Power to the people Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Richard L. Bowen knowsthe secret to keepingemployees at his firm —he treats them as equals.

The president and owner of Richard L. Bowen + Associates Inc. employs nearly 90 architects, engineers and construction specialists, but despite itsgrowing size, the firm maintainsa collegial atmosphere.

“We’re the size of firm where,if someone wants to talk to me,they just come up and say, ‘Iwant to talk to Richard,’ andjust come in,” he says. “It’s notlike we’ve got a thousand people and you can’t get to themanagement team.”

Smart Business spoke withBowen about how to craft employee reviews while keepingemployer and employee on anequal plane and how to integratenew employees into the fold.

Q. How do you integrate newemployees with seasoned pros?

The old professionals haveto bring along the new guysbecause when you graduatefrom college, you probablycome out with about 60 percent of what you really needto know. You’ve got the gapbetween them.

You don’t understand the professional business side of it;you only understand the ethereal practice you get at a college level.

How do we reconcile bringing in a student or a graduate?They would fall in under one ofour project management teams.Underneath that project manager is a series of differentqualified personnel by years ofexperience.

You move a young person inunder that system, and they would become part of thatteam. Once you get into a team,you generally stay with theteam; you don’t move aroundtoo much.

Q. How do you determineadvancement?

Unless you prove yourselfincapable, you have the opportunity to move up the ladder.

We look for the capability ofthe individual and how far hecan move and in what timeframe. Then, we review themevery year.

In the review, we askthe employee to do ananalysis of his last year’swork effort — his plusesand minuses. And two ofour people — whoeverhis superior is and oneother senior principal —do a review, too, and sitdown with him together,the three of them, andthey talk it through.

They come to an understanding of how far theindividual has advancedand where his growthareas are and where heneeds help. We try tokeep it at a very professional level of participation and the individual’sgrowth within the firm.

Q. What are the benefits ofanalysis and performancereview?

It gives the person beingreviewed the opportunity toexpress what they think they’veaccomplished. In turn, they getthe review of the project manager that is responsible for themor the superior above them thathas been watching their workfor a year. Then you have theindividual who is perhaps the project head for the wholearchitectural department sittingthere with them reviewing it, sothey get a three-way vision totheir work effort.

We don’t really complete ituntil they come to an agreement. Like, ‘Yes, this is what I’vereally done, and I agree with youand understand you agree withmy position.’ It also sets theirability to move up in the firmand earn raises; that is shared bythe whole management team.

We have a group of about nineindividuals who are principals— one from each of the engineering disciplines and construction management and four from architectural. We meettwice a week to keep the focusof the total office and talkthrough the direction we wantto go.

Q. How do you keep employees from leaving for other jobs?

We do everything we can tokeep the individual. So it’s moreof a negotiation on an equalplane than it is an employee-employer type of situation.

It’s more personalized becausewhen you’re on a team, everybody is together on the team,everybody knows what everyone’s problems are. If someone’s ill in the family, you knowabout it right away.

From that standpoint, we tryto do things that involve theoffice as a totality. We share eachother’s information because youcan get involved as a team, andall of a sudden, you don’t seethe big picture. Only throughgroup meetings of the wholeoffice can we refocus that.

Q. How do you work withyour management team to setthe vision for the company?

The management meeting isthe vision aspect of what wewant to do more long range.

You’re always looking for newmarkets. You’re saying, ‘Do wewant to get involved in that?’That’s hammered out betweenthe management team [and] theother principals.

It’s not singular. It’s not justmyself saying, ‘Here’s what I’mgoing to do’; it’s, ‘Here’s whatwe’re going to do.’ Then youpass it down to the staff. We discuss the pros and cons. It’smore of a total office decision,almost.

HOW TO REACH: Richard L. Bowen + Associates Inc., (216) 491-9300 or www.rlba.com