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Is Your Workplace Dope?

Evelyn March
Group Director
BST Global
Are you creating a dope workplace? And by dope, I’m sure you’re wondering if the slang is being used as an adjective, as in: very good. Or if the reference is to the noun, meaning an illegal drug taken for recreational purposes. While the word ‘dope’ carries several meanings, it’s similarity to the word ‘dopamine’ is purely coincidental. But the kinship is undeniable; they both spawn continual reward-seeking behavior. In 1958, the chemical dopamine was discovered by Dr. Arvid Carlsson. Essentially, it is a neurotransmitter in the brain, which controls the stored memory function that tells us we have completed something good, and to repeat that behavior to receive a reward. For patients with Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s diseases, Dr. Carlsson discovered that this neurotransmitter was in declination. His discovery paved the way for science to formulate the utilization of dopamine to lessen the effects of these disorders. Equipped with this core knowledge of dopamine’s effect on behavior, several deductions can be made. For example, dopamine helps us learn things quickly and permanently. But continued releases can cause a ‘seeking’ or addictive behavior. Finding Dope Employees In the business world, we as employers naturally seek out employees with adequate dopamine levels, whether we realize it or not. This is revealed by how well they’ve honed the craft or skill that makes them an employable candidate. Once we hire these candidates, it’s important to continue to excite this neurotransmitter through continual learning opportunities, as it leads to personal and professional successes. But, are there junctures where employers over-excite this chemical reaction? And if so, what are the consequences? A Connected World Take connectedness. Our world is connected. Our employees are connected. And that can be a good thing; after all, collaboration is the precursor to accomplishment. Having employees interact on ideas and problems leads to innovation and achievement. We send emails to those who provide the best input, often adding them to the top of the recipient list. What’s more, it’s not uncommon to see employees send a text or address a social media notification during work hours. We have accepted this practice as social norms that are a by-product of the instant information age we live in. Production Versus Disruption But when we see those email or social media notifications appear, the feeling of being sought after for interaction causes a rapid fire of that seeking neurotransmitter - dopamine. The dopamine rush creates an anticipation of reward that once ignited, the object that gave us that rush can become the object we seek. In this rapid-fire environment, the question arises: are we creating production or disruption? Is the portico to our dopamine rush allowed into work meetings? How many times have you been in a meeting and you or your neighbor glances at the buzzing phone on the table? Or listens with a half-perched ear as they respond to the email that just popped up on their laptop? Is the double dipping of time more productive, or creating a disruption in our ability to concentrate on the task at hand? Could we be the creators of our own oxymoron story by thoughtfully creating fulfilling roles, but making the workplace a dopamine-seeking society that makes one seek more, even when fulfillment is in their grasp? Creating A Truly Dope Place to Work Human Resource professionals have the arduous task of finding and retaining talent. As more employees enter the workplace looking for a career that fulfills an internal purpose, it’s not far-fetched to see talent leave because they just don’t find the work personally fulfilling. It’s time to evaluate if we are arbitrarily creating an environment that dopes employees into wanting more, over just creating a dope place to work. Some things to consider along the way: Make meetings phone and laptop free zones. Think: Does everyone need to be on that email? How about stopping by and having a conversation instead of the internal instant message? Is your training and development environment equipped to fire off the dopamine that spawns the desire to learn more? By creating a people-centric, collaborative learning environment, employees will surely feel that they’ve found the dope place to work. If you’d like to share how you’ve created a dope place to work, we’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Harnessing Your Knowledge Potential

Darryl Williamson
Product Director
BST Global
I have spoken in detail with dozens of architectural and engineering consultancies over the past several years about their desire to harness the vast knowledge resident in their firms. For most of them, knowledge management is a very high management priority. And no wonder, since the A/E industry is confronted with ever-changing regulatory requirements, global competitive pressures, and the need to adapt to rising client expectations. Business thought leader Arie de Geus succinctly summarizes the great necessity in today’s A/E marketplace as: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be your only sustainable competitive advantage.” So then, how do you learn well as an organization? The most common response to satisfy this knowledge management need is to buy a tool or technology that can help gather and categorize your organization’s collective knowledge, thereby making it accessible and easy to leverage. Seems logical. But, purchasing a software package and expecting it to solve your knowledge problems by its mere presence just does not work. You will not become a highly effective knowledge organization simply by completing a purchase order. Over my next few posts, I will explain that leveraging the knowledge in your firm is not achieved at all by technology, but by a culture that meaningfully connects people. And, since I do not want to expose a problem and not solve it, I’ll provide insights into how you can achieve this in your firm. What is knowledge management? But, before I talk about the place and power of culture in an organization, in this post let’s take a step back and clarify what we mean by knowledge management and how it fits into the A/E industry. An intuitive way to think about knowledge management is to think about how we acquire and use knowledge personally. How do you come to know things? Well, you have experiences and you store them (learn), so you can recall or access them later (remember). What you learn and remember is what you know. Knowledge management is the same thing for organizations, it is processes for retaining, accessing, and interacting with what an organization knows. What defines knowledge in A/E firms? For A/E firms, knowledge can be broken down into three main categories: Qualifications: Including things like the educational background of employees, their certifications, and other credentials that convey to your current or potential clients that your firm has the knowledge to do the work you are promising. This is one of the essential elements of a project proposal, identifying the qualifications (requisite knowledge) of resources who would work on prospective projects. Work Experience: This serves as proof that your firm has relevant work history to complete the kinds of projects you are promising and that you have resources who have successfully worked on those projects. Work experience validates your qualifications. Moreover, work experience helps your management to know what work your firm does effectively (e.g. what work do we perform profitably and with few defects)? In other words, how did you perform on your projects? Practices: These are the methods and practices employed on your projects, and how those methods impact project success. Accessing these practices ensures that you consistently execute projects with the same level of knowledge and capability. Where does knowledge management fit in with my business? All A/E firms are obsessively focused on three things: money, clients, and employees. And rightly so, these are the pillars of a consultancy. Because of their importance, each of these are professional disciplines (i.e. accounting and finance, sales and marketing, and human capital management). Moreover, you have professional investments in these areas: you have leadership (CFO, CMO, CHRO), and you have business solutions in place for each (ERP, CRM, HCM systems). For the A/E firm, knowledge management must become another area of obsessive focus, and a fourth pillar. Knowledge management should be elevated to the same priority as all the critical processes in your firm, because for firms whose business is literally their knowledge, knowledge management is a critical process. Every time you engage with a client, your knowledge and experience fuel everything, from the renderings and documentation you create, to the projects you execute. You must have intentionality around knowledge. You need someone to lead it, and you need solutions to help you execute it. Follow along in the coming weeks as I dive deeper into the importance of knowledge management, and how you can successfully implement a knowledge strategy at your firm by developing an effective knowledge culture. Author’s Note: This is the first in a series on knowledge management as it relates to the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industry.

A Case for Progressive Technology Change

John Mathew
Product Director
BST Global
Intellectual capital is a key asset of a professional services firm. It encompasses the knowledge and expertise of the firm’s staff, and is central to selling and delivering services. As a byproduct, many consultancies have a technically focused and collegial culture, as building and sharing intellectual capital contributes to competitive advantage and success. While well founded and well intentioned, this kind of culture creates challenges for many project-driven consultancies as they look to develop their project management discipline and ensure projects are managed to standards of technical quality and commercial viability. As staff members take on project management roles, they are often operating in an environment that prioritizes technical innovation and excellence over adherence to project scope, schedule, and budget commitments. And so, a common project management challenge for professional services is managing the tension between scope, schedule, budget, and quality. Compounding this challenge is a tendency to place technical experts in project management roles, without developing their project management skills. This can lead to project managers who view the commercial and transactional aspects of project management as someone else’s job, which in turn impedes a firm’s ability to monitor and control project schedule and financial performance. Facing this dynamic, project-driven consultancies rely on their project management and accounting functions to jointly facilitate several key processes, including project initiation, revenue recognition, billing, and collections. Some firms also look to address these challenges with business systems. But those firms that view technology as a solution unto itself often find their improvement efforts futile – they fail to understand that technology is only one component of the overall solution, which really encompasses people, process, and technology. Implementing business systems can be a unique and valuable change agent for a firm, if done incrementally and iteratively. With the different levels of interactions that occur across the project lifecycle – transactional, transformational, and tacit – this progression also serves as a basis for phasing business system capabilities into an organization, in the following manner: 1. Establish a foundation of project controls. The core accounting and financial management function (or “back office”) provides a solid foundation for the introduction of business systems into a project-driven consultancy. Deploying a back office system – one that automates core financial processing and reporting, project revenue and billing management, and time and expense entry and posting – establishes a central facilitator and repository of transactional activities that can then be leveraged to drive additional project delivery improvements. 2. Create firm-wide project and operations visibility. Once core back office functions are automated, firms should focus on information delivery to operations personnel. Begin by defining key performance indicators by which projects, staff members, and operating units will be measured. This sets the stage for role-based dashboards that deliver real-time, online performance measurements and analysis, tailored to the project, resource, and operations managers in the organization. In turn, deploying dashboards provides a valuable opportunity to communicate and reinforce current operating standards and expectations through role-based training and development programs. 3. Evolve project delivery processes and tools. As Jim Collins indicated in Good to Great, one of the keys to organizational transformation is establishing a culture of discipline that is marked by a consistent framework within which people have responsibility and freedom to operate. Business systems can help evolve and sustain this framework, particularly after enabling the delivery of relevant, timely information to operations personnel that helps them focus on their areas of accountability. At this stage, many firms are in a position to improve and mature other key project delivery processes, such as project planning, resource scheduling, earned value management, collaboration, and work management. With the continued emergence and evolution of business systems that help automate and facilitate processes, project-driven consultancies face a myriad of decisions and challenges as they look to effectively leverage technology to improve business performance. Spanning the project lifecycle – from business development and marketing to project and resource management to finance and accounting – there are countless business systems that firms can choose to deploy. But before implementing a business system, take a step back and think holistically about your organizational structure and business processes. Business system implementation often presents a valuable opportunity to realign roles and responsibilities, as well as progress and mature standards and practices.  Resist “band-aid” implementation approaches; and instead identify and focus on core issues in an incremental, iterative manner that holistically addresses people, process, and technology. Where’s the low-hanging fruit in your organization, ready for the picking and ready to be that next step on the path of progressive transformation?