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Photo: Fuss & O’Neill CEO Kevin Grigg, PE (second from left) speaks with employees at a company meeting.

Fuss & O’Neill CEO Kevin Grigg, PE, spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about appreciating the value of employees and how leading his organization through the COVID-19 pandemic has helped them adopt new ways of thinking.

NAN: As a CEO, you place a lot of importance on feedback from others and encouraging their growth.

KEVIN: Yes. That’s why I formed a mentor protégé group two years ago. I wanted to hear from some of our early- to mid-career professionals, specifically those we call “emerging leaders.” Because when you sit where I sit, sometimes the information you receive—if you receive any at all—has been filtered through several different layers. I wanted to hear directly from these folks because they’re a different generation than me and they see things differently.

The group began talking through the business aspect of our business. Most engineers, scientists, and architects are technically trained folks who understand their craft very well. But they haven’t been taught about the business side of things. Knowing many of these people were going to advance, I wanted to provide them with that exposure.

It’s been a rewarding experience, not just to pass information on but to get feedback from them, which I then share with our leadership team. Our mentor protégé group is half women and half men.

It’s helped us advance our culture in terms of more easily accommodating the perceptions of some younger employees and specifically addressing some of the challenges and concerns from our female population.

NAN PRICE: How has Fuss & O’Neill responded to the current crisis and embraced the “new normal?”

KEVIN GRIGG: We’ve always believed in not just taking from the community but giving back. When you’re dealing with a bona fide health and economic crisis, it’s incumbent on all of us to do what we can outside of our daily routine to try and help make other people’s lives easier. Fuss & O’Neill purchases personal protective equipment (PPE) on a regular basis as part of one of our lines of business, so we had some surplus, which we donated to Hartford Hospital.

A lot of the work we receive is because we’ve created trusting relationships over time. As a professional services business, a lot of our client interaction is done in person. Now, we’re communicating over the phone or through virtual interactions. On the other hand, we’re used to having some of our employees work from home so, the technological transition was relatively easy for us. We’ve encouraged all our employees to continue to reach out and make sure our clients know we’re here for them and we can help in whatever way we can.

NAN: As someone in a leadership position, how has the pandemic made you rethink your approach?

KEVIN: We began making some necessary changes back in in mid-March. At the time, I was afraid we were being too fast or too aggressive. However, the feedback I received from some of our employees was that they were glad we were on top of things. They were honest about disliking some of the changes, but they understand why, and they supported them. So, as strange as it may be to say, this is actually the most rewarding time for me to be CEO of this company. We’ve told people what we need to do, we’ve gotten feedback, and we’ve done what we’ve needed to do. Our employees have rewarded us in a sense by telling us they think we’re doing a really good job and they know this isn’t easy, but they think we’re doing the right thing.

When you’re in a position of leadership and you have to make tough decisions about furloughs, cutting people’s hours, or reducing salaries, I think it’s incumbent to lead by example. If you’re going to be asking people to make sacrifices, you need to make them yourself. Our leadership team and I have tried to do that. I think that’s part of what’s bonding us together so closely as we all go through this.

My desire is to have our firm arise out of these circumstances stronger than when we went in. And what does that mean?

I was recently talking with one of our early- to mid-career professionals over the phone and I was struck by how easily we take one another for granted. During our phone conversation, we weren’t really talking so much about work as we were talking about the impact of this situation on our lives. After that call, I emailed my leadership team and shared that one way we can arise out of this whole thing stronger is by making sure we’re interacting with one another as human beings as opposed to just “employees.”

Hopefully, one thing this experience will teach all of us is how much of a privilege it is for us to be able to go to work every day and work in comfortable offices and interact with one another in a personal way whenever we want to—even if that means virtually, now. I guess it’s just an exclamation point about how valuable, vital, and vibrant all our employees are and how they contribute to the success of our business, not just in a professional sense, but in a personal sense.

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