In an A/E firm’s early days, principals are deeply involved in design and engineering projects, lending their expertise and working shoulder-to-shoulder with staff professionals.
But as the firm grows, these same principals often assume the demands of running the firm. This often removes them from day-to-day project work. And layers of hierarchy will make them less accessible to staff. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Haney Louka is a principal at Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd. (CKP), a consulting engineering firm in Winnipeg, Manitoba and a member of PSMJ’s Circle of Excellence. Despite significant growth over the past two decades, the 90-person firm has maintained a relatively flat organizational structure that “gives everyone access to everyone else,” Louka says.
“When I joined the firm in 2003, it was 30-person shop,” Louka says. “Our president at the time worked hard to maintain a family atmosphere. Even the newest employees had open-door access to principals. He felt it was a key to our success.”
Louka says that, despite the demands that growth can place on the organizational structure of a firm, CKP has refrained from establishing a large internal hierarchy. “We have a short chain of command,” he says. “Everyone at the principal level is approachable. You can stop them in the hall and talk about a challenge you’re facing on a project. Team members at every level know they’re being heard.”
How do you ingrain that belief in young professionals that are new to the firm? Louka says much of it comes from observing how the team operates. But to ensure the message gets through, one of the firm’s senior partners handles onboarding.
“He welcomes the new hires and spends half a day with them,” he explains. “That’s a big first step to establishing that family atmosphere.”
Louka says CKP tries to maintain that sense of family with clients through interpersonal staff/client relationships, with at least one senior professional involved on every project: “That’s one reason we enjoy a high percentage of repeat business, which means we don’t have to spend as much time and money competing for new business. It’s much less expensive to keep clients than to pitch new ones.”
The firm has remained in operation throughout the pandemic, with 80 percent of staff working remotely at one point. To keep people connected while working apart, CKP has an active social club with representatives from each area of practice.
“A few weeks ago, we had Spirit Week, where each day had a theme,” Louka says. “Everyone could participate and post pictures of themselves on a dedicated Microsoft Teams channel. Partners took turns awarding prizes each day. Participation and enthusiasm exceeded our expectations!” Louka says the firm wants to get people back in the office: “Nothing can match the productivity and the solidarity you get from working together in person. A big topic of conversation in our annual employee reviews this year is how to ensure we provide one-to-one mentoring, especially for young people. You can’t replace that.”