Making good use of downtime

December 2005 » Editor's Comment
During the month of December and in early January, it normally isn't “business as usual” for civil engineers. There is more time spent cleaning up offices, catching up on reading, and taking vacation, and less time spent in the field, working late, and attending planning meetings. There are more parties and fewer deadlines. The holidays are a great time to recreate, reorganize, and refocus.

During the month of December and in early January, it normally isn't “business as usual” for civil engineers. There is more time spent cleaning up offices, catching up on reading, and taking vacation, and less time spent in the field, working late, and attending planning meetings. There are more parties and fewer deadlines. The holidays are a great time to recreate, reorganize, and refocus.

Thomas True, P.E., president of TRUE Engineering, a medium-sized civil and survey firm in Bedford, N.H., had staff scan and save all of his firm's documents, including flat files and archives, during the firm's slow season. He literally counts his blessings for having done this in the article “Fire! Part 1: A disaster at the office - it could happen to you” (page 30). Following a devastating fire this past summer, True has learned many important lessons, including taking advantage of downtime to protect a firm's interests. This is an excellent article, and I highly encourage you to read True's candid account of one of those professional experiences I hope you never experience! Besides affording time for valuable unbillable projects to get you on track for the new year, this is also a popular time for distributing year-end or holiday bonuses, and negotiating or issuing raises for the coming year. Synchronizing with these activities, our bimonthly “Workplace Practices” (page 28) article topic this month is compensation.

Of course, for many firms the distributing of bonuses and announcing raises corresponds with conducting performance reviews - a major unbillable activity for any firm, but one that is valued by staff, as shown by our research. According to the results of the 2004 Employee Satisfaction Survey, which garnered feedback from more than 12,000 civil engineering firm employees, it is important to staffers that their firms conduct regular performance reviews, clearly define performance expectations for jobs, and provide formal recognition of exceptional individual performance. What's more, our research from the 2005 Employee Satisfaction Survey shows that 70.4 percent of civil engineering firm employees are satisfied with their current company's practices regarding regular performance reviews and 71.5 percent are satisfied with how their firm defines performance expectations.

Some firms have instituted annual “360-degree” feedback assessments, during which employees receive feedback on their individual performance from their supervisor, peers, reporting staff members, and clients. While this labor-intensive system is a major initiative for a firm, the results can be exceptional, as it provides a host of positive results. According to an article called “360 Degree Feedback: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Susan Heathfield - a management consultant specializing in human resource-related systems, issues, and opportunities - organizations that are happy with the 360 degree component of their performance management systems identify improved feedback from more sources, team development, personal and organizational performance development, improved customer service, and other positive results.

However, no practice is perfect. Heathfield cites the following potential problems with 360-degree feedback processes: exceptional expectations for the process, design process downfalls, failure to connect the process with overall strategic goals, insufficient information to react to feedback, time investment, and more.

Regardless of how you choose to spend what downtime the season offers you, I hope you feel well-prepared for the New Year. Happy holidays from everyone at CE News!

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.
sfauerbach@zweigwhite.com


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