Putting People First

Seeking to implement a significant change initiative while investing in its No. 1 product—people—Braun Intertec turned to the GROW Model, which guides coaching conversations by increasing the focus of both the coach and the individual.


Since I became CEO of Braun Intertec in 2009, our organization has seen significant growth. In the last five years, our 57-year-old geotechnical and environmental consulting firm has more than doubled in size; we now have more than 600 employees and 15 offices in the Midwest and Texas. While this level of growth is welcome, it’s not without its challenges. Namely, how do we maintain our small company agility while flexing to become a bigger organization?

Despite our significant uptick in growth, we continue to be a 100 percent employee-owned company that invests in its No. 1 asset—people.

In fact, the development and maintenance of our people— and their talent—is so important to us that we give it top priority and consider it the product we are selling to our clients. But to sustain the growth we’ve already experienced, we must continue to make that investment and develop both leaders and individual contributors to scale up quicker.

Our laser-like focus on people and their development starts from the top-down. The values our founder, Jack S. Braun, instilled in Braun Intertec in 1957 continue with the presentday leadership team. So much so that prior to rolling out any new development initiatives, we make it a point to go through any training or development program to ensure it meets the specific needs of our team.

This formula seems to be working as we are repeatedly recognized as a top consultant and employer of choice. It is not uncommon for many of our employees to have tenures of 10, 15, and even 40 years—I myself have been with the company since 1988. We’re a tight-knit group of colleagues who value each other and the unique culture we’ve worked hard to establish.

While keeping people as our No. 1 priority, our goal in 2014 has been to implement a change initiative that allows us to effectively manage our growth and position ourselves for future expansion. Enter “Propel,” a large-scale business transformation designed to streamline and improve processes while further defining organizational roles. The Propel initiative is built on four key objectives:

  • Drive more role specialization
  • Adapt processes to develop and implement best practices (“The Braun Intertec Way”)
  • Continue to leverage technology
  • Strategically develop and utilize business intelligence tools

Where once there were 70 spreadsheets and nine systems, now there is one. Through role specialization, team members who felt they were wearing too many hats are freed up to work more effectively.

The organizational changes created by both Propel and our uptick in growth necessitated significant development needs that had to be addressed quickly. Our leadership team identified four core areas on which to focus:

  • Give the corporate and operational leaders a tool for ongoing coaching conversations
  • Adapt for varying coaching abilities and styles
  • Communicate face-to-face more often
  • Develop more skills in coaching through change

During the preemptive stages of Propel, we invested in key messages to support leaders. Our next goal was to build up leaders’ coaching skills to support their teams when employees get stuck or are unsure of next steps as Propel is integrated further into the organization.

One of the biggest challenges facing us as we adopt Propel is our own highly skilled technical team. Primarily scientists and engineers, these individuals are well versed in solving technical problems, but don’t always inherently possess the necessary soft skills to coach people.

In my experience, change often creates a great deal of ambiguity, and ambiguity often evokes uncertainty—a foreign feeling to many of the engineers and scientists here at Braun Intertec. This dynamic quickly became an additional challenge and opportunity for us: How do we get a technical team to develop the soft skills needed to support this fundamental shift in our work environment?

Understanding the complexities presented by Propel and our own workforce, we were searching for a simple coaching process that was adaptable, yet powerful enough to address the four core areas of our development focus. The HR leadership team recommended InsideOut Development (www.insideoutdev.com) to our executive team as a good resource to support our goals. To confirm it fit both the organization and the business needs, I attended a one-day InsideOut Coaching Workshop.

At the workshop, I saw firsthand how the InsideOut approach would work well within our organization. I recognized that this was a process that would allow our leaders to work through tricky issues in a more comfortable and consistent way.

To introduce the InsideOut Coaching process, we invited InsideOut Development Founder and President Alan Fine to join us at our annual Leadership Charge Meeting in Nisswa, MN. Alan is widely known as a pioneer of the modern-day coaching movement, so I knew having him as part of our meeting would be critical for building our team’s coaching skills, both in support of Propel and as part of their ongoing development.

In his work with the team, Alan focused on four key areas:

  • Understanding human performance
  • Coaching for breakthrough
  • Coaching for engagement
  • Planning a way forward

Over the course of a few chilly days last January, Alan helped our team discover the three core elements of human performance: faith, fire, and focus. We learned that when faith, fire, and focus are high, interference is reduced and people are freed up to act. Simply put, it’s getting what’s inside, out.

Alan also helped our leaders experience a simple but powerful process called GROW that can help individuals and teams create performance breakthroughs.

Co-developed by Alan, The GROW Model guides coaching conversations by increasing the focus of both the coach and the individual. This model is also effective for engagement. We discovered that the purpose of coaching for engagement isn’t to solve a performance issue, but to engage the individual. This way, the performer owns the work; the leader is just a resource.

By removing interference and allowing people to access their knowledge, experiences, and talents, Alan demonstrated to our leaders how planning a way forward could happen more readily. To be able to move forward together and adopt change, individuals need to know what they are moving toward and the common goal.

The complexity of human interactions can make coaching conversations difficult to have. Many of our leaders felt unsure of how to approach an individual and start a coaching conversation without it feeling forced, so Alan advised transparency as a best practice. He told our team, “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I learned a new tool I think will help us make progress in this conversation, and I would like your joint effort in this process.’”

Across the board, our leadership team embraced the GROW Model as a tangible tool to help in ongoing coaching conversations related to the ongoing change process. Braun Intertec Chief Financial Officer Carmen Borgeson notes, “The GROW Model is not just a tool for work, it has broad application; I can see myself using it with family, kids, and even in my hobbies.”

Getting the right coaching program in place has been a breath of fresh air for us at Braun Intertec. Significant growth can bring uncertainty and fear of the unknown for everyone. However, we’ve found those feelings can be mitigated when leaders are empowered with the right approach.

By consistently implementing the InsideOut Coaching process, we hope to see more leaders having more conversations that move work forward and make a meaningful difference to our business results.

As we set our sights on excellence, we look to both the past and the future. We recognize that the key to our ongoing success lies in carrying on the values we’ve always embraced—a culture of development and investment in our people. If we can uphold these values, we feel confident in maintaining our small company agility no matter the growth that comes our way.

Jon A. Carlson is CEO of Braun Intertec, a 57-year-old geotechnical and environmental consulting firm with more than 600 employees and 15 offices in the Midwest and Texas.


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