It Makes Plain Good Business Sense to Have Happy, Motivated People

Perry, Pyron & McCown (PPM) is an environmental engineering consulting firm with a five-year history. In that time, they have grown to 39 employees.

PPM's satisfaction scores on most items in the survey we conducted for them exceeded those we have measured in similar surveys, often by a large margin. Based on the results, it appears that PPM's employees like the work they do, like the way they are treated by management, feel they are contributing to the company's mission, like the people they work with, and are proud to work for the company. It is little wonder that the satisfaction scores were high.

We asked Mike McCown, PPM Partner, to summarize the way PPM people are treated by management.

McCown: One of the things we do best is empower employees to share their opinions with us. We give them as much responsibility as they can handle. Sometimes we are accused of giving too much responsibility too fast, but the results have been very good so far.

We know the employees can handle the responsibility we give them because we make great efforts to look for quality people and train them well. Pre-qualification is one of the factors in the success our people have had. We know we have good people coming in the door. We train them properly, give the responsibility they need to do the job, and stay out of their way to let them do as much as the can. I guess you could summarize our philosophy toward managing people as bring them in, show them the ropes, and let them go.

Lab: How do you maintain quality under these circumstances?

McCown: As I mentioned, good people and training are the key. Nevertheless, everything is reviewed by a Partner before it is delivered to a client. This augments our training program by enabling us to share seasoned judgment with our people, further fine-tuning their skills.

Also, because we are a small company they can avoid politics and bureaucracy, which can have a negative impact on quality. We have four offices. Encourage each office to work with the others. This is done both through our everyday actions, as well as through incentives.

Lab: How did this philosophy evolve?

McCown: When we started we had six people. Two of us had worked in a national engineering firm with many levels of management, which we felt stifled productivity and creativity. We came into PPM as recent employees of that firm, and wanted to avoid the problems we experienced at the large firm.

From the beginning, we weren't afraid to work hard, and let our people see us working hard. We are what you would call 'working managers.' Each principal is highly involved in the day-to-day business, actually generating billing hours. The principals aren't viewed as just sitting in an ivory tower, which we believe breeds respect. By being involved at the project level, management is able to get to know new people, and let them get to know us. This helps trust to evolve.

In our everyday involvement in the business, we try to set a good example. We are honest, ethical, don't lie, don't cheat, and we work very hard to save clients money. We work very, very hard to clean up clients sites (of environmental contamination) as quickly as possible. The employees see us practicing what we preach.

Lab: Your scores on employee recognition were far above average. Please describe how you recognize and reward employees.

McCown: We've struggled with formal bonus programs, although we have had good success with a random bonus program. Bonus is awarded to people who are doing a good job when the money is there. To encourage teamwork, bonus based on what the individual does plus what the company does.

For the most part, the recognition process is not formal, but it is more of a one-on-one experience. We do temperature checks. We'll often ask questions like how is it going? or is there anything I can do to make your job work easier? I think we care about the happiness of our employees because we've worked for miserable people in the past.

Our employees know that they are important to us. If someone does a good job on a report, we shower them with praise. And we give credit where credit is due; we share success stories of individual employees with other offices.

If you had to sum up our philosophy, we care about our employees personally. If an employee has a problem at home, he or she knows they can come to management if we can be of any assistance. Sometimes just a small, but needed gesture, such as letting an employee go home to take care of personal business, can be very much appreciated. You can take a hard-nosed approach with employees, but it makes plain good business sense to have happy, motivated people.

 
 
 

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