Built Different: People First Culture

Post by 
Daniel Deery, PE, SE
Published 
May 18, 2021

If you know our team, you know we have a passion for people and building industry-redefining teams. We work hard to provide the best environment for our team to grow as people and professionals.

This environment, which I'll call our culture, sounds simple enough. Truthfully, it's not magical, and in fact, it is quite natural, as it's how we are wired. It's what many companies say they do or want to do or even know they should do, but few successfully do it. Why not? I'll admit that while it's simple, it's hard work, and it takes time, but it's worth it!

We built our team to form and maintain relationships because selling services is a relationship business. At Isomer Project Group, we emphasize integrity, candor, and personal commitment; this means even when times get hard, we are here to serve others, not be served. To do this requires humility, sacrifice, and putting others' needs before our own. Yes, I'm absolutely referring to our customers' needs. But I'm also referring to our own team members! Too many companies are so concerned with meeting clients' needs that they ignore the employees who ultimately deliver value to those clients. This is the secret sauce that many people search for but never find.

When teaching to a crowd, a wise man once said:

"Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend's eye, but you don't notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? How can you say to your friend, 'Let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye?' Look at yourself! … First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend's eye."

It all starts with our people and how we serve them internally. It's tempting to put all your focus into providing first-class service externally as that clearly impacts the bottom line and drives repeat business. However, with this focus, it is a struggle to sustain the behavior your success was built on. You can tell a tree by its fruit. If you allow me to do a bit of reverse engineering, the converse is also true; you cannot produce apples unless you are an apple tree. If our intended fruit is servant leadership to our customers, we must first be serving and caring for the needs of our own team to build a healthy and sustainable culture. We must serve them, so they are equipped to serve others!

So how do we do this? It starts with leadership. I believe the most effective model is servant leadership, which focuses primarily on the growth of the people and community around you. The leaders must believe in this vision and then transfer it to others. The leaders drive the culture and behaviors of the team. Leaders must practice what they preach! Do as I do, not just as I say. Like the apple tree example, the leader will produce what they are at the core. Therefore, character is essential to leadership. Character leads to credibility (trust), which leads to influence and impact. Be yourself, be real. This starts with being self-aware and honest with yourself, which requires humility. We must recognize that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and all have a purpose and something to offer to the greater good. Treat people like family. You may not always get along, but if you lead by example and develop a culture of honesty, vulnerability, love, and care for others, people will follow.

We are relational creatures. So, make relationships with your people a priority. To inspire, encourage, and develop your team, you must know them and their strengths and weaknesses. Listen to your team! Provide an opportunity for them to speak and don't just hear what they say, listen and reflect on it. We all have work to do here, myself included. It can be challenging to listen intentionally and not instantaneously convert everything being said to an interpretation based on your personality, life experiences, or current circumstances. It is also difficult not to immediately respond and instead take an action item to spend additional time reflecting on the conversation, humbling yourself, and seeking input from others before returning to the person and offering a response. I've found that if you take the time to do this, it makes all the difference!

Communication is the key to any successful relationship. It's critical that you communicate clearly and often with your team. The team should know the company's vision and mission statement. At Isomer Project Group, we exist to help bring great ideas to life. We were founded on a simple principle: there must be a better way to execute infrastructure projects. Our team believes in this vision and works hard to make it a reality, and likewise, as a company, we also believe in our team members and work hard to support them! As a company and a leader, you must understand your team member's individual and unique values, visions, and goals. What is important to them, and what makes them tick? Then, you can work together to ensure you are helping each other reach your personal and professional goals. This two-way approach to growth should be the foundation for any performance review or regular feedback exchange with your team members. (And yes, you should have those… they don't have to be formal, but they should be regular and face-to-face.) This process builds engagement and momentum for bringing both parties' visions to life!

I've mentioned already that we are passionate people. Passion is critical in the engineering and project management services business. It can inspire even in the most challenging times and help the team persevere and accomplish the project objectives. We hire passionate people, and we serve our team members by helping them discover their passion. We also serve our team members by investing in their families; personal and professional lives cannot be fully separated and impact each other. The people we meet and relationships we develop have the most significant influence on our lives – so make time for developing relationships. It does take time, but it's worth it!

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