Lee Schafer
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The Twin Cities office of Daugherty Business Solutions has to move into a much larger suite in Bloomington as its staff has more than doubled in the last four years.

“Looking at our engineering practice, in going back four years ago we might’ve had eight to 10 individuals,” said Nick Reinbold, the managing director here in the Twin Cities for Daugherty. “Today we have over 60 engineers. And when you think about the software engineering space, it’s probably the most competitive as it relates to the war on talent.”

He sounded matter-of-fact about all this, and the potential growth to 235 staffers. But any growth hasn’t been easy in a hotly competitive labor market.

And sorry to disappoint anyone looking for a special formula to winning the battle for talent, because there wasn’t much evidence of one in a conversation with Reinbold and a handful of his colleagues. What they described instead sounded mostly like hard work.

Maybe that’s the lesson for employers. The secret, if you can call it that, is constant recruiting followed by a willingness to train. Even more important is the work Daugherty is putting into helping employees feel part of a bigger team, making it less likely they’ll want to move on.

As a consulting firm, Daugherty is part of a big and acutely competitive industry, maybe approaching a half-trillion dollars in size. The home office is in suburban St. Louis. And while Reinbold said he couldn’t provide client names, there were clues in the office that a target client would be among our region’s big headquarters companies.

Daugherty has a manager for recruiting, but attracting new people is a team effort. The senior principal of its software-engineering practice, Rob Jacobs, estimated that 30% of his time goes into recruiting, from meeting candidates to combing the LinkedIn profiles of software engineers.

Reinbold said he doesn’t meet every job candidate. When he does, he always tries to point out that new employees won’t find a traditional top-down organizational chart. That means that employees won’t have to wait for an empty box on the chart to move up, instead getting promoted when they are ready.

Reinbold also pitches training, including what the firm calls its Daugherty University. It’s a seven-week, full-time course designed for new university graduates or people with lots of work experience who may have been through a code academy.

In addition to technical training, students work on things like presentation skills and how to be what Reinbold called “a good consultant,” not just a competent technology worker.

Daugherty consultants from the field teach these classes, one way for new hires to get introduced to an experienced hand they might later lean on as they start their own work for clients.

Fewer than 1 in 5 Twin Cities Daugherty employees leaves each year, an attrition rate Reinbold said beats his industry’s average but one he also hopes to reduce.

As the economic expansion continues, now past a decade, the “quit rate” of workers moving on from their jobs has reached a new high-water mark. Retaining the workers you have is another part of the workforce challenge.

The very structure of the consulting industry complicates this task for Daugherty, as the team isn’t working every day inside the four walls of a Daugherty facility.

Technology consulting firms fall along a continuum of services, where at one end there are custom providers who might analyze a business process and then build a piece of software for clients in their own office suite. At the other end is a form of specialized temp-worker agency, for clients who need immediate help to get over some hump.

Companies like Daugherty lie the middle, with a strong preference for sending out a team to work on a problem rather than a single consultant to put in a day’s work. But much of the work takes place at client sites, with direction provided by the client’s managers.

Consultants in this niche might sit all week in workstations inside big companies, mostly using an e-mail account assigned by the client. Even though the client and Daugherty often formally agree to not hire each other’s staff, it would be easy for a consultant to start feeling part of the client’s team, not Team Daugherty.

Tim Herby, director of Daugherty’s data and analytics practice, pointed out that surveys have shown that one measure of job satisfaction is whether people come to think they have a best friend at work.

Daugherty works at making that easier, on the level of project teams up through the entire practice here in the Twin Cities.

With an office move in progress along with the Thanksgiving holiday, Daugherty had a light November schedule for events. But in the recent past there’s been a family game night, a craft night, a trip through the Sever’s corn maze, a service day at Second Harvest Heartland, lots of project team happy hour and lunch gatherings, and so on.

The office has four major practice areas, and once a month on a Friday, an entire practice staff gathers in the office. They can still get their work done for clients, of course, but with an opportunity to chat with colleagues they don’t see every day and get updates on what’s new.

As the conversation wound down last month, Daugherty’s Nicole Manes, a director and consultant, connected the task of getting more clients with creating opportunity for the staff. She said this almost as if that were the point, not making more money.

More clients mean more opportunity to learn about additional technologies and business systems, a good way to become a savvier consultant. And more opportunity to learn means less reason to go looking for a job somewhere else.