When you think of integrity in engineering, you might think about structural integrity, as in making sure buildings don’t fall apart around us. While that’s definitely important, equally important is the value of integrity. That is the practice of maintaining honesty and adhering to what you believe is right. This also happens to be crucial to client and co-worker success.
In this episode of Beyond Engineering, a podcast by RTM Engineering Consultants, RTM Principal Kathryn (Kat) Duytschaever chats with her mentee, Courtney Leaf, about the value of integrity. The two discuss how RTM’s successful culture of collaboration, connection and integrity put everyone in a position to succeed.
Here is an edited transcript of the discussion:
Kat Duytschaever: Let’s start by talking about the way we mentor engineering technologists at RTM by reflecting on our firm’s values. We value connection in our culture. What makes you connect with your teammates?
Courtney Leaf: Connection can come from daily conversations. It could be in the break room or talking to each other throughout the day. Just knowing a little bit about each other personally is very important. We also encourage each other in our personal goals. For example, we have a group of people who are training for a marathon together. We go running twice a week together and encourage each other.
Kat: Do you feel supported within the organization?
Courtney: Yes. Life happens. I’ve been here almost 10 years and there are times when you are sick, or you need to be home with family. There’s no way around it. But when something like that happens, the response around here is: How can we help you? What do you need? What has to go out today? Who else is on that project? How can we make sure things get done? That’s the first reaction. That supportive team is very important, and it makes life easier when those things happen.
Kat: Another part of our culture is integrity – that’s really the cornerstone at RTM. A great example is our RTO policy. RTO stands for “responsible time off.” We utilize RTO instead of PTO. There isn’t a limited number of hours or days. We just want people to be responsible for their time, both in the office and outside the office. That policy requires integrity from our entire team. That means meeting our project deadlines and having respect for our colleagues. Having the integrity to be honest and open with our team is important. Do you have any examples of that?
Courtney: For me, it’s more of a trust aspect. As young engineers, we are given a lot of trust to complete an entire project, work through problems and admit when you get stuck. Micromanaging is something I really struggle with. I want to make sure things get done a certain way, but I don’t have enough time in my day to micromanage anything! So there is a lot of trust that comes with working with a young engineer. I trust my engineer to do a project from zero to 99% and I will do the final review before it goes out the door. Eventually, we start to pass off larger projects, or more projects. There is a lot of trust that comes between two employees that are working together every day.
Kat: Integrity is also necessary with our clients. Many of our clients come back because they find us trustworthy with high integrity. They trust us to consult with them and the architect regarding the best solution for them. Sometimes our clients want something, but we know they won’t be happy with it. Having the integrity to communicate those things is essential. At the end of the day, we know we’ve done our best for the client – and that stands us apart as a company and fosters high professionalism. We are constantly supporting both externally and internally. For example, we’ve had clients ask us to handle a meeting solo or do something that isn’t in our contract. The answer is absolutely. Sometimes it’s explaining how you cannot support them. It’s understanding their problem and communicating what you can give, or what someone else can give and supporting them along the way. Do you have any examples of high professionalism at RTM?
Courtney: I would repeat a lot of that. We take the time to listen to clients and make sure they are being heard and making sure that we have the right solution. We understand the problem and make sure we have the best resources – and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we need to consult with others in the office and get back to the client with the best solution. There is a lot of looking for answers, comparing options and pulling in other RTM employees.
Kat: For example, we were recently brought a project that was completely in our wheelhouse. We would have been the best candidate for it, in my opinion. However, they came to us with a deliverable that wasn’t attainable. We told them we are the correct engineers for this project, but it’s late in the game, we have a full plate, and we can’t find a home for this project. That’s where the integrity comes in. We want to be respectful. If they could extend the deadline, we would be the correct choice – and they appreciated that.
Courtney: Do you mind if we talk about how this conversation came to be? When they asked you to invite one of your mentees to participate in a podcast, why did you think of me?
Kat: I considered everyone that I have mentored or am currently mentoring, and I really like your story. You came to us as an intern and got to experience a little bit in the office and then went back to school where you worked for us remotely. You were steadfast and you helped us develop remote working. And then you went to our Milwaukee office. So you had experience at our headquarters, and the Milwaukee office. I know you didn’t have any connections in Iowa. But there was a need there. You and I had previously worked together at headquarters, and I needed an electrical engineer. You had already demonstrated integrity and intelligence and I knew you’d be a leader at RTM. My sights were set on you and I’m grateful I was able to convince you to come to Iowa and lead the electrical department.
Courtney: What aspects of our working relationship do you consider most valuable?
Kat: First and foremost, it’s your integrity. You’re always going to do what’s right. You lead by example for all of the engineers that you’re mentoring. They see that you are sometimes asked to do difficult things and you maintain that. And you’re always looking at doing what is right for the client, maintaining ethics and what’s right for RTM. If a client wants to do something that seems fishy, you’re going to be looking out for RTM. You are also very compassionate with everyone. You understand that not everything goes smoothly, and life happens. Showing that compassionate side to our clients and engineers builds up trust and commitment. The other engineers will have your back. And like I said before, you are leading by example with your knowledge base. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, you’ll be honest and say you need to circle back. I really appreciate and respect that.
Courtney: I would like to return the favor and tell you a few things that I really enjoy about our working relationship. First, it’s the personal connection that we have. Yes, it’s professional, but it goes beyond that. One of the goals I shared with you was that I was trying to be healthier and work out. You recommended a gym that you like and now we both go there together. The second thing is a story. A lot of my personal confidence stems from a turning point that you and I had. I moved to Iowa as a three-year engineer, and I wanted to double and triple check everything. At one point we got an email from a client asking us to look into something immediately and I panicked. I thought I screwed up. I was trying to find an answer and you came over to my desk and asked me what was my response to the email? I thought I didn’t know. I had been under four other engineers that all told me the answers. I didn’t have to know any of the answers or be responsible for them. But it was a big turning point for me to realize that I did know the answer. I could respond to the question. I just had to answer the email. You’ve shown me that confidence in your career and then helped me figure it out myself. There’s empowerment that comes with that. You have given me responsibilities and projects to complete, and you have empowered me to do so. It’s that trust again. It’s very important and something that I really respect between us.
Kat: It’s well-earned. Sometimes I’ve pushed you outside your comfort zone, but you’ve succeeded. You have earned all of that.
Listen to this entire conversation from September 2022 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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