Five Steps to Boost Employee Satisfaction Within Your Firm

| | Read time: 5 mins.

Want to create a safe and welcoming environment for all your employees? Have you been struggling to represent minorities within your firm? We are here to help. MWA’s Director of Sustainability Jean von Bargen Root presented at the 2020 Women in Construction Conference on these very topics. Her presentation focused on adapting risk management principles for today’s work environment. Employee turnover is one of the most common internal risks within an organization. Using her 25 years of experience, she can provide your firm with actionable tips to increase employee satisfaction. From her presentation, we created a five-step plan to help you combat employee turnover issues.

MWA employees at work

Step #1

Look at your services and clients and ask yourself, “Do we look like the people whom we serve?” 

If yes, then skip to step #2. 

If no, then ask, “Why not?” 

It is likely due to the larger issue in architecture: lack of diversity. According to AIA, only 17 percent of registered architects are women, and only 4 percent of architects are Black or African American.

But your firm does not have to reflect those statistics. 

To create an environment that is safe for everyone, you need diversity and fair representation within your team. 

As a mission-based architecture firm, most MWA-designed housing projects are constructed for low-income communities, and the majority of low-income families in the US are non-white. MWA also serves our communities with the infrastructure that provides essential needs. It is important that our team is diverse so that when we present our designs, the community we are presenting to feels understood and represented.  Diverse design teams are profitable and often provide uplifting, empathetic designs that represent multiple views and experiences.

Step #2

Discuss with your team the qualities you are looking for in a new hire.

Your list will be unique to your firm and align with your values. But it could look something like this:

Qualities to look for during an interview:

  • Supports social justice
  • Values community input
  • Commitment to sustainable design
  • Candidates’ life experiences
  • Commitment to empathetic design 

By expanding on what is valued in an applicant, you can begin the process of diversifying your team. 

This year, MWA hired 17 new employees. As a now 54-person firm, this meant substantial growth. Of those 17 new hires, 60% are minorities, and 70% are women. We acquired a talented group of people, designers, architects, and marketers, who brought immense skill to the firm, different life experiences, and reflected our desire to be more culturally diverse.

Step #3

Implement a bottom-up leadership style. 

bottom up leadership graphic

Most firm leaders in architecture are white males. To shift this context, we need to ‘Manage Up.’

A bottom-up leadership style encourages employees to contribute ideas to management. Regardless of your current leaders’ receptiveness to feedback, implementing this as the official management style will help employees feel more comfortable sharing feedback.

This helps foster the voices of all people within your firm, inviting a fresh perspective from people of various backgrounds.

Step #4

Help employees climb the ladder!

MWA Architects on rope bridge

With a bottom-up leadership style in place, there will be employees who step forward and speak up. Use this opportunity to support upward movement within your firm. 

Setting a career path for your employees is one of the best ways to increase employee satisfaction. And if most of your diversity lies below the leadership level, paving the way for upward mobility is crucial.  

A McKinsey and Co. Study notes that companies with ethnically or culturally diverse executives are up to 35% more profitable than a homogenous C-suite. Even if your firm is not currently diverse at the leadership level, these are all steps you can take towards becoming a more diverse firm.  

MWA’s Director of Sustainability, Jean von Bargen Root, previously held the title of Director of Special Projects. As she continued to advocate for sustainability in her projects, it became clear that this was her niche. Jean asked the principals if her title could be adapted to reflect her work in the firm better. After seeing her ongoing efforts towards sustainable design, Jean’s request for the responsibilities connected to the Director of Sustainability title was honored.

Step #5

Update your values and policies. 

Diversifying a team is not successfully accomplished through a one-time hiring spree. You must create lasting values and policies that change the way your firm operates. 

If each employee aligns with the firm’s values and is willing to stand up for those values, then our firm will mold around this common core.  

In 2020, MWA began a strategic planning process. We clearly defined our mission, vision, and values. Now, our mission stands as the backbone of our firm. We can use this mission to navigate which projects to pursue and which employees to hire. As an architecture firm specializing in serving our community’s essential needs, we need everyone we work with us to rally behind this mission. 

Taking the time to re-center our team on the values that unite us, we create a healthier workforce and business.   

Diversifying your team and weaving new perspectives into your organization decreases employee turnover, increases employee satisfaction, and produces higher profits.  

Next, we will be sharing part two of Jean’s presentation: Three Attainable Goals Every Architecture Project Needs