Stay in Touch with Employee Leaders

Integrated Project Management Company, Inc. (IPM) ensures that its employees are challenged, provided continual opportunities for growth, and treated fairly with respect and dignity. High standards have been set for staff, and the work and environment are motivating, says Jo Jackson, chief financial officer, who is responsible for the HR function for the 85-employee workforce as part of her job responsibilities.

The company, which provides project management leadership to several industries, has been named as a Great Place to Work® in the Best Small & Medium Workplaces category by the Great Place To Work® Institute and Entrepreneur Magazine for the last 3 years. Jackson herself was named CFO of the Year by the Daily Herald’s Business Ledger in 2012.

“You can’t be a consultant without thriving on the challenge of continually reproving yourself and getting that boost when you knock your clients’ socks off,” explains Jackson. To support that environment of continuous improvement and career development, Jackson says, the performance review process is part of regular business operations. “‘Defy complacency’ are two of my favorite words out of [our] Mission & Beliefs Statement. They sum up our whole approach to how to perform and how we look at evaluating that performance.”

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Jackson explains that IPM, which has its worldwide headquarters in Burr Ridge, Illinois, hires the most amazing, bright, hardworking people who already have skills most important to the firm. “We make sure that our supervisors and employees are exactly on the same page with the Performance Summary and Development Plan (PS&DP), rolled out in 1997, the details of which are shared with employees during new employee orientation.”

Performance Measurement

An annual PS&DP is shared with all employees no later than their specific anniversary date, and it is the culmination of a year of both weekly verbal discussions between supervisors and staff as well as written events, notes Jackson. She says that no employee is ever surprised by something that appears on the annual PS&DP since it would already have come up during a weekly one-on-one conversation.

The PS&DP concept has two primary components. One is a numbering system for feedback. “We came up with a numbering system so whenever feedback is given, there’s a number attached,” explains Jackson. “The numbers are 1 to 10. A 1 and 2 are unsatisfactory; 3, 4, and 5 are satisfactory; 6, 7, and 8 are good; and 9 and 10 are outstanding.

“A new hire or comparatively inexperienced project manager could get feedback/events documented weekly, but as an employee progresses, it should be monthly.” This written feedback is in addition to weekly conversations. The numbering process allows supervisors to be objective in that everyone (most employees are project managers) is held up to the same expectations.

“We encourage employees to ask the question of their supervisors, ‘What would have made this (e.g., report or activity) a 10?’” says Jackson. This assists employees in concretely understanding how they can improve.

“Our annual performance expectations are for the range that we consider ‘good,’” notes Jackson. “The numbers graphed could show a curve that goes up and down as employees have been given new challenges that put them in a learning mode again.”

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‘Elements of Success’

Key to the development of the PS&DP process was identification of the “Elements of Success.” She explains this other prime component of the PS&DP process as composed of Performance Elements (more technical elements of the work) and Character Elements (inherent traits).
In the Character category, the first two elements are honesty and integrity. Another element is sense of humor. “You can’t take yourself too seriously,” she comments. Others are loyalty, trust, work ethic, dependability, excellence, compassion, objectivity, and confidence. After each group of elements, there is space for supervisors to write a few sentences or a paragraph to share details.

The Personal Touch

Weekly conversations between staffers and supervisors (including brief updates about what is going on in employees’ personal lives), as well as quarterly all-employee meetings, maintain a personal touch within the organization. The quarterly meetings feature two employees who are given 15 minutes each to talk about anything they’d like about their lives, notes Jackson. The discussions are called “Up Close and Personal.”

Jackson’s advice: “I think what’s most important is to make sure that your people know you think of them as people, that you care enough about them to make their needs [and] their successes a priority to you, to the company, and to their supervisors.”

Further, she suggests that you have to make yourself vulnerable to staff. “If you’re not willing to share what’s going on in your life with your direct reports, they’re not going to share with you.”

To learn more about IPM, which provides services to the life sciences, healthcare, food and beverage, industrial, and consumer products industries, visit www.ipmcinc.com.

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