of value are and will always be:  growth and profit (earnings).  But even more important is CONSISTENCY!  Year after year growth in profit and revenue is critical to maximizing the value of your firm.

Which of the following firms is a better investment?
  • FIRM A reporting 23%+ profit, 14%+ staff growth, and 26% revenue growth, OR
  • FIRM B with 11%+ profit, less than 3% staff growth, and 8% revenue growth

FIRM A is a compilation of the median performance of firms included in PSMJ’s 2013 Circle of Excellence, and FIRM B is a compilation of the median performance of all firms that participated in PSMJ’s annual Financial Performance Survey for 2013.

 At first glance, one might assume that Firm A is the best choice.  However, either of these firms could be a good investment IF they sustain or improve their business performance year over year, demonstrating they’ve developed a successful and sustainable business!

Top firms tend to benchmark their progress – they know where they are and where they want to go and they monitor their results consistently.  There’s truth to the old adage: “what gets watched (measured) gets done” – use this to your advantage to drive year over year results and continuously improve your firm’s value!

Kate Allen, P.E., is PSMJ’s Director of A/E/C Industry Surveys.  She can be reached at

PSMJ’s Director of A/E Industry Surveys Featured in ASHRAE Journal

The February issue of ASHRAE Journal, the leading source for engineers in the heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning industries, features original analysis on A/E compensation by PSMJ’s own Kate Allen, P.E., Director of A/E Industry Surveys.

Allen’s article, “Understanding Salaries in the A/E Industry,” looks at the industry’s current compensation strategy and philosophy in light of the economy’s slow, but steady, recovery. 

Acknowledging that the number one asset in a professional services firm is the staff, Allen posits that both understanding the industry’s financial position—as well as crucial benchmarking data—can help employers best determine how to maintain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining top-notch talent.

Using data amassed from PSMJ’s 2013 Management Compensation Benchmark Survey Report and PSMJ’s 2013 Financial Performance Benchmark Survey Report, Allen demonstrates the correlation between a firm’s performance and salary ranges and analyzes current compensation trends. She concludes by outlining what the industry—and engineering firms, in particular—can expect for talent recruitment and financial health in the immediate future.

Allen became a member of ASHRAE in 1993.  Says Allen: “As a past member of ASHRAE and past president of my local chapter [in Denver, CO], I was honored when ASHRAE contacted me to write an article about engineering salaries.  I felt it was important to share the whole story – from the position of the employee as well as the employer.”

Compensation is only one component of the cost of operations of a firm and engineers are not taught as part of their engineering education how to make sense of financials.  Some firms are performing better than the trends indicate which dramatically increases their options when it comes to compensation.”
For more about ASHRAE, visit

To participate in PSMJ’s A/ E Industry Surveys:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Can't Find Good Enough People...

… is the burning platform which will require A/E/C leaders to again focus on retaining and developing their employees. Why? Employee turnover is expensive.

 Many studies show that the total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2X annual salary. Consider the real “cost” of losing an employee:

• Cost of hiring and onboarding a new person (advertising, interviewing, screening, hiring)
• Lost productivity until the employee is trained by an existing employee
• Lost engagement and therefore a loss of discretionary effort
• Project management along with client service issues as new employees have a longer learning curve
• Pied Piper effect—whenever someone leaves, others take time to ask “why?”, and “should I be looking?”

 Author and researcher Wayne Cascio (Investing in People) says that the residual effect of rounds of layoffs can cause ‘surviving’ employees years to recover their pre-layoffs level of commitment and engagement. Now that we’re seeing an economic recovery, your employees are beginning to gain confidence in the job market. Are they beginning to look for a new job? The past five years have taken its toll on your employees. Training budgets have been slashed, wages frozen, and promotions delayed as employees were asked to “do more with less.” I’m projecting that 2014 will be the year that the war for talent resumes as your now “disengaged” employees start to look for new jobs and start quitting at the same time that your firm is growing and you need to hire even more talent. You’re not just adding to headcount, you’ll be adding AND replacing departing employees.

I don’t think I’m being an alarmist. In fact, Gallup’s 2013: State of the American Workplace Report concludes that only 30% of the workforce are engaged. The scariness of this statistic is amplified in a June 2013 Fast Company post (Creative Conversations) by contributing editor Mark Crowley. Mark metaphorically describes the state of employee engagement in 2013 by asking us to imagine we’re part of a crew team. As you look behind you, you discover that only you and two of your crew mates are rowing your butts off, while five of your fellow rowers are casually looking at the scenery, and remarkably, two are attempting to sink your boat by bringing water on board. Can your crew team win the race? Of course not. But according to the Gallup study, that is precisely what is happening in the workforce. This example is powerfully reinforced in my just-released employee engagement video “Who’s Sinking Your Boat?” ( watch?v=y4nwoZ02AJM).

 I anticipate significant job movement as we head into the new year. Your retention and engagement investments (and goals to become “The Employer of Choice”) should not be analogous to a light switch—you shouldn’t just turn them on or off. You need to have a strategy in place that can sustain the good times, and the “not so good times.” Think of your engagement investments and efforts as a dimmer switch—during financially challenging times, you lower slightly, and during boom times, you elevate slightly, while continuously communicating with your employees the realities of your business challenges and successes.

Companies need to focus on their engagement and retention strategies today to be prepared for tomorrow. These strategies need to focus on the following essential engagement best practices:

1. Create a line of sight describing where the company is going, how you’re going to get there, and what role all of your employees play in helping you get there.

2. Train your first line leaders on creating an engaged culture with their employees. Why? Because the number one driver of employee engagement is one’s relationship with his or her boss.

3. Create a robust communication culture built on transparency, honesty, and consistency.

4. Drive high performance because A players want to work with A players.

5. Foster a culture of celebration and recognition.

 6. Doing well by doing good. Identify both the ‘what’ it is you do (what you sell), along with your ‘why’ (your purpose or mission). This will enable you to crystalize your purpose which will allow you to win in the marketplace. In fact, according to research by Jim Collins (Good to Great), firms that focus on Purpose out-perform their peer group 6X!

Bob Kelleher is an award-winning author, thought leader, keynote speaker, and A/E/C industry expert. Bob is the author of Amazon’s #1 selling employee engagement book for 2011, Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results. Bob is also the founder of: The Employee Engagement Group (

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Growth Sucks up Cash!

by Dave Burstein, P.E.

Everyone knows that growth requires a lot of cash.  You have recruiting costs, relocation costs, costs for additional office space, etc.  But as soon as a new employee comes on board and working productively, they start repaying that investment by generating positive cash flow.  Wrong!  Even after they are working productively, they continue to generate negative cash flow.  Here’s why:
Q:  What happens two weeks after Jane, a new employee, shows up for work? 
A:  She expects to get paid.
Q:  Have you been paid by the clients for her work on their projects?
A:  No, you haven’t even sent out the invoice yet.

Q:  What happens two weeks later?
A:  She expects to get paid again.

Q:  Have you been paid by the clients for her work on their projects?
A:  No, you probably still haven’t sent out the invoice yet.

Q:  What happens two weeks later?
A:  She expects to get paid again.

Q:  Have you been paid by the clients for her work on their projects?
A:  No, but you have finally gotten the invoice out the door.

By now, you should get the picture.  Every two weeks, you have to find the cash in order to pay Jane.  The following graphs show the impact of adding one new employee in a typical A/E firm on both the accrual P&L statement and on the cash flow statement.

As you can see, by the end of the first year, the new employee has started generating a positive profit for the firm.  But by the end of the first year, that new employee has generated negative $20,000 in cash flow.  It will take at least another year to break even on cash. 

This illustration is for a typical firm.  Remember, cash flow is influenced by four major factors:
  •          labor utilization rate,
  •          direct labor multiplier,
  •          days in WIP, and
  •          days in A/R.  

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