Professional Liability/Risk Management Brief: Electronic Communications
By Richard B. Garber, Vice President A/E/C Risk Management Services, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company Inc.
Risks of E-mail
There are two major risks in this rapid communication system. First, e-mail is easy to generate and distribute. Composing and sending messages is often undertaken without the careful thought that characterizes most written correspondence. Inappropriate or confidential comments and attachments can be distributed without proper review.
Second, e-mail is rarely preserved properly. Even though there may not be an official record in the project file, the message may still exist electronically. Information that an e-mail sender thinks has been deleted may simply lie hidden in electronic form to be called up after a problem is identified. Carelessly provided opinions or instructions communicated through e-mail may end up coming back to challenge the credibility or establish the negligence of the firm.
To maximize the benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls of e-mail, many professional service firms have created e-mail use policies. Firms without such policies should consider the following as requirements:
- E-mail communication to clients or parties involved in the construction process must be necessary, relevant, and in compliance with firm standards.
- All project-related e-mail transmissions must be channeled through a firm member in responsible charge.
- E-mail messages must be printed out and filed as hard copies or scanned as digital images.
Dangers of Cell Phones
Employees are increasingly using cell phones to conduct business, but rarely are such conversations documented. Even firms that carefully record telephone conversations made from the office rarely have a system in place for recording and preserving the substance of cell phone calls. The impulsive or informal use of cell phones for business purposes exacerbates communication deficiencies that can lead to claims.
As with e-mail use that could lead to claims not related to specific projects—claims ranging from sexual harassment to copyright infringement—cell phone use can also lead to exposures beyond the scope of professional liability insurance. One such risk is the use of cell phones for business purposes while driving. The allegation in the event of an accident may be that the employer did not take public safety into consideration when requiring or condoning the use of cell phones in unsafe situations.
An official written policy about cell phone use should be created. It should require that the substance of a project-related cell phone conversation be recorded and stored in the project file. The policy may also prohibit cell phone use for business purposes when inappropriate, including while driving. The firm should determine the laws or restrictions on cell phone use in the jurisdiction where they practice and make all employees aware of any regulations.
Importance of Record Retention
The retention of carefully crafted correspondence in project files can help prevent or limit the exposure of firms to professional liability losses. Well-documented project records in well-organized files provide the information needed to create an aggressive defense of a claim. The use of e-mail and cell phones should not undermine firm record retention procedures.
Victor O. Schinnerer & Company Inc. is managing underwriter for the CNA/Schinnerer Professional Liability Insurance Program, commended by NSPE/PEPP since 1957.
Top 10 Ways to Motivate Employees
Herbert M. Cannon, President of AEC Management Solutions Inc.
10. Get Rid of the Naysayer
You know who they are. They complain about everything — and loudly. They complain to anyone who is or isn't willing to listen. The complaints include the most trivial of items like "why do we only have Starbucks coffee in the coffee room? Shouldn't we have more of a choice?" I have also heard them complain to others in the office about fluorescent lighting, heating, cooling, and the quality of the bathroom tissue. While these complaints are minor, it becomes a real problem when they appoint themselves to be office shop-steward to rally against company policy. They complain about the company holiday schedule: "Why should wehave to work on Monday and Tuesday when Christmas falls on Wednesday?!" "As a matter of fact, why aren't we shutting down for the entire week?" — with nay of course! I can deal with a complainer, but I can't deal with them rallying the other employees against the company.
9. Cut the Deadwood
Yes, you are busy, but having unproductive people around only adds to the perception of accomplishing the company workload. The reality is quite different. More time is spent in reworking drawings than is saved by having them in your company. Worst of all they drag down the whole office morale.
8. Family Events
Yes, the company that plays together stays together. Many of my client companies have family days, barbecues, or sports outings that involve both the employees and their families. While I was skeptical of these events earlier in my career, in recent years I have come to appreciate their role in creating a happy workforce. It helps the office morale and recruiting beyond what could statistically be quantified.
7. Leave the Expensive Toys at Home
If you are an owner or partner in a firm, resist the temptation to flaunt your toys at work. I am talking about the 2 sports cars parked in the company garage, the life size mural of your yacht or the 360degree video tour of your country home in the Hamptons (as produced by your IT staff). Your employees will not be impressed; they will be annoyed. They already think you make 10 times more than you actually do.
6. Lead by Example
If you want your employees to get to work early, be a team player, and put the company's interest first, you need to set the example. Don't show up late, hand in your time card two weeks after the fact, and waste your time surfing the Internet. Keep a smile on your face and meet the challenges of runing a business with a positive attitude. Whatever is important to you will become important to the employees.
5. Incentive Compensation
This actually should be number one, but I harp on it so much I moved it to number five. There is nothing more motivating to employees than the opportunity to be financially rewarded based upon their performance.
4. Provide Opportunities
If your company is to succeed over the long term, you must provide meaningful opportunities for your employees to show what they can do. Allow them the opportunity to succeed and to learn from their mistakes. Remember that someone once gave you the opportunity to succeed — do the same for your employees.
3. Reward Extraordinary Efforts
Be sure to reward extraordinary efforts. Be generous (and public) with your praise for working long hours, meeting unreasonable deadlines, completing major projects, and producing great design. A team dinner upon completion of a major project is a great way to reward a team and boost morale. And an American Express gift card or dinner-for-two gift certificate are great ways to thank individuals. If you are familiar with my incentive compensation program, you may be surprised to see that I am rewarding effort rather than results. Just to be clear, I have nothing against rewarding effort, I just don't include it in my formal incentive compensation plan.
2. Hold Employee Reviews on Time
As an employee, there are few things in this world more frustrating than not having a review held as scheduled. Far too many firms take a casual approach to scheduling the annual review. In fact they often need to be reminded by the employee that the annual employee review is way overdue. It is easy for those of us who have been executives or owners for a long time to forget what it was like when we were rank-and-file employees. If you want to motivate your employees to look for employment elsewhere, then constantly put off their reviews for something "more important."
1. Consistent Reinforcement Expectations
Employees want to know what is expected of them. If you want them at their desk ready to work at 8:30 a.m., let them know. If you want a standard title block used on all your sheets, let them know where to find it. If you value design over all else, please let them know — but don't be angry when they blow the budget. If your expectation is great design and a 20%+ profit, please let them know. Whatever your expectation is in any area of the practice, let your employees know what is expected and then stick to it. When owners constantly move the target of expectations, it causes dissension among the troops.
Herbert M. Cannon, president of AEC Management Solutions Inc. and publisher of AEC Managing Partner Newsletter, is a management consultant, seminar provider, and speaker exclusive to the A/E industry. He is available to speak at company meetings and conferences. For more information, contact Herb via e-mail. Or visit his Web site.
COMING SOON -the PEPP Young Engineers Advisory Council has conducted a survey of over 600 young engineers on the topic of motivation, and their publication Motivation Factors of Young Engineers will be available free to members in the coming months.[ return to top ]
NSPE Education for You and Your Firm
Roadmap to BIM 2008 Audioconferences
Roadmap to BIM 2008 will help you identify and formulate your strategy to have your organization start reaping the benefits of BIM, from reduced change orders, increased prefabrication, improved schedules, lower net costs and risks, lower compliance costs, lower operating costs and new business opportunities. Learn from the pros and ask your
questions at the end of each session.
Productivity Benefits of BIM: How Private Owners Are Driving the Industry What is it, who benefits, where's the ROI?
BIM in Public Building: The GSA and Corps of Engineers BIM Initiatives. What GSA and other public agencies are doing to jump start the BIM process. Successes to date and new program developments.
Contractor Implementation: Industry Consultants Discuss Considerations and Best Practices for Contractors, CMs and Design Builders Ready to Take the Plunge. Shared or separate models; from the designer, design/builder and contractor perspectives. Technology tools and investments. Management strategies.
Contractors on the Forefront: Three Contractors Reveal Their BIM Successes and Failures
BIM Risk Factors: Divergent Views of Risks by Owners, Designers and Contractors; Determining Where The Risks Are, Contract Language Considerations and Adapting BIM to Current Contract
Delivery Methods. BIM has the potential to reduce risks and costs throughout the entire facility life cycle; this session will discuss how the owner, A/E and contractor currently perceive shifts in responsibilities, risks and costs.
Special NSPE member prices- $149 a site each session,
$193 for session plus CD,
$171 for CD only. $596 for all 5 plus CD.
PDH certificates will be sent on request. Click here for more information and to register. For more information contact Patti Wysocki.
April 9-11, Alexandria, VA
2008 PEPP Human Resource Directors' Roundtable
June 12-14, Alexandria, VA
2008 PEPP CFO Roundtable
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Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide
According to the American Institute of Architects, Integrated Project Delivery leverages early contributions of knowledge and expertise through the utilization of new technologies, allowing all team members to better realize their highest potentials while expanding the value they provide throughout the project lifecycle.
Not all agree that this delivery method is the way to go. Some have stated that IPD can be more costly and does not give the design professional the appropriate roles and responsibilities.
Download the AIA Integrated Project Delivery Guide to better understand the principles of IPD, understand the value propositionof of IPD from the perspective of various stakeholders, and discern subtle differences between possible models for IPD.
If you are interested in joining a discussion on Integrated Project Delivery or would like to express your opinions on the subject, please contact Kim Granados, PEPP Staff Director.
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NeXt Generation of Leaders
Some baby boomers will retire (not all we hear!), leaving a leadership shortage. PEPP is talking with the future generation of leaders and listening for ways to attract younger generations to the profession — and retain them. Each month PEPP Talk will profile young engineers who exemplify what's in the pipeline for leadership. Take a moment to get to know them, hear what they are saying, and apply that knowledge to your staff and coworkers.
Dawn Edgell, P.E.
Title: Senior Project Manager
Company: Patrick Engineering
Been There: Two years
Number of employees: approx 350
Previous Jobs: Terracon, Inc. (seven years in various states)
How did you first get into engineering? I took drafting and computer classes in junior high school and figured I was good at math, so I put them together.
If you weren’t an engineer you’d be…. A world traveler for the Travel Channel, but I'd have to fund it myself somehow!
What’s your peak experience as an engineer so far? Working on projects at O’Hare and Midway International Airports–being able to walk along the end of the runway at Midway Airport during an inspection while seeing planes going by on taxiways.
What do you think engineering firms need to do to attract younger generations into the engineering industry? Be able to recognize the difference in the approach we as YE’s take towards work. We’re not all ‘9-5 engineers,’ but we take work seriously, and we want the flexibility to balance this with life outside of the office.
What does leadership mean to you? Being able to inspire people around you to be involved in whatever cause you’re working on, and being able to train your own replacement in the next generation behind you.
Leaders you admire? I’ve been impressed with the PEPP Board over the years, in that many of them own their own companies, manage to balance that with various extracurricular activities and their families. On a more local note, Kathryn Gray (NSPE President 2005-2006) has been nothing short of admirable for me with everything she’s helped me with over the years I’ve known her.
Football or baseball? Since hockey isn’t a selection–baseball all the way! Go Chicago Cubs!
Web site you can’t go a day without visiting? Facebook to see my friends' latest pictures and adventures.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years, I will have… the experience and ability to open my own firm; whether I do it or not doesn’t matter, but I want to have the option available. My life balance would be the determining factor in proceeding down that road.
How do you strike a work/life balance? I leave work at work, and rarely if ever take work home. Once I’m out with friends, work doesn’t enter the conversation. We talk about movies, sports, travelling, whatever one of us wants to do next.
Are you a young engineer interested in getting more involved in NSPE? Interested in being profiled? Contact Kim Granados. Are you a baby boomer trying to understand the Generation X, and then the Millenials? Coming soon PEPP Council of Principals video on "Leadership and the Emerging Generations", PEPP YEAC "Motivation Factors of Young Engineers" Guide, and "Future Leader Focus" survey results from HR Advisors Group.
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