While many organizations have a set of shared values that guide their mission and business practices, what does it really look like? How does an engineering firm live its shared values every business day? How do those values trickle down to how people work with each other?
In a 2022 episode of Beyond Engineering, a podcast by RTM Engineering Consultants, RTM Principal Jessica Iverson talks with her mentee Corey Kucey, an Electrical Project Engineer at the firm. They focus on the story of their team and how their relationship highlights RTM’s CORE values.
Here is an edited transcript of the conversation:
Jessica Iversen: Let’s talk more about how we mentor young engineers and touch on RTM’s CORE values. Can you describe how you’ve developed into a collaborative communicator during your journey at RTM?
Corey Kucey: Our daily calls are key. We talk about how to communicate with a client, issues with designs and brainstorm ideas with each other. People do really call you and ask to chat through difficult topics. That happens multiple times each day. We should take a tally of our average number of calls!
Jessica: You are the person I talk to the most on the phone out of anyone.
Corey: It’s a good thing! We work through some tough things. Sometimes designing a building isn’t a straightforward process. You have to be able to make that call, send those messages and get through it. It absolutely takes a team and communication is key.
Jessica: Our next CORE value is overall unity. You and I work on opposite coasts from each other. I would love to hear your thoughts on how we maintain that CORE value and keep our team moving as one unit.
Corey: Our virtual studio/Seattle office puts us in a unique position. If any team was going to have difficulty with overall unity, it would be us. But one of the reasons I chose RTM was seeing the clear mentorship that was evident during my interview process, and especially in my final conversation with Tim Hedrick. He told me that if you’ve made it through engineering school, you’re smart enough to learn how to be an engineer, and we hire good people. We teach them to be engineers, because you can teach them to be a good engineer, but you can’t teach them to be a good person. For example, a few days ago, I called a principal from another office that I’ve never physically met, and we had a very enjoyable conversation. It’s that culture that creates overall unity, and it needs to be maintained.
Our daily calls and virtual happy hours are really fun, but they are intentional. Last week, we did a fridge trivia quiz. We all took pictures of our fridge and didn’t put names on our photos. Then we went through a slide show of all the fridges, and we tried to match the person to their fridge. It was funny and light, and it helps us to not only talk about work.
I like this analogy: You have a bank where you make deposits. Those deposits happen during our daily meetings and virtual happy hours. When you are working on a difficult project, working long hours or grappling with something – you can lean on your co-workers and pull from the bank. Making investments in each other makes a massive difference in team cohesion and the overall unity that we’re able to experience when we’re all across the continent.
Jessica: The next of our CORE values is respect and trust. Can you talk a little bit about how you feel that we demonstrate respect and trust on our team?
Corey: As a new engineer, you expect some micromanagement and some breath on the back of your neck. But I look back at how I ended up working remotely after just four or five months on the job. Because a lot of companies have core values, it almost sounds trite. But the respect and trust I was given as a new engineer, being able to move back home, that made a huge difference. I felt genuinely trusted and valued as a team member. And when you feel that way you make sure you’re putting in 110% to support your team in the same way they support you.
Jessica: I trust you inherently to do what you need to do. Not only technically, but as a three-year engineer, you are already getting to mentor a young engineer yourself. There are firms that make you sit behind a screen for X number of years until you hit some magic number and then you get to move on in your career. That’s not what happens at RTM. RTM is very much about letting you advance as you are ready and able both as a mentor and a team leader.
I was at RTM for about four or five years when Tony, our CEO, and another principal took me out to lunch and asked me where I saw myself in 3 to 5 years. They asked me what my future looked like and what my hopes and dreams were. It felt like a long shot at the time, but I told them that I want to run an office – and they took that very seriously. They fostered that move and set me up with the right mentors. When we got everything in order, I moved to Seattle.
The last CORE value that we discuss is excellence in engineering. You would think from the outside looking in that excellence in engineering would come first. But we keep it at the end of our CORE values, and I’d like you to talk about why you think that is?
Corey: It’s like following a recipe that lists ingredients in the order of importance. If you take the best flour, the best eggs and the best sugar and mix them up and stick it in the oven, you have the best cake. But if you use wheat straight off the stalk, throw in an egg with the shell and all and maybe a whole stick of sugar cane and mix it up and stick it in the oven, you’ll end up with a terrible cake.
Looking at our CORE values, I see them less as in order of importance and more of how we end up with the best possible product. You need the best ingredients, the best communicators, the best overall unity and best trust and respect in order to be excellent at engineering.
I try to think about what we would look like if we only adhered to excellence in engineering. It would be like working in one of those really quiet offices where you don’t build relationships and you don’t get to ask questions. The difference I’ve found in RTM and ultimately the reason why I ended up here (and why I stay here) is that we have more than just excellence in engineering. We have those other CORE values that run through the interactions we have every single day.
Listen to this entire discussion (featured in two June 2022 episodes) and find future podcasts here.
Beyond Engineering is a podcast from RTM Engineering Consultants, a MEP and Civil engineering firm that goes beyond a typical consulting role. Listen as RTM technologists share stories about innovative design, collaborative development and exacting execution that help buildings, businesses and the people working inside them, work better.
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