Part 1: Why We Must Focus More On Our People

Great Project Management is Not Enough
- Part 1: Why We Must Focus More On Our People -

Whether in a crisis or beyond, most engineering and architecture firms leave a lot of money on the table with our lack of focus and effectiveness in talent training and development. 

When we think of improving, we generally turn to traditional project management training. It makes sense. We need it, it’s what we were taught, and it’s safe to advocate for – but it will only get us so far. 

If we are looking for greater growth and profits in this new era, we need more than a good “playbook”.  We need better equipped players throughout our organization to call and execute the right plays at the right time and with the right people. 


“If we are looking for greater growth and profits in this new era, we need more than a good ‘playbook’.  We need better equipped players throughout our organization to call and execute the right plays at the right time and with the right people.”

–Peter C. Atherton


What gets us there is better talent investment, employee engagement, and leadership modeling – not just better contracting, monitoring, and invoicing. 

Better Investment   

We absolutely need better scope, schedule, and budget training but our largest gains, especially today, is with helping our people become better “people-people”.  

There is no question that higher levels of success are associated with higher levels of awareness and emotional intelligence, which includes our ability to successfully manage ourselves and influence others. 

In terms of baseline, the fact is that most of us are starting from a deficit in terms of “people skills”, and we already have significant exposure in terms of performance and employee engagement and retention given that: 

  • The vast majority of our managers continue to be promoted based on their technical skills.
  • Employees most often leave managers, not organizations.
  • The relationship with one’s direct supervisor has a 70-percent variance on employee engagement (based on Gallup research). 

One final point here on investment… we need a mindset shift.  


The “Talent-Client” relationship is fundamental to our business.  Without clients, we have no business. But without talent effectively serving those clients, we have no business either.  And, increasingly, it’s becoming harder to find and retain great employees than it is clients. 

Part of the reason we do better with clients today is the significant level of investment we’ve made over the past two decades. Great client service and experiences matter – and will continue to.  However, our greatest opportunity today is to invest as much or more in talent development in order to drive even greater client service through better team engagement, innovation, and project delivery. 


“Our greatest opportunity today is to invest as much or more in talent development in order to drive even greater client service through better team engagement, innovation, and project delivery.”

–Peter C. Atherton.


New Era Engagement

Employee engagement today is about relationships and alignment. 

Employee engagement is an employee’s emotional connection to his or her firm, its leaders, and direct supervisor… and, more specifically, about their collective ability to align project, team, client, and organization goals with their individual personal and professional goals. In order to have success, talent needs to want to be on our teams. 


“In order to have success, talent needs to want to be on our teams.”

–Peter C. Atherton  


Only through better people skills at all levels can we build the relationships needed to get there.  

More Modeling  

Learning to manage and lead “on the fly” or through “trial by fire” is not attractive or effective.  

As leaders, we can’t accept the status quo or allow the continuance of processes, mindsets, and systems synonymous with how we “came up” decades ago.  Such beliefs are barriers to engagement and limit influence. 

Leadership’s actions and behaviors drive our organization’s culture and long-term success.  

  • Are your actions and behaviors aligned with what’s needed for success today?  
  • What about your peers and others throughout your organization? 

It is critical as leaders that we make the time to continuously reflect, recalibrate, and redesign our approach as necessary. 

Only by becoming our best-selves and modeling the behaviors needed for success will we be able to inspire others in our organization to both “think” and “act” like us. 


“Only by becoming our best-selves and modeling the behaviors needed for success will we, as leaders, be able to inspire others in our organization to both ‘think’ and ‘act’ like us.”

– Peter C. Atherton  


5 Steps to Take 

To begin to design and implement a better people and performance strategy, we can start with these five steps: 

  1. Shift to a talent-first (or at least a talent-equal) mindset. Without such a shift, your near-term performance and long-term engagement and retention efforts will be short-lived. 
  2. Redesign your “playbooks” – the standards and guidelines that define, teach, and share your organization’s distinct processes and approaches to project, talent, and client success.  For most of us, our project execution and management manuals, as well as our employee performance and development systems need a major overhaul. 
  3. Invest in “essential skills” development and deployment throughout your firm. We always need to be investing in self, team, and organizational awareness; strategic systems design; and the increasingly high levels of emotional intelligence necessary engage, inspire, and align effort with results. 
  4. Insist and incentivize leaders to model the behaviors we want and need. There is a direct link between culture and performance, and a truly effective culture starts at the top.
  5. Specifically incorporate “essential skills” training as part of your standardized project management, supervisor, and leadership development programs.  It’s one of the key levers to improving overall employee engagement and team performance. 

Part 2 of this series will focus on how we can leverage “mission” to further improve our success.

To your winning,

PS – Ready to enhance your leadership, management, employee engagement, and simultaneously increase your impact by design?  Check out our Fast Start Programs.

PSS – Click HERE… and then just sit back and listen to one of the most important chapters in “Reversing Burnout” for FREE.  Learn more about the realities of work and life today and how you can reverse and avoid the “Burnout-Disengagement Cycle”.

Check out too the AEC Leadership Today Podcast designed exclusively for leaders who want to stay relevant and effective and help their firms grow and prosper during all times >>  HERE!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pete headshot

Pete Atherton

About the Author

Pete is the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process.  ActionsProve works with leaders and organizations to create greater growth and profits through better strategic planning, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design.  Prior to founding ActionsProve, and for more than 20 years, Pete was a very successful and accomplished professional engineer.  Pete sold his engineering firm ownership to focus on designing systems for you and your organization to grow and succeed in the 21st century. Pete is also host of the AEC Leadership Today podcast.

For a more expansive biography and experience summary.

Join our LinkedIn network!

quiz are you overwhelmed 001

Are you feeling overwhelmed, or are you burning out?

There is a big difference and each requires a different approach. Take this FREE quiz to find out where you stand and learn exactly how you (and your team!) can get back on track.

quiz are you overwhelmed 001

Are you feeling overwhelmed, or are you burning out?

There is a big difference and each requires a different approach. Take this FREE quiz to find out where you stand and learn exactly how you (and your team!) can get back on track.

Great Project Management is Not Enough – Part 1: Why We Must Focus More On Our People