Author Anna

In my last article I mentioned that the job search is often more challenging for people in their 50s. The truth is this bias towards younger (and often cheaper) employees is not exclusive to the architecture and design industry. You’ll find it in most other industries across Australia, and worldwide.

While this trend is likely being influenced by a few misconceptions on the part of hiring managers and their firms, I believe that a lot of it really has to do with the attitude of the candidates themselves. Most decision makers in the architecture and design sector are not just looking for talent and know-how. They want enthusiasm, passion, and flexibility, as well as the desire and ability to learn new things. While younger candidates are more likely to possess these qualities, at the same time these qualities are much more powerful when they are combined with the kind of maturity and experiential knowledge that comes with age.

The truth is that hiring decisions are often not based on how many grey hairs a candidate is sporting. Rather, the decision whether or not to hire someone can be influenced by the presence of a vigour and dynamism that is hard to define yet impossible to miss.

It reminds me of a quote I stumbled upon a while back:

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

~Satchel Paige

This quote is deeper than appears on the surface. The older people who feel young are still physically and experientially older; it’s their enthusiastic approach to life that sets them apart.

Many older candidates go in to the interview process overly focused on their qualifications, yet they fail to properly convey the value of their experience and expertise. Along the way, they cover up any natural enthusiasm they may have and inadvertently position themselves as out of touch, rigid and unable to adapt (even where this is not the case). Without realising it, they feed right into the very misconceptions they are trying to avoid, and end up presenting themselves as risky investment.

Why Older Candidates Don’t Get Hired

When the older workers of today joined the workforce of yesterday, it was a time when resumes alone spoke for themselves. But today things have changed. We are now living in a noisy world where countless parties are constantly vying for our attention. A list of qualifications is no longer good enough. If you want to win in the hiring game, you need to learn how to tell a story, connect to the decision makers, and make an impact where it counts. The candidates who recognise and acknowledge this shift in attitude, are the very ones who are in tune with what’s happening around them. They are the ones who are able and open to learning, and they are the ones who will get hired.

Establishing a position of genuine value

But, practically speaking, how can older candidates position their value especially when they are competing against those who are much younger than they are? Here are three of the most important points to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t interview for a role you know you are significantly over-qualified for, nor agree to work for significantly less money than you know you are worth. Recognise and define the value you can bring to the table, and be able to present it in a meaningful and confident way. If the hiring team doesn’t appreciate what you have to offer, then look for another firm that does.
  1. Do your research. Don’t just trumpet your accomplishments, nor talk more than you listen. The goal in any interview process is to pick out the qualities and experiences that will make the biggest difference to a potential employer and highlight them. But to do this properly, you need to be knowledgeable about the firm and its culture as well as the position you are interviewing for and how it fits in to the company’s structure. This is a process that requires a significant amount of time and effort, but often pays off handsomely.
  1. Find their need and solve it in a way that demonstrates your value. Just like a salesperson, you need to go into the interview with a good understanding of the firm as well as the needs, challenges, and desires of the people sitting at the other end of the table. What problems can you solve? What goals can you help them reach?

But, that is just the first step. The second step is addressing those issues within the interview in a way that clearly illustrates you are the person who can help them. If you go into an interview and just answer the questions you are asked, you will have a harder time standing out among the field of other candidates. In such as situation, qualities like age can hurt you.

In short, older candidates, especially those who are enthusiastic and adaptable, do not have to be impaired by their age. Very often they can use it to their advantage and position themselves well above the other, younger candidates in their field.

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It amazes me every time.

Many architecture firms come to us looking to fill a number of key positions. They make it clear from the beginning that they are only interested in talented, motivated individuals. They want the best people out there. But as my team and I begin to interview the leaders of these firms, that’s when things start to get a bit bizarre.

When we ask them ‘why’ someone would want to come and work at their firm, we get a blank look and then an answer as boring as “because we are looking for someone,” or “because we are offering a good job, and good prospects for the right person.” Even questions as basic as, “What are your goals, plans, and vision for the next 5 years?” are met with a rather awkward silence.

Really?

These are not some obscure little studios that no one has heard of. Some of these firms have been in business for years and have an impressive portfolio of projects. But, these “answers” are simply not good enough. If firms can’t identify what makes them unique, what they stand for, and why people would want to work for them, then they have practically no chance of attracting the best talent in the market, not to mention remaining successful and relevant in the coming years.

I have been in the architecture and design industry for a while now. In that time I’ve been personally involved in the movements of many of the industry’s most talented people. I’ve watched these individuals join companies and then leave, and I’ve watched many firms rise and fall.

The firms that can confidently answer our questions… the ones that have already booked in the financial targets for this year… the ones that have a solid succession plan in place and that recognise and reward outstanding performance, these are the companies that are forging ahead. Ten years from now, they will still be successful and relevant.

How Does Your Firm Define Success?

I want to close this article with the above question because it is really the starting point for meaningful change.

In business there are many measurements of success. There is financial success, market penetration, brand and reputation awareness, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and the performance of individual employees as well as teams, to name a few. In some firms, success is also measured by how well the company lives up to its own core values and vision. If senior leadership and key employees can’t arrive at a clear definition of success for most of these areas, then it is strong sign that something, somewhere has gone off track.

If you really want to attract and retain the best talent and stay competitive in the coming years, then you’ll want to do what you can to get back on track as quickly as possible. You owe it to yourselves, your employees, and your clients to find out what makes your architecture firm so special in the first place.

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In an interview for Inc. Magazine, Zappos.com founder Tony Hsieh once admitted that hiring mistakes had cost the iconic online retailer “well over $100 million” through the years. After briefly explaining how their bad hiring decisions had led to this astronomical number, he summed up the company’s key take away, “We learned instead of hiring quickly and firing slowly, really it should be the reverse. We should hire slowly and fire quickly when it’s not the right fit.”

When Hiring Goes Wrong

Making good hiring decisions doesn’t come easy, and the truth is that the majority of leadership teams consistently get their hiring decisions wrong.

I recently read the book, It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best, by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at the leading executive search firm Egon Zehnder. In one of the most telling sections of the book, the author posed the following question to a group of 300 CEOs: ”If you were building your organisation from the ground up, how many of the current people would you rehire?” The average answer was 50 percent.

This should be a wake up call to architecture and design firms.

High profile CEOs, such as Andrew Forrest and the late Steve Jobs, were able achieve their phenomenal success by building teams of exceptionally talented and motivated people, and they did this within extremely competitive niches. Yet, their approach to hiring and the lessons to be learned from it seem to be eluding even the biggest, most successful firms.

The reality is that the difference between a successful hire and a bad one is very great. Hiring the wrong people can eat up valuable resources and lead to missed opportunities. It impairs business performance, reduces profitability, and can significantly hurt a company’s culture and brand. Once you start moving up the leadership hierarchy, the more authority and seniority these bad hires have and the more complex their job is, the greater the damage. As Fernández-Aráoz writes, “[M]ost companies’ senior leaders spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent of their time managing their recruiting mistakes.”

When Hiring Goes Right

The best hirers that I have dealt with in the architecture and design industry, the ones who are consistently able to attract the best candidates, all have one common trait: articulating the company’s vision. In an interview process they take the time to describe where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. They talk beyond the immediate project or pipeline of projects and instead create an image or a flight path of where the company is headed, allowing the candidate to envision how they can fit in with the journey and where their own career could be going.

When companies have loyal, talented, and passionate employees, it usually means the senior leadership has two fundamental competencies in place:

They are very clear about who they are looking for now and what they want these people to look like in the future. Good hiring means not just looking at what a candidate can do now, but what he or she may potentially be able to do in the future. Both Andrew Forrest and Steve Jobs would frequently single out people with exceptional talents and skills often unrelated to their jobs. They put a lot of emphasis on personality, choosing the people with passion and initiative, coupled with the willingness to learn, to ask questions, and figure things out.

They know how to ask the right questions. The right questions allow you to assess a potential hire’s abilities and personality. For example, Andrew Forrest often drilled down on how candidates overcame an issue or conundrum in the business and how they solved it, taking particular notice of people who could think outside the box. Asking the right questions also includes knowing how to properly do reference checks. In this case, it’s not just a matter of what you are asking, but to whom. If, for example, you want to know about a candidate’s leadership skills, you don’t want to ask his or her boss. You need to speak to the person’s subordinates.

The bottom line is that good hiring is not rocket science, but it is still a skill that needs to be learned. The quicker your senior leadership can acknowledge this learning process, the closer you’ll be to truly hiring the best people for your firm.

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To save money, many of the bigger architecture firms are trying to fill their ranks with less experienced, more adaptable employees. But as recruiting becomes ever more skewed in favour of younger candidates, some of these same firms may be shooting themselves in the foot.

A Matter of Cost

I’ve met plenty of experienced, mid-career architects along the way who feel they are being ignored by the industry. Interestingly, some of these professionals even have multiple degrees (like architecture and engineering) in addition to fluency in popular modelling programs, such as Revit, Rhino and Sketch-Up. They are great candidates all around.

So the question is… why are they being overlooked?

Generally, it boils down to two reasons:

  1. The cost factor: Because younger candidates are less experienced, they cost less to the firm. This means that hiring a young candidate is less of a financial commitment compared to hiring a registered architect or even someone with 6-7+ years of experience.
  2. The “adaptability” factor (which is really just a hidden cost factor): Recent graduates often have better computer skills than professionals just a few years older. Many even come in with a range of tech skills outside of architecture, like web design. Younger candidates also tend to be more flexible and adaptable when it comes to any new technology in general. Since technology-driven design can help save time and money, the theory is the more technologically-capable employees they plug into the system, the quicker that a project will get done and the less it will cost them to do it.

A Matter of Perspective

But, the theory often does not match up to the reality.

The truth is that the presence and example of experienced, mid-career architects in a firm is absolutely critical to project success. While younger candidates may adapt more naturally to any of the new technologies, mindset, or work processes, the difference between young architects and their older, more experienced counterparts can be glaring.

Older architects have the ability to manage a very large set of factors and variables. They can more easily keep many things in their heads at once, balance them, and weigh one against the other. In short, older architects know how to think things through better. In fact, researchers have found that as a person ages, instead of getting side-stepped and distracted by all the minute details, the brain gets better at holding these details, yet recognising the big picture. This alone is an enormously valuable asset to any architecture firm since architects need to see both the big picture as well as the small details simultaneously.

But, it seems that among some big firms the senior leaders themselves are stuck in this “young mindset.” They are so focused on the details- slimming profit margins, increased competition, advancements in technology-driven design, a competitive job market- that they fail to see the big picture that will help to ensure their success.

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I have seen this same story so many times. The principals of a successful architecture firm push off planning for a transition in leadership and ownership until they are nearing 60. When they do start to make these preparations, their efforts are often too little, too late. They eventually leave a few years later, and the firm is either acquired or simply dissolves.

While the principals at some of the bigger architectural firms are starting to catch on to the fact that they need to develop a succession plan before it gets too late, the reality is that merely having a plan in place is not enough. To be successful the firm has to actually build and cultivate a culture that values renewal and innovation, professional and personal development, and employee advancement and collaboration across departments and rank. This is a fundamental, strategic change that will affect every area of operations, from customer relations to employee recruitment. Sometimes, though, getting an architectural firm to reach that point can be a big jump.

On one hand, principals often have a hard time separating themselves from the business. While this can happen in any industry, for architectural firms in particular, it’s a greater challenge. After all, this line of business is built around custom projects that require architects to invest their unique creative energy and give it expression in the finished product. Client relationships tend to be deeper, stronger, and more personalized than they are in other industries. So, it’s quite understandable that the principals would have a harder time letting go of the business that is an expression of all their unique personal creativity and hard work.

On the other hand, these same principals must come to terms with the fact that they are working with a generation of employees who are accustomed to moving about in search of new experiences and opportunities for professional and personal development. Many of the most talented among them would have no qualms about leaving for another firm or even starting up a competing studio of their own.

These two movements are in total opposition to each other. The only way to bridge the gap is to completely transform the way the firm operates….from the ground up.

The first step in this transformation is to consider the firm as an organic entity with the potential longevity to “outlive” its founding principals. While it may seem a little strange on the surface to align a whole business around the departure of key players, when an architecture firm builds a culture of succession, senior partners know they must identify and groom their successors right from the beginning. It also becomes second nature to develop and cultivate talented employees in areas that lie beyond design and project management, such as marketing, human resources, financial management, and technology.

Not only will this help to develop new leadership, but it can be an excellent tool for recruiting high caliber employees in today’s extremely competitive recruiting environment. As these new recruits develop their talents and skills, they can follow a predictable and carefully laid out career path that eventually leads to positions of ownership and leadership within the firm. Not only can this help to foster employee loyalty, but also it can motivate these individuals to care about and contribute to the firm’s overall success.

Actually creating such a professional development program that encompasses a wide range of quality experiences can take years to develop and fine tune. But, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Another key point that is often under-emphasized concerns employee ownership of the firm. Allowing employees to slowly buy in to the firm from the beginning is a powerful human resources tool. Key employees will be more likely to stay on board if they have equity tied up in the company. Moreover, those who have been singled out for leadership and ownership positions are also given time to comfortably build their partnership interest in the firm.

These days, the Principals of an architecture firm simply cannot afford to just rubber stamp a succession plan on to their operations. They must transform their culture, creating an organic process of renewal that will allow the company the live well beyond them.

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So, let me start off by saying this article will not be a rundown of hottest technology to hit the architecture scene. True, things like holographic design, big data, virtual reality, the use of scanning, digital photography, and drones to create models of existing conditions, and 3D printing are revolutionising both the way projects are moved from concept to construction as well as the speed with which that happens.

But, there is a far greater revolution happening within the architecture industry that is not getting the attention it deserves. Some of these disruptive technologies are breaking and remaking business models and ultimately redefining the concepts of service and value in architecture. The most significant change is happening within- on an organisational level.

 

Time for a New Perspective

It’s well known that the architecture industry as a whole is notoriously slow when it comes to the adaptation of new, transformative technologies. While many firms in the architecture industry try to position themselves as the avant-garde in design, some of those same practices are quite conspicuously cumbersome.

There is actually a deep issue at play over here. Interwoven within the very fabric of the industry is an outdated mentality that affects all but the most forward-thinking firms: that the architect sits at the centre of the project. This may have been the case thirty years ago when the architecture practice was responsible for translating the client’s needs into a design that would then be given over to the associated engineering and construction firms.

But, times have changed.

Now the architect is getting pushed aside… pushed by a growing field of engineering and construction companies that offer architecture services… pushed by technological advances that aid in the design process, but at the same time can make the architect and his or her expertise obsolete… pushed by clients who now demand a more comprehensive and complex service, yet do not want to pay more for it.

It’s not that architects and their practices are no longer needed, but their approach must change: from project director to consultant, from leader to facilitator.

The firms that recognise this trend and go along with it, instead of fighting it or denying that it even exists, are the ones that will continue to thrive.

 

Using Technology to Transform the Architecture Practice

Today, the forefront of innovation in architecture lies within the organisational structure and day to day operations of the architecture practice. This is where technology is playing the most pivotal role.

For example, an assortment of mobile and cloud-based solutions are starting to replace conventional communication such as email. This one small change can dramatically foster collaboration, enhance communication between members of an extended design team, and allow architecture firms to make decisions based on client feedback.

In the last few years there has been the growing adoption of building information modelling (BIM). BIM has enabled architecture firms and their partners to better collaborate on project design details, determine constructability, and ultimately avoid many of the deficiencies in architectural design that often crop up as construction begins.

Current and past project data is also migrating to cloud-based storage creating a repository of information that can be instantly accessed on demand, re-examined, and even re-used by future design teams.

Such tools are game changers primarily because they redefine the role architects play in the design process. In the end, architects may find themselves once again in the centre of projects, but as facilitators not dictators.

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The past ten years have brought revolutionary changes to practically every area of the architecture industry. No corner has escaped its share of disruption. Major socio-economic shifts and technological advancements have forever altered the design and build process, firms’ organisational structure, the skills and mindset of up-and-coming professionals, the competitive landscape and even the relevance of architecture as a profession. Before our very eyes, architecture as an institutionalised, canonised and elitist profession is dissolving and morphing into something totally different.

I truly believe that the combined fallout from all of these micro-movements will eventually strengthen the field of architecture, partly because it will force out those practices that have been unable to keep up with the currents sweeping through the profession. At the same time it will (and already has) opened the doors to other practices that do.

The truth is architecture today is home to two parallel movements (or perhaps, universes is a better word). On one side are the firms that “get it,” the ones that are adaptive, crystal clear about the value they have to offer and hyper-connected to the needs of their clients. On the other side is a growing pool of practices big and small, well-known and obscure, that are slowly losing touch with reality.

 

A Disconnect is Born

It’s fair to say that this disconnect starts in higher educational programs where a hands-on approach to learning the profession is practically ignored in favor of theoretical and abstract creativity. More time at university is spent designing pretty portfolios and building Styrofoam models than acquiring any practical design experience. Upon graduation, this attitude is only reinforced in the accreditation process and further egged on by the industry’s most prestigious organisations and awards. Even the topics for discussion among architecture circles as well as the content that fills our professional architectural publications, symposiums, and workshops reveal a stunning detachment from people, spaces, and even buildings.

Design technology has only exacerbated the situation.

Many architect practices are quite comfortable these days letting their software do the heavy lifting in the design process. They willingly give up control over how their designs are built and fundamental problems are solved in the name of saving time and money. Less focus is being placed on on-site learning and analysis, or even speaking to the people who will use or live next to the built space. The human-side of design, among these firms at least, is getting lost.

As parts of the professional architecture community appear to lose touch with society, it seems that neither architects nor the institutions that support them want to acknowledge the issue, let alone take any responsibility for it. Instead, they deep dive into a sea of discourse on urbanisation, diversity, and an ever broadening range of  abstract, philosophical, yet barely architectural, topics. It feels like a kind of diversion, a desire to just ignore the problem instead of working through it.

 

Architects Are Part of the Solution

But the truth is that architects are as much a part of the solution as a part of the problem. The idea of architects as skilled listeners and collaborators, ones who are willing and able to incorporate the needs of the surrounding environment into their designs, is slowly making its way into mainstream architecture and community development. There are a growing number of practices across the globe which work according to the ethos that private and public buildings, transportation hubs, and public outdoor spaces should not be out of step with the very people who use them.

While this movement is stronger in parts of Europe and North America, right here in Australia it has been gaining traction, as well. Over the past few years, we’ve been witnessing a burgeoning drive to design new buildings while actively seeking feedback from those who will be using them the most.

Not all projects need a big scale effort. But, it’s vital for architecture practices to understand people want above all that the discourse as well as the design of buildings and spaces should focus on them and their needs- not just the artistic whims of some distant software program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It has become common practice among many architecture and interior design firms to conduct an exit interview whenever a key employee decides to go somewhere else. Firms conduct exit interviews because they can be a valuable recruiting tool. It helps them figure out why employees leave and what their experience was like on the job. The firm can then choose to act on this information, cultivating the changes that will help them retain their top talent.

But for the employee, the experience can be both awkward and challenging. After all, even if you have been on the best of terms with your leaders and peers, if you are resigning in order to take a better position somewhere else, then it can feel as if you are betraying your present firm. In a situation where the conditions of the job were particularly difficult or unpleasant, then the thought of having to go through an exit interview can be all the more agonising.

So the question is, if you are asked to participate in an exit interview after you have handed in your notice of resignation, what should you do? Should you be honest and use your time to air out your grievances? Should you sugar coat what you say, or just lie outright?

The truth is, generally neither of these approaches are the best, so how do you get through a difficult exit interview without burning any bridges?

I know that this may seem counter intuitive, but you will have a lot to gain by approaching the exit interview with the same level of forethought and care that you approached those interviews during the hiring process. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the architecture and design community is smaller than you may realise, and there is a good chance that you will need to be in touch with at least some of your colleagues down the road for references, referrals, or professional advice.

So, think of the exit interview as an opportunity to alter the frame that will shape the perception of your employment at the firm and to offer as much valuable feedback that you can without burning any bridges.

You can start by considering how you will answer the following questions:

  1. Why are you leaving the firm?
  2. What is your overall impression of the firm?
  3. What was your experience like working with peers and senior leadership?
  4. How could the firm improve the working environment?

If you know that certain experiences or perceptions will just fan the flames of discord, then don’t share them. The quote, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” comes to mind. It is definitely in your best interest to take the emotions out of the equation and stick to the facts in the most objective way possible. After all, it’s your reputation that is on the line.

Even if you do choose to offer some sort of critique, be tactful and only mention the things that may potentially bring some real benefit to you or your former employer. Whether they will act on it or not is their decision; you are just doing your part.

In the end, you may be able to turn that potentially awkward situation into a bridge building career opportunity.

 

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Most people want to make a good impression when they start a new position. But when that job comes to an end, there is a tendency to brush off the importance of leaving their former supervisors and colleagues with the same good feelings. Whether or not you are happy about leaving your job to work somewhere else, you may want to think twice about using your remaining time at the firm as an opportunity to rebel or let off steam.

The truth is how you treat the last few weeks on the job is extremely critical to your future career development. The world of architecture and design can be very small indeed. Chances are that you will need to be in touch with at least some of your colleagues down the road, since your professional reputation and network are very big assets that you can tap for references, referrals, and a considerable amount of valuable “insider information.”

What To Do Leading Up to Your Departure

So, if you do not want to burn any bridges, especially if you were working under difficult conditions, then pay attention to how you approach those final 2 to 4 weeks before you leave. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Read the employee contract. Now is the time to dust off your employment contract and pour over it. This is the very first thing you should do- even before giving your notice of resignation. You want to go into the process understanding exactly what you are entitled to regarding benefits and compensation for any paid sick days or vacation time that you did not end up using. This will help you keep your expectations realistic.

Give the firm at least 4 weeks’ notice. Giving a 4 week notice of resignation is a pretty standard practice in the architecture and design industry. You want to make sure that your former employer has enough time to either find a suitable replacement for your position or at least re-arrange things so that other employees can temporarily pick up the slack. If you hand in your notice of resignation with the intention of leaving within a week, then chances are you are going to build up a lot of resentment.

Also, make an effort to inform either your immediate leader or the firm’s owner(s) before telling any of your colleagues. You don’t want this person to first hear about your impending departure from someone else.

Keep up with your responsibilities. This is a hard one because your head may already be focused on your new job. But, the fact is you are still responsible for your work until the day that you actually leave.

Prepare the firm for your departure. Leave all your work materials and files in some kind of orderly system, so your colleagues as well as the person who will replace you can easily pick up where you left off and find all the information they need. If you are involved in training or advising the new person, then don’t go into it halfheartedly. Give it your best.

Don’t talk too much about your new job. In a similar vein to the last two points above, try as much as possible to keep yourself focused on the work at hand. Be careful about bringing up the details of your new job- especially among peers. It can create feelings of resentment among your co-workers that can make your last few days on the job more difficult than it needs to be.

Aside from the tips mentioned above, you also should pay particular attention to the exit interview. 

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As the memory of the Great Recession starts to dim, and architecture practices big and small turn their attention to a re-energised and in many ways expanding market, opportunities for the advancement of the business side of architecture are growing. Instead of looking outward, now’s the time for senior leaders to use the current economic environment to their advantage by focusing within their firm’s own four walls.

Opportunities from Within

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the past twenty years is that socioeconomic disruptions and downturns can happen anywhere at any time. In our global economy, even a localized disruption a half a world away, such as a national debt crisis or a natural disaster, can have a devastating global ripple effect.

While many architecture practices may take advantage of the current economic uptick to expand by purchasing or merging with another firm or hiring additional staff, it may not be the best move to make… at least, not yet. Before planning for the good times, you need to be sure your firm can handle the difficult times.

Perhaps the boldest thing you can do for your firm right now is to rethink the way your clients are engaged, information is shared, stored, and manipulated, bills get paid, and work gets done. When you work to revitalise, re-align, and strengthen the operational systems in your firm- those vital, fundamental systems that define how your firm operates- then good things are bound to happen.

Not only will you operate more efficiently and cost-effectively, your firm will be better positioned to withstand any future market disruptions in the future. You’ll also have the clarity and piece of mind you need to make sound, growth-oriented strategic decisions down the road.

But which operational systems should you be investing in?

Here are five areas to consider:

Internal communications and information management. In an earlier article, I mentioned a survey which claims that over 71 percent of up and coming employees face challenges using the available collaboration tools at their firm. This means if you haven’t looked at this area of your firm lately, then it may be time to reassess the way communication happens and data is created, managed, stored and shared both within the firm and outside of it.

Market research. Marketing isn’t just about promotional materials, presentation tools, or a modern, optimised website. Before you can get to those things, you need to have a solid understanding of how the competitive environment has changed in recent years, who the key players are, what your clients want, and how best to position your firm in the market. This also requires you to be in touch with your firm’s key strengths and core competencies and make the effort to nurture your client relationships.

Cash flow cushion. One of the most overlooked places to invest money during good economic times is in your firm’s pool of liquid assets. Liquid assets are either cash on hand or an asset that can easily be converted to cash. In order to avoid corporate tax liabilities, many firms don’t save enough of their profits to prevent shortfalls when a financial emergency or a slowdown in projects hits. But consider this: a sudden scramble for cash can end up costing you more than the money you saved in taxes. Better to have a few months worth of operational expenses on hand.

Training programs. Today’s young architecture professionals want from their employers hands-on experiences that develop key life skills as well as leadership and functional skills. Now is the best time to reevaluate your systems for career advancement and training. This includes, workshops, formal classes, mentoring programs as well as opportunities for performance feedback.

Upgrading design technology. Even as technology has dramatically altered the design and build process, the architecture industry has been notoriously slow to adapt to it. Part of the reason for this is that money gets shunted to other, more “pressing” areas- especially when work is scarce. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, you can’t afford to sit on the sidelines, and on-boarding the technology that matters is much easier to do when business is booming.

Bottom line: if you want your architecture firm to endure in good times and in bad, then you need to invest in the operational procedures and systems that give you a solid foundation to stand on.

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