You can learn a lot about a company, it’s culture and the people who work for it, by what happens when you enter their reception area.
When I walked into the reception area of Wood & Grieve Engineers in Melbourne at 5:15pm on a Monday afternoon to interview Grant Holman, the recent winner of the 2015 Financial Review Client Choice Award for most Client Focused Engineer, I immediately felt welcomed. While most reception areas of professional services firms are designed to impress, this one was warm and earthy. After being seated by the friendly receptionist, not one but two staff who walked through reception stopped to ask me if I was OK or needed any help. This may not sound like much, but it’s extremely uncommon, and definitely gave me a sense that everyone in the company knows they are responsible for client service.
When Grant arrives, despite the fact I am imposing on both his professional and personal time, the first thing he does is offer me a beer before we sit down to chat about what his ‘secret sauce’ is. What is it that he does that made his client’s vote him as the most client-focused engineer?
Having recently spoken to Australia’s most client focused lawyer, Mark Woolley from McInnes Wilson, I was very keen to find out what synergies and differences there were in Grant Holman’s story.
The answer? Incredible synergies.
Here’s some of the highlights from my interview with Grant:
Keith: Congratulations Grant on winning the Client Choice Award. What do you put the award win down to?
Grant: I would have to say the team. I probably got named because I’m the office manager and as a result I naturally get the most client exposure, but the award is the result of the ethos in the firm. Here at WGE, it really is all about our clients.
Keith: Tell me a bit about that ethos.
Grant: Coming to work for WGE was my first job as an engineer. I applied for a few roles but some of the firms I applied to were looking purely for technical experts. WGE, on the other hand, were looking for someone different, more rounded, which I felt was more me.
Keith: In what way?
Grant: Throughout university and before I joined WGE I had several jobs in hospitality and the like, so I was possibly more attuned to the ‘human dynamic’ than some people – and that fitted the WGE culture, which I thrive in. After a year the firm gave me an opportunity to help the recently established Melbourne office at a very early stage in my career. That is part of the culture here – everyone is given the opportunity and support to get involved and do things outside their technical role – and is then rewarded accordingly.
Keith: Can you tell me a bit more about that culture?
Grant: We have three pillars in the business. Exceptional Service, Great People and High Performance. Everyone understands them and lives them – which I think largely comes down to the fact that we know each other really well, we go out of our way to help each other out, so we all feel accountable for the livelihood of our business and it being the best it can be.
Keith: Is there anything else in particular that you do to make sure your pillars are ‘adhered’ to?
Grant: We recruit the right people that align with what we stand for and are driven to achieve, no matter what their role. We keep things simple and open, and empower our people. For example, we have a very simple KPI system, there’s no complex organisational matrix, and our financials are open for everyone to see. We have a true seller–doer model so if someone sells a job at a price, they are responsible for the profitability of running the job. That leads to better decisions around projects and relationships.
Keith: What would you consider are the three most important aspects of client service?
Grant: Do what you say you will do when you said you will do it, make it more than a transaction, and honesty, particularly on the rare occasion when you may not have done such a great job!
Keith: To what extent do you focus on utilisation?
Grant: It is there but in the background. We prefer to focus on output, not input.
Keith: It seems to me as if you’re running the firm based on people not process.
Grant: Yes, that’s true. I think you have to start with people. I’ve had a background in team sport, both playing and coaching at a reasonable level, and that has taught me a lot about how to motivate people. I’m also a big fan of Jim Collins’ Good to Great. His principles around people and getting the right people ‘on the bus’ are a big part of my beliefs and what we do as a firm. Once you have those good people, you then need to know when to get out of their way!
Keith: Overall, what impact do you think your company culture and ethos around clients and client relationships has had on your business?
Grant: Significant impact. Our success and just as importantly our people’s sense of satisfaction and meaning in what they do comes from our culture. It’s a powerful thing. For example, interestingly even during the GFC we managed significant growth. We chose not to participate in a downturn – it really is a lot to do with that mindset. Our people get real satisfaction out of client relationships – work becomes more than just getting paid to do something – and that’s where surprising performance stems from.
Before I left, Grant told me that he would be happy to share his story with anyone else – including competitor engineers – as he thinks it will benefit everyone, both clients and consultants, if standards around client relationships across the entire industry were improved. I think this says everything there is to say about Grant and why he, and WGE, succeed. They believe in people, openness and the greater good. Put simply, they have a mentality of abundance and sharing, not scarcity.
Grant Holman is a Director and Melbourne Office Manager for Wood & Grieve. His passion ‘lies in creating meaningful careers for those within Wood & Grieve and to be a facilitator in others achieving their goals and experiencing success and satisfaction.’ You can find him on LinkedIn here.