Engineering Corporate Citizenship


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Our 40th anniversary ends by highlighting five employees who have been with VAA for over a quarter of a century. Each shares a snippet of their VAA story in a Q&A session.

We begin with Partner / Structural Engineer, Kelsey Brown. Well respected for his technical skills and calm demeanor, he never misses an opportunity to acknowledge the growth and achievements of those around him. We thank you for being you and congrats on 25 years.

How did you first learn about VAA?
I saw an opening for a structural engineer in the “help wanted” section of the Star Tribune. After researching VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates) at the MN Consulting Engineers Council at the Miracle Mile in St. Louis Park, I applied for the position.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?Dick Van Sickle often said he would try to learn something new every day. Although I can’t say I’ve succeeded in this, I do look for those opportunities.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Providing analysis, advice and engineering guidance on difficult or
complex problems and projects. I enjoy the challenges and conversations you can’t solve by looking it up in a book – the ones that take creativity and some math.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Professional. Respectful. Creative. These words relate to our efforts externally with clients but also internally with how we strive to work with each other.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
When I started, we offered civil and structural engineering and general arrangement services. We had a relatively small client base and I knew everyone well since we were a firm of 14.

What is the first music concert you attended?
Without my parents - Deep Purple. It was my first time seeing musicians improvise and “jam” together and my first experience with dense clouds of interesting smoke.

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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Teams took turns pulling a 70,000-pound Gulfstream IV airplane in an event supporting the Special Olympics. Several employees from VAA’s South Dakota office participated, contributing to the overall $4,500 raised for the cause.

Watch news coverage of the event and hear one of our own, Shawn Vanhove, interviewed about the effort.


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Grow

Goal-setting raises the bar for performance in organizations. As mentioned earlier, growing different aspects of employee interests into skills – both professional and personal – benefits employee wellness and the company overall. Individuals who feel a healthy work-life balance have a higher tendency to stay and progress through the company. Goal-setting provides employees a natural opportunity to demonstrate leadership and self-motivation; typically leading employees to earn promotions. By using a goal-setting program to create clear avenues toward accomplishment, companies will develop happier employees that grow into skilled leaders.

As employees are promoted to leadership roles, their earlier interests may now benefit or be formally incorporated into organizational business plans. People are the catalyst for growth. By supporting personal goals, employees are empowered to develop the core of a business. Contributing individual drive to overall business goals can open the door on improvements from expanded service offerings to fostering a culture of wellness.


Repeat

Goal-setting is a life-long skill. Continuing to encourage learning and self-motivation is a benefit to employees and, from a corporate perspective, will grow and enhance an organization as a whole.


Read the other parts of this series for more information:

About the Author

Mary Pettit is a Human Resources (HR) Manager leading organizational development and leadership training; managing employee relations; and building strategies to retain and recruit key talent for VAA. She welcomes and values the opportunity to contribute ideas to company-wide business goals and aligning HR initiatives and monthly wellness activities to foster employee camaraderie. Earning her first HR certification in 2008, Mary has continued in the field with a PHR certification from the HR Certification Institute and a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)-CP Certification.


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Learn

An inevitable part of trying something new is an opportunity to learn. The obvious learning opportunity is directly related to the goal. For example, an employee may set a goal to learn the latest version of a software program. In achieving proficiency in that program, they have learned a new skill. Even trying and failing comes with learning opportunities. However, in addition to goal-related knowledge, participants are developing skills in goal-setting and accountability that can benefit any position and any company. Everyone wants an employee comfortable setting goals and independently planning to achieve them.


As the goal-setting program becomes more established, employees and direct managers will learn how to effectively assess the feasibility of goals. Learning by doing, staff will gain a better understanding of what can be accomplished on an individual basis in the time allowed. It is also important to teach managers to discuss goals with their employees and create attainable goals by planning for other priorities throughout the year. Practicing communication in your organization through goal-setting will positively impact how employees on all levels share expectations for project work and related deadlines.


Obtaining leadership support can be accomplished through annual trainings. During these discussions, information about the S.M.A.R.T. goals system and tips on goal-setting can be shared in a way that is both informative and persuasive. This is a chance to share the values of the program – accountability, personal development, self-motivation – as well as preliminary steps for implementation.


Read the other parts of this series for more information:

About the Author

Mary Pettit is a Human Resources (HR) Manager leading organizational development and leadership training; managing employee relations; and building strategies to retain and recruit key talent for VAA. She welcomes and values the opportunity to contribute ideas to company-wide business goals and aligning HR initiatives and monthly wellness activities to foster employee camaraderie. Earning her first HR certification in 2008, Mary has continued in the field with a PHR certification from the HR Certification Institute and a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)-CP Certification.


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As more corporations adopt formal goal-setting programs, it is important to understand how to engage staff in the process and how goal-setting can be used effectively to benefit individuals and companies overall. S.M.A.R.T. goals – statements that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely – have become the standard for organizational goal-setting. Use of this method provides guidance for employees when proposing goals and allows managers to more accurately judge the feasibility and later the progress of those goals. With a goal-setting program and engagement tools in place, companies will begin to benefit from the growth and additional skills of their employees.


Engage

After establishing a goal-setting program, it is critical to engage employees and managers in the process. Here are a few tips to encourage thoughtful participation when creating and executing S.M.A.R.T goals:

1. Write It Out
As a part of the goal-setting process, ask employees to write out their ideas before completing a formal document. Studies have demonstrated there are many benefits related to handwriting original content. Individuals are far more likely to remember the key details of a goal when asked to create it and write it down on paper. Written goals provide more than a starting-point for progress assessment; employees will be more likely to independently plan for and progress toward their goals.

2. Make It Fun

Allowing employees to explore a genuine interest or improve current skills of their choice leads to more engaged participants. If an individual has a key role in shaping their commitment, they will be more likely to accomplish it. Additionally, consider offering a personal goal for each employee. This goal, often unrelated to workplace skills, allows for a balance of work and play, demonstrating the company values well-rounded individuals.


3. Keep It Accountable

To get the most out of a goal-setting program, follow through with
individual outcomes by adding mandatory meetings to review goal progress. Motivate staff with clear rewards for success and repercussions for little or no progress. While it’s important to incorporate this into annual reviews, consider introducing quarterly check-ins between the employee and direct supervisor. This will give employees built-in deadlines for progress and
gives managers the opportunity to provide advice and feedback throughout the year.


Read the other parts of this series for more information:

About the Author

Mary Pettit is a Human Resources (HR) Manager leading organizational development and leadership training; managing employee relations; and building strategies to retain and recruit key talent for VAA. She welcomes and values the opportunity to contribute ideas to company-wide business goals and aligning HR initiatives and monthly wellness activities to foster employee camaraderie. Earning her first HR certification in 2008, Mary has continued in the field with a PHR certification from the HR Certification Institute and a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)-CP Certification.