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Workplace Trends for the Professional Services Industry for 2022

Posted by Tasia Grant, PHR on February 02, 2022

It may be a new year, but 2022 comes with a similar vibe as 2021 still dealing with the impact of a pandemic and the shifting workplace as a result. Change begets change, and successful professional services firms have had to go with the times in order to stay competitive with others in their industry. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends for professional services firms in 2022.

Photo of employees

 

Work Culture

The pandemic has most professional services firms evaluating their work culture and figuring out how to adjust their practices and policies to accommodate the necessary changes but not compromise the foundation of its culture. As leaders, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what the company culture is and how this culture is perceived by employees. To attract and retain the best employees, the workplace culture needs to be attractive itself. In other words, it should be a win/win for all.

Hybrid and Remote Workplace

It is a fact that technology will be a constant part of the workplace culture going forward with online portals and systems in the cloud. Working remotely, which became a necessity during the pandemic, has become a trend that is likely to continue even when the pandemic is over. The hybrid work environment where time is split between home and office has become a shift in the workplace of today which HR will have to continue to manage.

Autonomy

Flexibility has become one of the most desired attributes of any company considered a “Great Place to Work”. It is not exclusive to the option of working remotely or in the office, but it extends to the workday structure. Set work hours are becoming a thing of the past and quality is valued over quantity. A professional services firm’s success with embracing autonomy boils down to trust with leadership trusting the employees to meet expectations and goals without the rigid structure of the past as well as employees feeling assured that they are worthy of that trust.

Prioritizing Employee Mental and Emotional Health

Leadership empathy is necessary to sustain loyalty throughout a professional services firm, therefore, these organizations are prioritizing employee mental and emotional health needs. With a hybrid and remote workplace, employers are finding creative ways to promote reconnection and engagement among employees. Also, benefit plans, EAP programs and policies on PTO are being evaluated to provide employees with support during these changing and uncertain times.

Multigenerational Workforce

Additionally, in most professional services firms, there is a multigenerational workforce to take into consideration. These different employees are working side by side on the same teams and the culture needs to understand and reflect their unique expectations. The newer generations of workers have different priorities for their workplace and their career. Their expectations are more flexible schedules, more regular feedback on performance from managers and more collaboration on projects. HR and leadership must provide continuous performance management to acknowledge high performance and provide incentives to remain on staff.

Reskilling and Upskilling

With talent shortages being a reality, professional services firms will be focusing on other ways to meet the firm’s organizational needs. Options such as reskilling and upskilling the workforce help firms with filling in the gaps. Reskilling is when new skills are developed from an expiring skill set that is no longer in demand. Upskilling is building upon current skills to enhance or add adjacent ones.

To do so, HR and leadership will be evaluating and revising the firm’s learning and development offerings. “Learning in the flow of work,” a phrase coined by Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst, has been gaining attention. Using this method, employees will access small pieces of knowledge to help solve skills-related matters that happen at work. This way, employees can learn as they work at their own pace, and using a turn-key Learning Management System (LMS), they can have access to content on demand.

Outsourcing HR

HR roles have become a lot more complicated over the years with technological advances such as online employee portals and cloud-based management of employee activities. To be more efficient, it has made sense to make the change toward outsourcing the HR functions to specific professionals that have the needed expertise. According to FinancesOnline, research has found that by 2024 the global market for human resource outsourcing is expected to reach $43.8 billion.

Outsourcing certain necessary HR functions will handle the burdensome administrative responsibilities of HR in professional services firms. These firms will not outsource all HR functions though. There still needs to be internal HR departments to manage employee relations issues and the other human elements of the firm.

Diversity

Although not a new goal for professional services firms, there will be renewed HR effort to recruit and retain a diverse workforce including more workers of varying genders, races and nationalities. Bias in the hiring process is a well-known and widespread problem, however, even with the best of intentions, these biases can impact sourcing and recruiting decisions outside of the awareness of the recruiter.

Again, technology provides a solution to the issue of creating more diversity in the workplace. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), candidates can be sourced and screened objectively. AI recruiting software can even be programmed to ignore demographic information and socioeconomic status. Even more, human recruiters will be able to save time by allowing the AI to do the redundant screening work for them. When the bias is removed from recruiting, a more diverse workforce will prevail in professional services firms.

Diversity awareness is not only addressed with increasing the number of professional services firms’ employees with varying backgrounds and beliefs. Also pertinent to this awareness is the implementation of training, programs, practices and policies which encourage knowledge, education, recognition, effective communication, sensitivity and accountability in a diverse workplace.

Differentiation & Branding

Being evident about what the corporate culture is and what the company goals are is from what a professional services firm’s branding is structured. It helps to identify the professional services firm’s differentiators from the competition and the type of talent the firm is seeking. HR plays a key role in the reinforcement of the branding of a firm

Talent acquisition practices should always incorporate branding because it’s the first impression a professional services firm makes for prospective employees and has the charge of selling the firm's greatest qualities. Communicating that the professional services firm is aware of and keeping up with workplace trends is a reflection of how it treats its employees and also evidence that the employees’ opinions about the company culture are recognized and considered.

Follow the Trends

These trends have all become standard and are expected for professional services firms to remain competitive in 2022. They may be new to your organization, but many firms that have already started implementation are experiencing their rewards. So, stay at the top of the professional services industry by following these workplace trends to succeed.

 

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Skills Improvement Versus Corrective Action: Getting to the Root of Things

Posted by Tasia Grant, PHR on October 13, 2021

Professional services firm leaders are often inclined to immediately use discipline or use corrective action to address an ongoing performance issue. However, that would be like medicating based on symptoms, without getting to the root cause of the illness. Instead, slowing down and thoroughly evaluating the situation can shed light on possible solutions that are likely more beneficial to the employee and for the firm as a whole.

Employee meeting with supervisor

When to Use a Skills Improvement Plan

Behavioral concerns and non-compliance issues can usually be directly impacted by progressive discipline. On the contrary, skill deficiencies or job performance concerns are usually best addressed with skills improvement plans and that includes more than just the technical skills required to perform the functions of the position. They can also incorporate the other skills essential and critical to the overall scope of the job.

For example, a manager may be a high performer based on their knowledge level and ability to perform the job duties. Yet, they may struggle in the areas of interpersonal communication or may not have had prior management experience and may need to work on developing their leadership skills. Which are areas not related to behavioral or compliance concerns.

Therefore, these skills would be best addressed with coaching, guidance, and setting clear goals and expectations. Coaching can include suggested training, an outlined strategy for change, developed by both the manager and their director, as well as mediation between the manager and their reports. If there is a desire to thrive in the position the manager should be open to the plan laid out to help them improve. Usually, employees do accept and appreciate the assistance if they feel that the plan being presented is sincere and demonstrates that the company wants them to be successful.

When to Use a Corrective Action Plan

Sometimes firms have an employee that excels in their position but is also an employee that is consistently late to their shift, breaking company policy, or their behavior is causing disruption to the team or clients. In this case, a more targeted and direct approach needs to be applied for more immediate results. Cases like these are when corrective action needs to be taken using a progressive discipline plan. This technique provides the employee an opportunity to make improvements or adjustments while allowing the employer to implement corrective actions if there is no improvement.

Corrective actions can vary in severity and can include a verbal warning or a written warning as lighter punishments. Whereas suspending an employee or terminating them can be more severe. Furthermore, corrective action primarily addresses critical problems, recurring issues, and/or problems that endanger health or safety of others.

Employees are Investments

Remember that with both a skills improvement plan and a corrective action plan, the primary goal should be to identify the cause of the change and a solution that leads to positive results. Additionally, firm leaders and managers need to consider that an employee may have greatness in them and are an asset to the firm, but are apprehensive to reveal it for fear that it will set higher expectations of them that they aren’t confident they can achieve. These processes will reveal that and encourage them to embrace it and display it.

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Effective Employee Feedback to Coach a Winning Team

Posted by Tasia Grant, PHR on July 28, 2021

Imagine being the head coach of a promising basketball team that with the right guidance can be league champions year after year. However, that is a rather ambiguous statement. What is the right guidance? Who is the coach? Even more, what does basketball have to do with professional services firms? Wow, those are some great questions.

Satisfaction face illustrations on chalkboard

For a coach of a team, it is his or her job to guide the players and instruct them on how to make the best use of each individuals talents to win each game. Similarly, a manager at a professional services firm is the leader of the team of employees that contribute to successfully completing a project. And as a coach or manager, recognizing underperforming players, improved or exceptional players, and how often recognition is needed can be difficult. Most importantly, the coach or manager of the team is ultimately responsible for wins and losses. Therefore, to be a great team leader, understanding how to effectively use feedback is critical to the success of the team.

Three Points for Negative Feedback

 

Ignoring shortcomings or less than desired performance and failing to address these concerns with employees is a common problem with managers. It is human nature to want to avoid potentially negative situations. But, is it okay to ignore that number 6 keeps missing three pointers? If so, this mindset and practice are contributing factors to why low performers continue to make errors, fail to meet expectations, and show a lack of improvement.

 

Managers avoid these conversations throughout the year because of the misconception that negative feedback is not as purposeful or as acceptable as positive feedback. Both managers and their reports can dread these conversations, and as a result, the managers defer to the annual performance review to address any grievances or concerns, assuming that the employee will expect it all at that time anyways. As a result, managers are doing their low-performing employees a disservice with this practice which does not foster a culture and environment to help their employees to win. Which is essentially like waiting till the end of the game before telling number 6 to give up on the three pointers.

 

Slam Dunk for Positive Feedback

 

Higher performers who anticipate annual raises and promotions often look forward to annual performance reviews. This confidence is not always instinctive or due to self-evaluation. In reality, it is because high performers often experience random, spontaneous praises and recognition for both small and large accomplishments, which creates positive affirmation. Similar to LeBron James, the crowd cheers we he sinks hoops, roars when he slam dunks, and celebrates his championships.

 

Unlike negative situations, it’s in peoples’ nature to seek out opportunities to praise others for their successes like fans in the stands cheering and screaming for every big play. Therefore, informal and formal recognitions of achievements tend to happen more often and spontaneously which provides continuous affirmation to high performers. But, not every team has a LeBron James, and even King James himself needs feedback from his coach to be a better team player.

 

Using Quarters and Timeouts for Effective Feedback

 

In basketball, imagine if, throughout a game, a coach witnessed one of their players missing passes, missing shots, failing to intercept…and not just failing to perform at his or her highest potential but in fact, performing below standard…not even meeting expectations. Would it be fair to the player or the team for the coach to wait until the end of the game to give the player feedback, pointing out all the player’s deficiencies? By then, it would adversely affect them, make them defensive or hyper focused on every misstep, ultimately leaving them feeling that losing the game was their fault.   

 

On the contrary, imagine if the coach addressed the player’s performance obstacles when they first noticed them and brought it to the player’s attention to ensure they were aware and determine if outside factors were contributing to the change in performance. Then, strategized with the player providing them with the guidance and knowledge to succeed. This sends the message to the player that they are valued, that the coach believes in them, and most importantly that they are still in the game, giving them the incentive to try harder to win!

 

Well, why wait till the end of the year or the end of the project to address areas of improvement or to recognize their achievements? Like a basketball game, managers need to find more frequent intervals to have formal one-on-one employee feedback sessions than the typical yearly review. Additionally, managers need to know when to call a timeout to address an employee’s shortcomings or celebrate an employee’s or the entire team’s achievements. Just as important, make sure to soften the blow negative feedback can have by sandwiching it between positive feedback.

Link to performance management webinar

Setting the Tone for the Candidate Interview Process

Posted by Tasia Grant, PHR on April 14, 2021

After the countless interviews I have done over the last twenty years, one of the greatest compliments I’ve received from a hiring manager was, “You bring an energy that makes candidates feel comfortable enough to be themselves.” With every interview opportunity comes the ability to explore a match for a candidate with the position and firm. When candidates are prepared and at ease during an interview, much can be learned about their personalities and potential to fill open positions. As the interviewer, you want to know with confidence that you’ve taken the time to make the whole process positive and done your due diligence when selecting the “right fit,” not just on paper. 

 

Employee Interview

 

Initiate Attraction

The job description for an open position is a very significant piece of the pre-interview process, and if written well, it transitions nicely into the actual interview. Oftentimes, job descriptions get recycled over and over while the job itself has gone through many evolutions. Many factors can impact the scope of a position like change in the size of the team or leadership, new technology, and change in the needs and goals of the company. In the AEC industry, particularly, industry standards and regulations can impact the requirements for certain job titles.

So, in preparation for interviewing for a specific position, the job description must be clearly written to reflect the qualifications expected of top talent. Candidates should then be able to see exactly what is required by the job description in advance and come to the interview able to prove how they match the needs and fit in the overall organizational plan. Interviewers having previously provided what they are looking for in a clear job description will receive candidates that are ready to showcase what they bring to the table and make the interview process flow easily and successfully.

Make a Good First Impression

If candidates are able to come into the office, they should feel not only welcomed but excited about sharing their qualifications with you. Greetings and initial contact in person should be done with polite professionalism such as acknowledging their interview time and offering water or a place to sit and wait for their time slot. The interviewer should come out and walk candidates back to the pre-set-up room and inquire as to any needs they have before the interview begins. For a Zoom or phone call, candidates should still be greeted on time with a positive attitude and made to feel that their time is valuable.

Break the Ice and Establish the Mood

As the interview begins, candidates should be encouraged to relax with some comforting initial conversational questions. Afterwards, they should be reminded to take their time and think through their answers asking for clarity if a question isn’t understood. With most interviews these days being conducted virtually, you want to create an environment that removes the technical barrier and gives the same energy you would if you were in-person. For the interview questions, minimize the predictable, classic, broad questions like “Tell me your strengths and weaknesses,” or “Do you work well with others?”

Remember the goal is to find out who the person is, not just what they think you want to hear. You should ask Behavioral Questions that allow candidates to talk about their past work experiences. Behavioral-based interview questions focus on how they previously handled various work situations such as “Tell me a situation which was challenging and how you handled it?” Especially for highly technical and labor-based industries, like AEC, ensure that the questions are specific to the position and structured to reveal the candidates’ skills, abilities, and thought processes.

Candidates, having reviewed your job description in advance and feeling at ease with the interviewer, should be able to relate to the needs of the open position and provide some good examples of their past experiences. As mentioned before, a well written job description pre-interview should provide top talent the chance to come to the interview prepared for identifying their skills. You should wrap up the interview by allowing the candidates to ask any other questions and give them an overview of the remaining steps in the candidate selection process including the approximate date you have targeted to have the position filled.

Carefully Choose Your Match

When possible, conduct post-interview discussions immediately after the interviews or within a few days so that impressions and thoughts about the candidates are still fresh in the mind. Many companies use a rating system to rank the candidates’ interview performances. Using the ranking system can work in conjunction with post-interview discussions, and it provides measurable data to support the final decision.

After all interviews have been completed, make the selection of your candidate a priority. Efforts to determine who will move to the next step or to choose the final selection should be made within a week to increase the probability that your top choices are still available when you are ready to extend an offer. Every interview that is completed requires a follow-up indicating the status in the selection process or thanking candidates for their time if not chosen.

Keep in mind that those candidates that are not picked for current positions might be good matches for future positions, so it is important to have open communications all the way through to the end. Also, maintaining these connections will ensure good public relations going forward. You never know when a position will open up again so setting the right tone for the entire candidate interview process is a must in order to attract and find the best fit for your firm.

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Recruiting Top Talent in the New Normal: FACT vs. FICTION

Posted by Tasia Grant, PHR on March 24, 2021

The “new normal” is not so new anymore as we are still operating in a different state of existence. There is so much conflicting and confusing information being disseminated out there about the job market and the current state of unemployment that both employers and candidates aren’t sure how to approach meeting their specific needs. Let’s break down common myths about the current market and what’s important to job seekers a year after the pandemic began. Knowing the truth between fact and fiction in the present recruiting climate will help determine what’s really important to top talent and will guide talent acquisition.

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FICTION: Things should “get back to normal” later this year. 

A quarter of the way, even halfway through 2020, firms were holding on to the thought of being able to pick up where they left off before the pandemic, especially if the firm was operating at its highest level at the pandemic’s onset. At that time, they were viewing any adjustments or changes as a temporary fix to make it through what they hoped would be the end of this catastrophic event. Taking their lead, employees were anticipating the same, even avoiding getting their hopes up of maintaining their virtual work status and the savings racked up from a decrease in spending on gas, lunch, and clothing. Candidates, as well, took a wait and see approach assuming that virtual work would not be the long-term expectation. 

Now, some employers realize there is no such thing as “getting back to normal.” Therefore, they are beginning the process to identify permanent adjustments that need to be made. To make the hiring process for new candidates smoother and more effective, they need to evaluate what would work best going forward virtually. 

FACT: In the AEC industry, employment has been consistent. 

According to data from a monthly supplement to PSMJ’s Quarterly Market Forecast (QMF) survey of AEC firms in the 4th quarter of 2020, the AEC industry has weathered the crisis better than most. The survey also found that less than 5% of responding firms suffered “significant” staff reductions, and under 15% said that their project delays and cancellations were “major” as opposed to moderate or minor. However, the industry must still proceed with caution because the stagnation in construction employment in January may foreshadow further deterioration in the industry as projects that started before the pandemic finish up and companies hold off on awarding new work. Project-based top talent should be kept in the loop as to the status of upcoming projects to ensure availability when needed. 

FICTION: People are so desperate for work they aren’t looking for competitive salaries. 

In the current environment, with so many workers facing lack of income or the threat of losing their current salaries, the assumption may be that candidates will take what they can get. This may give employers the false sense of security that they can offer lower salaries and still obtain top talent. What we are seeing is that job candidates are seeking out firms that provide competitive salaries, and even more importantly, firms that are flexible and truly care about the wellbeing of their staff. Top talent will remember how they were treated during the pandemic.

FACT: It is now easier to find top talent. 

This is partially true. The challenge is that HR professionals may see an increase in applications for some positions making it harder to sift through the resumes and find the right candidate in a timely manner. HR teams that have an automated screening system will be in a better position to filter out unqualified individuals. Furthermore, employers that have established HR processes in place to proactively recruit and nurture candidates will be able to cut through the noise more quickly.

 

FACT: Work from home (WFH) options remain viable. 

The AEC industry will see a mix of in-person and WFH. For the architectural and engineering industries, WFH can be accomplished by the majority of positions. To the contrary, the construction industry will have a significantly smaller portion of its workforce that is able to work remotely. 

Throughout the pandemic, AE firms have found enabling employees to work from home much easier than originally thought. Those that have embraced it wholeheartedly have reaped the benefits. This mindset shift now requires HR professionals to think about moving forward on how they will accommodate both in-person and WFH positions as this becomes more prevalent in the industry. In the end, top talent will be enticed by the work options. 

FACT: Work/Life balance is a critical consideration for all.

Transitioning staff from on site to remote work was a big adjustment for many firms, and some found the balance to be a challenge. As more firms continue to offer WFH positions, HR professionals will need to identify ways to help employers manage employee expectations and become more flexible with schedules. According to Tiger Recruitment Salary and Benefits Review 2021, Work/Life Balance ranks third most important to salary and job security, when it comes to attracting candidates to their next role. 

Human Resources Must Be Front and Center

Today, acquiring top talent means new approaches and viewpoints to ensure firms are staying competitive. Superior candidates will be looking for a virtual means of recruitment and hiring, acceptable salaries and flexible work options. Maintaining a strong firm culture with a fragmented and remote working staff puts the burden on management to mentor, communicate, and collaborate with teams. HR processes must be adjusted and updated to help firms adapt to the changing times, and Human Resources must stand front and center in the firm’s overall business strategy.

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