Business of Engineering

Refining our employee experience to improve retention

A feeling of being connected with your organization is the most critical aspect of retention for employees.
By Dave Francis January 17, 2020
Photo courtesy: Dewberry

I have had the great opportunity to speak for the last five years on employee leadership topics at WaterJAM, a conference attended by water agencies and utilities. Most people I spoke with this year shared their frustrations and concerns about retaining their staff—an issue of concern I hear from many industries.

Creating a Personalized Employee Experience

A feeling of being connected with your organization is the most critical aspect of retention for employees. I’ve heard from dozens of Dewberry employees that one of the most impactful things for them was receiving a phone call from Chairman Barry Dewberry when they first came on board. It seems so simple, but it helps to make our employees know they matter—demonstrating how they play a role in the bigger picture.

Another success story for recruitment and retention that we are trying to replicate throughout our firm is what Senior Vice President Shepard Hockaday is currently doing in our Raleigh, North Carolina, office. His level of involvement as a hiring manager—and his hands-on approach nurturing candidates from the application, hiring, onboarding, and throughout their time here with Dewberry—is showing results with one of the lowest attrition rates in the firm, even while experiencing significant department growth. Shepard doesn’t only make himself available to his team, he also actively involves them in the vision and strategic plans for his department and its organizational structure. Shepard has also taken the unique approach of getting the team’s and the candidate’s input on the position during the interview process, which in turn maximizes the strengths of the candidate. Finally, Shepard regularly contacts good candidates, letting the candidate know that he is excited about them joining the firm and the ways they will make an impact to Dewberry right from the start.

We are also performing a comprehensive analysis of our offices and business units that are struggling to hire and retain staff. My team has committed to a lot more hands-on coaching, including stay interviews, gleaning data from exit interviews, developing tailored development plans, and exploring restructuring options. We offer best-practice training to bolster our managers’ approaches to retaining our employees. Fundamentally, in our culture that revolves around building strong client relationships, we are cultivating relationships with our employees in the same way.

Defining and Refining Job Roles

Another way organizations can differentiate themselves is by defining their career paths for all job functions. There is a demand on clarity of what’s possible in a role, whether it’s growth opportunities, the ability to work in multiple services, or flexibility between office and field work. Candidates want to know where they can expect to be in five and 10 years, as well what options and cross-training is available.

While human resources can advise and help develop a company’s leaders on the strategies for success in retention, the practical application is in the hands of each and every manager. It comes down to analyzing and replicating the retention success stories of your organization and providing personalized support for candidates from the moment their resume comes in until the day they retire. Although understandably a daunting endeavor, retention of talent should always be at the forefront of your organizational vision and strategy.


This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s website. Dewberry is a CFE Media content partner.


Dave Francis