Strong bonds Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

Terrance N. Ivers likes a little variety with his breakfast. No, not in what he’s eating but with who joins him. Ivers has a “breakfast with the president” program at AMEC Paragon where he serves as president of the engineering and project management company. While the selection of those joining him is technically random, it’s really not. If he’s having breakfast with 12 people, he wants 12 different departments represented.

“I don’t have one group being overrepresented,” he says. “It gives me an opportunity also to make sure, as we go around the table, for people that day to get to know each other a little better, because in some cases, they may not have worked on the same project or they’re certainly not in the same department.”

Ivers also gets a deeper understanding of what employees did before they joined the company, which posted $158 million in 2008 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Ivers about how to communicate with your employees.

Appreciate your employees. It is a hard business, and I think we demand a great deal of our employees not only in terms of tapping into their intelligence and delivering their ideas but the time it takes to do that generally can be a longer week and sometimes expectations of delivering on short notice are there. It’s historically been one that we count on our folks to be flexible in that regard — long hours, flexibility, willing to travel a bit.

If you ask employees to do that, certainly you need to be seen (doing) that, as well.

Leaders, certainly those who desire to be followed, need to be hardworking and set the example.

Also, we are a people business. Many times, if presented by individuals who aren’t genuine, being a people business can come across as a bit of a cliché and disingenuous. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in an environment where the management of the organization reflected an empathy for employees and an understanding that we are all working in a challenging industry and we are managing our family lives at the same time and that balance.

So, I work hard, as well, and understanding our employees as best as I possibly can and being empathetic toward their needs and doing whatever I can to support them.

Keep employees in the loop. (We keep) the team, that’s our entire employee base, informed as to the status of current projects we have in-house. Many employees are already a part of an execution team that is delivering to a client. On those projects, there are team meetings and there are expectations of completion of deliverables by a certain schedule and, ultimately, the delivery of the entire project by a schedule.

So, many of our employees are sensitized to delivery dates all the while. I think we also do a really good job here of alerting employees to what’s coming and what are the special challenges of that particular assignment.

For example, we have a number of projects in Angola. These West African projects with delivery in Angola could require and will require some travel. We alert employees of the unique travel demands or the unique schedule demands or the unique client expectations as early as we possible can. I think that sensitizes the organization as to how things are changing in the business for us and what we need to do to adapt.

Communicate often. I’ve come into the organization … and there was a certain way of working at this company and an atmosphere that both of which were fantastic. But, of course, we are undergoing change in our organization — standardization of execution methods and the introduction of more procedures, re-establishing and clarifying roles and responsibilities for employees.

So, there are a number changes that are occurring and we use every opportunity through town halls, monthly meetings, new hire orientation, new hire lunches, breakfast meetings with the president that we have put in place.

There are many, many communication venues of which you can speak directly to employees and let them hear from you and ask you questions. Unprepared — just go ahead, speak from the heart and speak from what you know of the business. As often as you can, do that. Then you are, in fact, touching everyone.

The advice I’d give to (you) is speak to everyone in the organization. I know that’s difficult and speaking to every person in the organization, you’re going to end up with a bunch of questions that you don’t necessarily have an answer for. But, that’s OK, too. That’s causing you to reflect on how prepared you were for that conversation, and perhaps, it enables you to get a little bit closer to changes in the business.

Keep the door open. You may be stepping in as a new leader into an organization where open dialogue was not encouraged. Many times, it’s about patience. It’s about saying that you have an open communication, that you have an open-door policy and that you want to know from your employees what is on their mind.

Then it’s about doing that consistently and honoring the confidence that is shared with you — following up, doing what you say you’re supposed to do — just being patient with it. Because you can say things, but then you can either talk the talk or you can walk the talk. If you’re just consistent with your monthly messages or your participation and communication sessions with employees, your monthly breakfast, before you know it, you’ve accomplished 12 months. You can look back and say, ‘Well, this is what I said I was going to do, and this is what I’m doing.’ So, it’s patience and persistence.

How to reach: AMEC Paragon, (713) 570-1000 or www.amec.com