Striving to improve

Every year, with great pride, we release the results of our Best Firms To Work For program in late September at the Best Firms To Work For Summit and then in our October issue. In the last 10 years, the program has grown to rank five types of firms: civil engineering, environmental service, multidiscipline A/E services, structural engineering, and architecture. (The results of the latter two are presented in the October issue of our sister publication, Structural Engineering & Design).

Much like your business, I imagine, this program has evolved with time. It has grown and shrunk; it has implemented new processes and technology solutions; and it has benefited from creative thinking and experience. But through all the changes and challenges, our focus remains to produce a high-quality, comprehensive assessment of firms that incorporates employee feedback (many similar rankings fail to include this essential evaluation criteria), and to keep current with industry norms and sentiments. A principal factor in our assessment of firms and employee feedback is that highly ranked firms must be the type that are always striving to improve; resting on laurels is not what makes a great workplace. As the manager of this ranking, I can assure you that we practice the same philosophy in our administration of the program as a matter of principle.

To reflect the burden the economy has placed on firms, this year we massaged some existing questions and added new ones, as well as adjusted our grading scheme for several questions. As we saw last year, firms are suffering: they are laying off staff, administering pay cuts, issuing salary freezes, cutting benefits, and making other difficult decisions to manage their way through these hard times. Our belief is that just because a firm makes these decisions, doesn’t mean they can’t be a great place to work.

While a firm may, in fact, be a great place to work because leaders made these extremely difficult decisions, many aren’t interested in being ranked on our list in a year when they lay off staff or take steps that feel like they are going backward. It is for this reason, I believe, we have seen another decrease in applicants. But that’s not to say that the firms that ranked aren’t in the same boat you are; they just decided to go for it, accepting the fate our industry is in and showing us how they are rising to the challenge.

Last year, my hope for our tenth anniversary year was one “marked with happy employees and profitable firms.” While we may be coming up short on the profitability, I’m proud that despite the macro issues our firms face, our employees are still happy. Here’s some proof, and a testament to the quality firms that applied this year for our esteemed ranking. The values shown are the percentage of civil engineering firm employees who participated in the Employee Satisfaction Survey and answered that they agree or strongly agree with the statements shown:

  • 96 percent — I feel my firm is ethical in its business practices.
  • 95 percent — I am proud of my work.
  • 95 percent — My firm provides high-quality work for clients.
  • 94 percent — My firm strives to improve.
  • 92 percent — My firm has a trustworthy leadership/management team.
  • 90 percent — I believe that my management is leading the firm well through this challenging economy.

The firms ranked on the Best Firms To Work For lists are those that exceed the benchmark — the best of our applicant pool. While the pool changes each year, it is an exemplary accomplishment for firms to rank on the list. We appreciate the continued support from the many firms that enter year after year, and we thank those that put their foot in the water this year for the first time.

I invite you to join us next year. We hear from firm leaders every year who say that regardless of their standing on the list, they value the experience, learn from it, and use it to identify specific areas they can work to improve. So whether you have a great workplace or you’d like to, consider participating in 2011. Applications will be posted in early 2011 at Also, you can sign up at to receive an e-mail notice when the applications are available.

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.,

Posted in Uncategorized | January 29th, 2014 by

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