Capture attractive work.
As an engineering company, it’s important to remember that engineers want to create, design, build, and improve things; they thrive on challenging technical work. So, the focus of our business-development efforts has been capturing technically challenging work—the kind of work that attracts the interest and stimulates the imagination of serious engineers. We do this at the expense of passing up less interesting, but profitable, work.
We’ve always taken the long-term view of the business. Growth, while necessary, has never been at the expense of quality. Profitability, while important, has never been an overriding objective. We have, from the beginning, wanted to build a company that benefits the workforce as well as the owners. Patience is particularly important in the government sector, where much of the best work is obscured by necessary security barriers.
Make business development the lifeblood of your company.
We have no full-time business development person, but have tried, with some success, to engage the whole workforce in business development as a shared responsibility. We strongly incentivize business development in our efforts to create a community of entrepreneurs. Not everyone enjoys doing business development, but over the span of a year, we can usually engage about a quarter of the workforce.
Our greatest strength as a company is the delivery of our services, and key to our delivery is staffing our projects with exceptional people. We are constantly recruiting, and often well in advance of our staffing needs. We may make contact with a prospect two years in advance of a project, for example, and possibly put him or her on a contingent employment contract.
Look for a good work ethic.
In recruiting, we look for the obvious: a strong technical background and depth of experience relevant to the job in question. We also look for flashes of intelligence and creativity, leadership skills, and above all, a strong work ethic. It is our experience that management headaches of all kinds are minimized when you recruit well.
Invest in professional development.
As our services in networking and information technology began to grow, we realized that some of our people needed a refresh to keep up with changing technology. Today, we develop staff competency in new technologies in anticipation that they will become important to our customers. The company bears the cost of the educational expenses while at the same time incentivizing employees for continuing their education.
Work hard at retention.
For the past four years, our turnover rate has been approximately 4 percent in an industry in which 20 percent is more common. We have reason to think, based on employee surveys and exit interviews, that our low turnover is the result of technically challenging and meaningful work, above-industry compensation, excellent benefits (including a stock-ownership plan), and a cutting-edge professional-development program. In sum, we have an employee-focused culture.
Arion Systems is a work in progress; we can always do better. Our business model has helped us achieve, in large measure, the major goals that we set out to achieve nearly thirty years ago. But today, with the contraction of national security budgets, we face a significant contraction in our market, which is causing us to think more creatively. One avenue that we are actively pursuing is doing more commercial work, and in that regard, we’ve been encouraged by some recent successes.