Kurt Bergman builds a new level of engagement at Michael Baker International

“So our challenge to our young entrepreneurs and leaders is build us a balanced business — look at the market around you, understand the market around you and figure out what from the bigger Baker portfolio should we be selling locally,” he says.
In order to prove that the local offices have more authority, Bergman says you can’t micromanage, and you need to evaluate them fairly. For example, in the past, the profitability of local operations was determined after what could be called a “corporate tax” had been applied.
“I don’t think that’s a real fair way of evaluating somebody,” he says. “You have to look at them and say, ‘What is it that they control? What are the levers, the mechanisms, the people, the budgets that they control to drive their business in accordance with the visions that we’ve laid out and the goals that we’ve laid out for the company?’”

The ‘what’ and the ‘why’

Sometimes a long-established company gets away from the founder’s intention. The employees may be good at their jobs, but when you ask why the business does what it does, they don’t have an answer.
Bergman says Michael Baker Jr. founded his company in 1940 because he believed that through engineering, he and his employees could change the world around them. That message wasn’t as clear as it should be.
“Obviously when you look at a company that covers everything from California to Qatar and the breadth of services that we provide, you end up with a lot of different cultures and a lot of different drivers inside of that,” he says.
In order to strengthen the overriding culture, Bergman and his team are teaching the 6,000 employees about the company’s founding purpose and what it is capable of today.
“That’s one of the big initiatives that we’re taking on right now is also this inner-corporate education process of trying to make sure that everybody understands what we do and getting our people at the lowest levels engaged and involved in that process,” he says.
By highlighting its successes, whether that’s an online tool that provides an assessment of surface water quality and potential pollutants or creating an integrated crime database for the city of Philadelphia to spot trends, it creates engagement and helps spark entrepreneurial seeds into new ideas.

Taking down walls

The new regional centers are also improving company communication because different practices are collaborating.
“You would think we were creating regional silos, but because the regional silo needs the capabilities and the markets and the people that exist in the other spaces and the other regions, they have to talk to each other,” he says.
At the same time, Bergman and his executive team are pulling people together, letting management teams get to know each other on a formal and informal basis.
Technology like conference calls is wonderful, but when you manage the business like that, he says you’ll hear the “clickety, clickety” of keyboards.