How Ryan Companies supports their team’s career progression, growth, and development

How Ryan Companies supports their team’s career progression, growth, and development

Recently, Lauren Lake, Bridgit COO and Co-Founder, had the opportunity to talk with Erin O’Hara Meyer, Senior Director of Learning & Development and Eric Fiedler, Senior Director of Talent Development at Ryan Companies. They discussed Ryan Companies internal growth of their team of 2000 and how their Human Resources and Learning and Development (shortened to L&D) teams have created an inclusive and diverse workplace culture where people can grow and thrive. O’Hara Meyer and Fiedler have helped create several initiatives to prioritize and formalize employee L&D as well as to foster open collaboration between managers and employees to make sure their people have the ability to improve their day-to-day skills and fulfill their long-term career aspirations. 

Today, Ryan is listed as #25 on the ENR Top 400 Contractors list and offers comprehensive commercial real estate services as a national developer, architect, capital investment consultant builder and real estate manager.

You can watch the full recording of our conversation with Erin and Eric below. We’ve also included a full transcript below the video.


Lauren Lake:

Hi everyone, and thank you for joining us today. Today we’re excited to be joined by Erin O’Hara Meyer and Eric Fiedler from Ryan Companies. Erin is the senior director of learning and development at Ryan, and Eric is the senior director of talent development. Erin and Eric, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your roles at Ryan Companies before we dig in. 

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

We really appreciate being here and thank you for asking us. My role at Ryan is Senior Director of Learning and Development, and I’ve been in that role for the past eight and a half years with Ryan. When I started, we had no formalized learning and development, so it’s been growth for our company and our team throughout those years to figure out how to get our hands around learning and development at Ryan.

My overall tenure with Ryan is more extensive than that. I had my first tour of duty at Ryan in 1988, starting as an Executive Assistant in the construction department and moving my way into Human Resources. I was with Ryan for 14 years then went off to start my own training and development business and then came back eight and a half years ago. I’m glad to be here and see all of the great things we have going on in terms of developing our employees.

Lauren Lake:

That’s amazing. And Eric, we’ll pass it over to you.

Eric Fiedler:

I haven’t been with Ryan quite as long as Erin. I’ve been with the organization a little over nine months in my role of Senior Director of Talent Management, which is a new role for the organization. My primary responsibility and focus is to ensure that we have the right talent in the right place with the right skill sets to lead our organization into the future. With all the success and growth that we’ve had in the organization, our employee population is growing, and we just want to make sure that we have leaders in the organization that are able to adapt to that growth and lead our team members. I’ve been in talent management for about 20 years, the last 18 internally within organizations. Prior to that I was doing external consulting.

Lauren Lake:

It’s really exciting to be here with both of you. I think our visions for how the workforce can be developed and enriched are similar and I’m excited to talk more about that. Erin, maybe just to give everyone a little bit of context, do you mind giving us a bit of information about Ryan Companies as an organization? For example, how many offices does Ryan operate out of? What’s the size of your workforce and what has the growth looked like in the past couple of years?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

Ryan is unique in the marketplace because we do have a lot of service lines under one umbrella. Additionally, our areas of expertise are industrial, healthcare, senior living, multifamily, retail, office, and mixed-use. I think what makes Ryan even more distinct in the marketplace is our strong culture. We’re a company that is founded in family values, strong character, and striving to do the right thing. Those are the things that we try to teach and instill through the programs that we offer because we understand that it’s not only how we treat ourselves internally, but how we partner with our clients and our communities and the outreach that we have.

In terms of our structure, we currently have 16 offices throughout the United States. We have about 1900 employees. We’ll quickly top 2000 in the next couple of months. As far as population growth goes, we’ve experienced about a 50% increase in the last four years. I think the demographic is that 65% of our workforce has worked here for five years or less.

Lauren Lake:

I know a lot of challenges come with rapid growth and I’d like to dig into that a little bit more. Do you feel like this growth has led to challenges? How have you dealt with getting new employees ramped up and onboarded and productive quickly?

Eric Fiedler:

It does present a challenge, both in terms of attracting and acquiring the needed talent, but also onboarding and getting employees up to speed so they can contribute to project success. Our managers understand the importance of bringing in and assimilating talent regardless of whatever level it is. They’re very involved in partnering with HR in the recruiting process as well as onboarding. We have some well-thought-out projects going on right now where we’re continuously working to accelerate and provide more structure to our onboarding process. It hasn’t escaped us that that’s important, especially as we’re bringing on these new employees, we just need to make sure that we get them up to speed as quickly as possible to ensure our project’s success.

Lauren Lake:

Often we see that you’d have talent development within a construction company structured into separate functions. You’d have more “functional training” coming from the operations side of the business and more professional development coming from a learning and development team. I know at Ryan you’ve been working on aligning the efforts from both of those departments. Why have you made that decision to bring those two together and what are the challenges that maybe you’ve faced in doing so?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

I think it’s typical in smaller companies that those two aspects of learning can stay distinct. The job skills typically happen in the moment, from mentoring and conversations. Professional development oftentimes is far more intentional with what’s needed and what’s offered. We’ve come to realize with the rapid growth we’ve had that people aren’t seeing those two things as part of their overall career progression. We knew that we needed to become more focused on how we offer and market our learning and development. We need to become more collaborative with business operations and L&D so that people see it as one seamless experience rather than day-to-day skill training and longer-term professional development training. We want it to be a one-stop shop.

The effort underway is a huge company initiative where a large team of people from all areas of the business come together to identify what the needs are for job skill training, and professional development, and how we can begin to blend those two things into learning journeys for different areas of the organization. We’re through phase one of that project, but it’s a big undertaking and we know that it’s just the beginning of developing timely content in a way that will make sense to a number of different employees throughout the organization.

Lauren Lake:

I’m sure that has a big impact as well in terms of retaining your employees and I know that’s a big focus at Ryan.

I’d love to learn what success looks like for both of you individually.

Eric Fiedler:

I think success is when you see employees owning their own career development and progression, obviously supported by their manager and our L&D teams. Where I’ve seen talent development excel within organizations is when employees aren’t only taking advantage of the development opportunities that are offered to them, but they’re also creating development opportunities for themselves. That’s really when you start to get that learning culture established. It’s gratifying to see them grow in their current roles and also advancing in their careers as well.

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

I would agree to all of that. One of the things that I want to point out is that we also had a need to track, formalize, and align the learning that was happening. When I think about Ryan, we offer a lot of learning for people, at times it can be overwhelming. What success will look like for me is an efficiency of learning, really prioritizing and organizing in a way where we’re delivering the right training at the right time in someone’s tenure at Ryan. I think that we’ve learned that it’s critical because of how busy we are that people need to have an understanding of what it is that they need to know and when they need to know it.

Lauren Lake:

How does Ryan encourage team members to carve their own path when it comes to career development, and how does that impact the company culture that you’re trying to build?

Eric Fiedler:

I think it’s our job to help define and support that career progression and the growth and development needed for employees to take that next step. Employees are highly encouraged to own their own journey with their manager’s support. It takes time to instill that into the culture and to build that mindset that this is really up to me and it’s not up to somebody else to own that for them. HR and L&D have a role in that though. We have to help provide the necessary tools and resources to help them. The project that Erin’s been working on will go a long way to help us to achieve that across the organization.

Lauren Lake:

Erin, do you mind telling us a little bit about the Emerging Leaders program at Ryan? How did that get started and what have the results been so far?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

It’s been in existence since 2011, and it was organized and launched at Ryan because of a need. We knew that we had a lot of emerging talent and we weren’t necessarily developing it in any formalized way at that time. We’ve put about 125 employees through the program, and many of them have gone on to more senior-level positions in the organization. It’s structured as a six to nine-month program that focuses on three pillars or three tiers of learning. The first pillar is professional development. We offer everything from management skills to leadership training and all sorts of personal and professional development. The second pillar is understanding business operations. We invite a lot of leaders throughout the year for questions and answers on what leadership means to them, things that they’ve learned along the way, and strategies for reaching our goals and objectives.

Then the year culminates in a project. They’re given a project early on that they have to research and solve and make a recommendation to. They’re projects that are deemed important and at the end of the year, they present as teams to leadership to say “we recommend this or we don’t recommend this and here’s why”. I think learning comes in a lot of different ways. Additionally, one of the objectives is for them to create a peer group within the organization. They come from all of those different offices, a lot of different roles and responsibilities. We’re helping them build an internal network as well.

Lauren Lake:

Eric, another question for you that kind of stems off of the idea of the Emerging Leaders program is how do you go about identifying team members who would be ready for the next step if they haven’t necessarily identified that for themselves yet?

Eric Fiedler:

Like most organizations, we have individuals that raise their hands and say, “I’m ready”. Formally, we do have a talent review process. We use the traditional nine box where individuals are assessed for both their performance and potential along a set of criteria. That gives us a pretty good idea. We also calibrate groups of employees against one another, and that gives us a pretty good indication of who we believe has the potential to take on those next opportunities.

It’s a little bit about that aspiration as well. We may identify somebody as having the potential, but maybe they don’t aspire to it. So informally, we encourage all of our team members to share their aspirations with their managers, and back it up with strong performance, engagement and willingness to take on challenging assignments. That’s how we see some of those individuals get teased out of the process. That’s how we identify individuals to go into the programs like ELG or other targeted development opportunities or special projects. 

Lauren Lake:

Erin, how have you prioritized where talent development fits in so that it’s not an afterthought?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

As Eric mentioned, we have a robust performance management plan. We ask people to think about their goals and objectives, what they need to know, and what they need to learn and let them begin by taking responsibility for what’s most important to them. Beyond that, learning, especially in today’s world, comes from a variety of sources. There’s on-demand learning, videos, virtual sessions, in-room sessions, coaching, and peer interaction. They’re learning all day every day, whether they recognize it or not. But the amount of time that we can invest gets tighter as we get busier. We’re in the same boat as all those other GCs. Time is really of the essence and is a valuable commodity. So our goal is to truly focus on what’s most important and offer it in digestible amounts of time.

We look at what we can do that’s instructive. What needs to be a virtual session, what needs to be in-room, and maybe a lengthier amount of time? We evaluate all those things, and we’re constantly challenged to think about how we can offer things in smaller blocks of time without compromising the value of the training. That’s tricky and we’re still learning how to do some of that because we know that we only get so much time and mental space from our employees, so we have to make sure that it’s really what they want and need.

Lauren Lake:

My next question is centered around the tactics around how you actually track somebody’s skill or development. It’s a lot easier to track some of the hard skills, there are certain certifications that people just need to have, but how do you track some of those softer skills? Skills like leadership, teamwork, and communication, do you do anything internally to track that or to see progress?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

I would go back to our performance management process. Things like that would get tracked in the one-on-one between the manager and the employee. That’s where the critical conversations need to be had, the coaching, the mentoring, and the ideas for further growth. Employees set goals and meet with their managers throughout the year. It isn’t just one-and-done at a certain time of year. I feel pretty confident, for example, that I’ve learned to present in front of a large group, but now I want to learn how to present to the senior level of the organization. Those are things that need to happen at the individual level because an individual knows far better what they need than we do. I think those one-on-one conversations are critical to long-term career success and progression.

Lauren Lake:

That’s amazing. Erin, you mentioned a couple of other things that you’re doing at Ryan to further help with the alignment of different teams and better support your leaders or employees. Do you mind just sharing what a couple of those initiatives are at Ryan?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

We have several other things that we do that we think shore up some of the learning for our managers and all of our Ryan employees. I’ll begin by talking about the DiSC behavioral assessment. It’s a behavioral tool that helps us understand personality and communication style. In the past year, all our employees went through that training so we have a common language around the kinds of skills needed to work most effectively as a team. We’ve offered a lot of management training over the years. As managers come on board we have training that helps them learn who we are and what the expectations are as a manager in the Ryan culture. We offer a lot of training in terms of advanced management training using the DiSC behavioral assessment too.

We’ve also recently started some learning around what we call team excellence. It’s about getting newly formed projects off on the right foot by learning the behaviors of good team dynamics. We do a number of things to make sure that people are armed with the tools they need to work effectively together. Lastly, I would add that we also have what we call HR business partners. They’re aligned with different regions in the organization and work closely with managers and employees. They do a lot of coaching to improve communication, helping managers provide feedback and employees understand what it is that they need to do for their own career success and ambition.

Lauren Lake:

I’m really curious about the DiSC assessment. Is that something that you had done previously at Ryan in some form and then just expanded across the company, or is that completely new for everyone?

Erin O’Hara Meyer:

We did use DiSC here at Ryan several years ago, and then we transitioned to StrengthFinder, which is also another good tool. My recommendation to other organizations is to use some kind of behavioral tool or assessment that helps people understand communication styles. They’re significant in employees’ professional development. We’ve transitioned back to DiSC in the past year, and it has been well received. DiSC creates a language easily and quickly so it embeds into the organization and culture effectively.

Lauren Lake:

Eric, I’ll ask you our final question of the day. Looking forward to the rest of 2022, I know you have big things planned at Ryan Companies, but what would you say you’re most excited for when it comes to talent development and the plans for the rest of the year?

Eric Fiedler:

Our focus for this year is continued support for our managers so that they have the necessary skills, tools, and confidence to be the best coaches and advisors for our team members. I believe it starts with them. We need to hold them accountable for delivering that support to all of our employees. Some of that is freeing up their time, and some of it is further educating them on not only the importance of good leadership, but giving them the right tools. We want to make sure that all employees have ongoing discussions with their managers regarding their professional development and they have a plan in place, and we have managers that can support that entire process.