Author Anna

A few years ago, I wrote about the growing counter-offer culture that has been spreading throughout the Architecture and Interior Design industry. The instant key employees hand in their resignation notice, they are served a seemingly flattering counter-offer that compels them to stay. In a few cases, these employees actually had no real intention of leaving, but were simply leveraging an anticipated counter-offer in order to get more money, responsibilities, or both. In either case, however, giving in to that counter-offer is often a big mistake- for both the employees and the firm.

This topic brings to mind another issue that has persisted even though the job market for architects and designers has been hotter than ever. Over the years, I have come across many talented candidates who chose to stay in less than perfect jobs. They all have their reasons for pushing away the signs that are telling them it’s time to move on. Some fear that they won’t find a better job, some believe the promotions, recognition, and equity shares they deserve are just around the corner. They convince themselves it’s not so bad. They get comfortable, and then that comfort turns to complacency.

The problem is when they finally reach a breaking point with their current employer, and they decide to move on, they have been out of the job market for so long that they don’t know where to even start. Older candidates in particular often find that the job search is an arduous, uphill journey.

You don’t want to put yourself in that position.

Not only will staying at a job you don’t like affect your performance, happiness, and career advancement, there is a lot of research pointing to the fact that you are also exposing yourself to a number of physical and emotional health problems, including exhaustion, stress, burnout, and depression.

But while some candidates are clear about when it’s time to leave a job, for others, as I mentioned above, it may not be so obvious. So, if you have been debating with yourself whether or not to leave your current employer, here are five of the most telling signs to watch out for that suggest it’s time to search for greener pastures:

  1. You don’t like being there. Simply put, you are no longer passionate about your work, you get depressed every Sunday when you think of the week ahead, and you dread getting out of bed each morning. Your work performance is suffering; you feel stressed and anxious, and it is taking a toll on your health and personal relationships. If these things are happening, then you need to ask yourself, “Why?” The minute your job starts negatively affecting your mental or physical well-being, then it’s time to leave.
  2. You don’t like who you are working with. There is a lot of research supporting the idea that employees who have good relationships with co-workers and supervisors have greater job satisfaction and well being, are more productive, and are less likely to leave. The opposite, however, is also true. For years you may have had a great working relationship with your peers and leaders, but then you start to sense a fundamental shift in the firm’s culture and the style of leadership. If your professional relationships within the firm are becoming unpleasant and strained and you begin to feel like you don’t fit in, then it may be signal for you to move on.
  3. You don’t like the direction the company is going in. Related to the point above, it could be that your firm is starting to change its focus and culture in a way that you do not personally agree with. If you no longer see yourself fitting in with the business culture- whether it’s due to changes in the work ethic, core mission and values, or even a shift in the kinds of clients and projects they are targeting- then you need to re-evaluate your reasons for staying.
  4. There is no room for advancement. A stagnant work environment that offers little room for you to move to higher positions or few if any options take on more responsibility, can fundamentally affect your level of motivation and passion to do your work and ultimately your job satisfaction. So, if you begin to feel like you have exhausted all learning opportunities, and the path for career advancement and development is either closed or too slow, then you should seriously reconsider your stay at the firm.
  5. You don’t feel like you are making an impact. Perhaps you feel that your work and input is not being properly appreciated- whether this shows up in terms of salary, verbal recognition, or the opportunities for advancement and development that are coming (or not coming) your way. Maybe you are bothered by your inability to affect the direction of the business. You are left out of decision-making meetings, and you are overlooked for high-impact assignments. If you are looking for more influence and involvement than your current employer can offer, then it’s time to start the job search.

In short, if your job isn’t giving what you need to feel happy (not just pay the bills), yet it isgiving you a whole bunch of things that you don’t need, like stress and resentment, then it’s up to you to change the situation and look for better opportunities. Don’t wait till you are forced to do it.

Read More

Sometimes candidates ask me for advice on how to best apply for a particular architecture role. Regardless of how they approach me, what they all really want to know is how can they make a good impression on the interviewer or hiring team, and ultimately stand out from the pack. The response I give them, however, is often not the one they are expecting to hear.

What many candidates don’t realise is that hiring decisions are often made within the first few minutes of an interview. In fact, in a recent survey of 2000 supervisors, a third of them claimed that they know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they will hire someone. Not only that, but research suggests that interviewers are frequently swayed by “superficial” qualities, such as physical appearance, a sense of humour, and the candidate’s posture.

But, I’m not going to use this article to tell you what you should or should not wear to an interview, what your body posture should be, or how to answer those dreaded open-ended questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I want to dig a bit deeper than that, because what really gets candidates hired versus overlooked is an underlying sense of confidence and determination, clarity about themselves and the position they are interviewing for, and the feeling that they know what they want in work and in life. At the end of the day, hiring decisions are often based on these hard-to-measure, unspoken factors that tend to shine forth the minute a candidate walks in the room- sometimes even before he or she starts talking.

Architect and Design candidates looking into competitive positions would do well to pay attention. The architecture and interior design industry may be pretty hot right now and the demand for qualified architects and designers is going strong. But more jobs doesn’t mean that landing a good job is a given.

That said, here are five of the most critical mistakes candidates need to avoid in an architecture or interior design job interview and what they should be focused on instead:

1. They are not prepared for the interview. One of the most important things candidates need to do before they even step foot in a firm, is to conduct research. The more you know about the studio, the position you are applying for, as well as the interviewer or members of the hiring team, the more you can craft your delivery to align your skills, talents, personality, and experience to the needs of the firm.

An additional benefit to doing such research before the interview is that it allows you to learn enough about the firm to know whether or not it offers an environment that will motivate you to do your job. Sometimes the biggest interview mistake candidates make is interviewing for the wrong firms.

2. They don’t have a clear vision of where they want to go. Where do you see yourself professionally in five years? The answer to this question will typically include why you want to leave your current position as well as how the position you are interviewing for may help you achieve those goals. The most important thing to remember over here is to be realistic and honest with yourself and to consider how your ambitions match up with the needs of the interviewer and the firm as a whole.

3. They are lacking basic communication skills. Another important rule to remember is that while your answers to questions are important, there is often much more weight put on how you respond. Are you making eye contact? Are you talking clearly, logically, and with enthusiasm? Are you not just answering questions, but asking them as well? The attitude and energy that you give off can solve far more perceived problems than an impressive list of credentials and project accomplishments. One way to polish your presentation is to take the time to rehearse your answers to some of the typical questions before the interview.

Some of these typical questions include:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why did you leave your last position?
  • What are your expectations and goals for this position?
  • What value can you bring to this studio/business/project?
  • What are your biggest achievements

4. They are not in touch with their strengths and weaknesses. Many candidates make the mistake of only mentioning the strengths and weaknesses they have on the job. But, if you want to really stand out from the pack of other candidates then you have to give interviewers a fuller picture of who you are and what makes you so special in the first place. What are the qualities that help you get by in life? What are the best parts of your personality? What unique skills, talents, and life experiences can you draw on? Even when you mention a weakness, you should do so in an objective way, and don’t forget to add in how you cope or plan to work on this weakness in the future.

5. They lack a balance of humility and confidence. In short, don’t forget to be human. Many candidates either over-do it on the side of self-importance and the belief that they can climb any mountain; others are too cautious and critical of themselves. No one wants to hire a know-it-all, and no one wants to hire a self-doubter, either.

Bottom line: if you want to have the best chance of landing a great position, then before you even start the interview process, you need to be in touch with yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and where you want to take your career. And, don’t forget to do your homework!

Read More

When they’re done well, employee feedback programs can give your firm a real competitive edge. They can help employees improve in key areas, encourage innovation and collaboration, and can increase employee engagement and productivity. But when they’re done poorly, the mis-guided performance appraisals and stagnant employee suggestion programs can suck the life out of a good firm. Employee morale suffers, conflicts and tension reign, and collaboration is dishonourably pushed aside in favour of competition and politics.

I’m sure that most senior leadership wouldn’t consciously choose to lead a firm that no one enjoys working at. But when employee feedback programs don’t work the way they are supposed to, it usually means that there are other, more fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Choosing to ignore those issues can get pretty costly.

Happy, Productive Employees = Competitive Advantage

Gallup poll research indicates that only 13% of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than double that number are so disengaged that they are likely to spread their negativity onto others. In other words, only about one in eight workers are mentally and emotionally committed to their jobs and are likely to be making positive contributions to their companies. In major economies, such as the US, this costs companies between $450 and $550 billion each year, and puts them at a big market disadvantage. On the other hand, according to The State of the American Workplace study, companies with 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) on average compared to their competitors.

From feedback we receive from candidates all over Australia, I believe these figures to be similar for Australia and in particular Architecture and Interior Design firms.

Given these numbers, senior leaders should be making every effort to ensure that the majority of employees feel satisfied with their accomplishments, motivated to do their jobs, and are able to get along with their peers and leaders. Sitting front and centre of these efforts are employee feedback programs.

Where Employee Feedback Programs Go Wrong

But most firms do have some kind of program in place for employee feedback or appraisals. So, the question is, why aren’t these programs working?

While there may be several factors at play, from my experience, they all tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. Team leaders and senior leadership don’t believe in the program’s importance. In other words, there has to be a shared core belief in the value that employees bring to a firm and in the feedback program’s effectiveness in nurturing and maximizing that value. Where that effectiveness is not there, the firm’s leadership is committed to testing things out and making necessary changes and improvements. Without this level of buy-in among team leaders and senior leaders, these programs will fall flat.
  2. The wrong feedback is being collected. Leadership needs to be measuring the factors that are real gauges of productive, motivated individuals and project teams. Sometimes feedback programs are weighed down by too much unnecessary information. (Anything longer than 2 pages is already suspect.) Firms have to cut out the bloat and focus instead on a few specific, measureable actions and qualities. They need to make sure that the assessment tools being used are giving back objective and actionable information and where necessary, are protecting employee confidentiality.
  3. There is no system in place to act on the feedback. This third factor brings everything together. Employee feedback data (or any other data for that matter) is only helpful and useful to the extent that it gets acted upon. When feedback is obtained and then quickly forgotten, it creates a situation that in many respects worse than it would have been had no feedback been given in the first place. It makes people numb and blind to the things that create real solutions for critical problems and prevents the studio or firm as a whole from taking advantage of the amazing opportunities for growth that exist both inside and outside of a firm.

Effective employee appraisal and feedback programs are organic value creators. When they fail to bring such value to the firm, then it’s a sure-fire sign that priorities need to be re-aligned.

Read More

I often work with talented, experienced Architects who come to me feeling like they have hit a wall in their career. They have been with the same firm for ten years or so. They put in the hard work, have met or even surpassed performance expectations year after year. Yet, opportunities for advancement rarely came their way. Instead, these hopeful up-and-comers find themselves passed over for promotions that often get extended to their younger, less experienced peers.

Why would some young, relatively new hires get quickly promoted in a firm while, other hardworking, more senior talent is overlooked?

The Changing Rules of Advancement 

Over the past 15 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the way business leadership is defined, identified, and cultivated. Gone are the days when pay raises and increasing responsibility just came with time and hard work. Now, if you want to get ahead professionally, then you have to actively work to create and manage your own career path, and it’s a journey that could take you through multiple departments, organisational layers, and firms. You don’t need to just work hard. You have to work smart and take the initiative to groom yourself for advancement.

Remember that for every motivated go-getter in a firm, there are plenty of other people who are more or less satisfied with their salary and level of responsibility. Then, there are the under-performers.

Every firm wants sharp, hard-working, experienced leaders at the top, and they are tasked with identifying who has the real potential and motivation to get there versus those who are relatively comfortable with where they are. If you want to be identified as potential senior leadership material, then you have to make the moves that will show up on the “leadership radar” of the key decision-makers.

This process starts by recognising that the knowledge, skills, accomplishments, and even behaviours which got you to where you are today are important. But, they may not by themselves take your career to the next level.

The Three Pillars of Promotion at Work

Learn to change your mindset and put yourself on the radar by following three universal pillars of promotion:

Pillar #1: Be your own spokesman. Your hard work won’t speak for itself; you have to let people know what you do well. Expecting recognition to just happen is a big mistake that many good, talented people make. If you want to get ahead, you absolutely have to tell people what you have accomplished and what you can do and then prove to them that you are good at it. If you don’t, you risk being perpetually overlooked.

Of course, context is everything, and there is a difference between bragging and smart self-promotion. So, be on the lookout for openings where it would be appropriate to mention what you accomplished. Even better, create such an opening yourself by getting the other person to bring up the topic.

An important aside to this strategy is that you want key people to know that you are good at the things that matter. So, if you would like to be promoted to a particular position, then you have to find out what knowledge, skills, and other qualities are needed in order to fulfil that role and then make it a point to highlight them.

Pillar #2: Be helpful. What are the struggles and challenges that key decision-makers are facing? Figure it out and then make an effort to ease their pain by creating something new, or innovating on something that already exists in order to make it more powerful or easier to use. For example, identify a new sector, production process, or product designed to improve the business. Alternatively, you could help to make an existing service or practice better- whether it’s how you structure your fees, coordinate project teams, track employee performance, or invoice clients. Innovation can happen at every stage and level.

Pillar #3: Be visible. Make an effort to have contact with your peers and leaders- not just in your team, but in other ones as well. If there are no formal mentoring programs in your firm, then try to set something up informally. You should also make the most of company social time and elective initiatives, such as a company-wide charity program. Having a strong, internal reputation creates more opportunities to be assigned to that big project, be considered for an upcoming promotion, or get invited to join the firm’s senior leadership track.

As the new year gets under way, it’s the perfect time to take the reigns of your career development and advancement. If you want to advance professionally, then you have the power to scope out your options and create for yourself the best, most fulfilling opportunities.

Read More

Having a strong pipeline of high-potential talent is, without a doubt, one of the most vital factors to the long-term success of any Architecture or Interior design firm. As the job market in architecture and design sectors has been heating up, we are seeing a growing war for such talent.

But the battle seems to curiously end the minute these people walk in the door. There are a lot of firms out there putting a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into recruiting high-potential employees, yet ironically, they then do very little talent management and talent development to retain these people.

I’ve mentioned here before the importance of succession planning and of developing a clear pathway to career advancement for the consistent performers. While these initiatives and their supporting programs will vary from firm to firm, the firms that do it successfully all have one thing in common: they have some kind of mentorship program in place.

The truth is that any serious firm should have a well-structured mentoring program, and there are many compelling stats to support this. For example, a few years ago tech firm Sun Microsystems created an extensive company-wide mentoring program and then tracked the career progress of approximately 1,000 employees over a 5-year period. Here’s what they found:

  • Both mentors as well as those who received mentoring were approximately 20% more likely to get a salary increase than people who did not participate in the mentoring program.
  • Over the course of the study, 25 percent of mentees experienced positive changes in salary grade compared to 5 percent for non-participants.
  • Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors.
  • The employee retention rate at Sun Microsystems was also boosted by 23 percent.

Bottom line: Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to attract, train and retain high potential talent and promote their leadership development within the firm. It is also an effective tool for shaping a firm’s culture and strengthening both employee morale and engagement.

That said, not all mentoring programs are created equal. In order to really maximise the benefits, four key factors need to be in place in some form.

1. Defined goals. Senior leadership needs to be very clear about what they want to accomplish. This means the more laser-focused and measurable those goals are the better. Some factors to consider include: appraisal scores; number of developmental milestones achieved; level of employee satisfaction, and retention rates.

2. Defined participants. Who specifically will be involved in the mentoring program and how will those people be identified? The most successful mentoring programs have established mentor and mentee profiles and assessment tools. They use these to identify both the senior leaders who have the ability and openness to mentor someone and those eager, high potential employees who will most benefit from interaction with influential colleagues.

3. Defined learning path. The learning path for each specific group of high-potential employees needs to be clearly mapped out with a set of key milestones along the way. Both high-potentials and their mentors need to be aware of the performance expected at each milestone as well as how that knowledge, skill and performance will be assessed.

4. Defined commitment. Sometimes firms find it hard to generate enough support and enthusiasm for their mentorship program. In the end, the initiative fails to maintain momentum, leaving senior leadership unsure if it has paid off in any way and fuelling cynicism among employees – especially those solid contributors who are not designated as high potentials.

Often, the problem is really one of communication. In order to generate the needed buy-in among employees at all levels of the firm, senior leadership has to make sure that the program’s intended goals and values are not only clearly identified, but explained. Everyone in the firm should know that mentoring is going on. There will be much more support and enthusiasm if employees feel that the mentoring initiative is not only good for the program’s participants, but also for the firm as a whole.

That last point is the key.

When the goals of a mentoring program involve the success and longevity of the firm as well as its employees, then it may automatically unlock a whole bunch of other benefits effecting every level of the company. Not only will high-potential talent be more likely to stay on board to become the firm’s future leaders, they’ll be in the best position to pull the whole firm up with them.

Read More

Have an important job interview coming up? Before you begin rehearsing your answers to those potential interview questions or polishing up your portfolio, first take a step back.

While it may be exciting to be presented with a job opportunity that seems like it will be a good match for your talents and career aspirations, it always pays to dig deeper into the position and into the firm that’s offering it.

What you really want to know is:

  • How is this company performing? Is it profitable? Is it growing?
  • What is it’s reputation? How happy are their employees?
  • Who are they targeting with their services?
  • Does it hire talented people and then nurture them, or are they left to fend for themselves?
  • Who are the principals and how are they choosing to lead the firm?

Don’t assume that a firm is well-run or pleasant to work in just because it has enjoyed some high profile projects. You may be unpleasantly surprised. Researching your prospective employer before you even step in the door for an interview will help you to avoid a bad career choice that you’ll regret later on.

On the other hand, doing your research is one of the best ways to become a stand-out candidate during the hiring process. Your legwork will help you to make better decisions. You’ll have the confidence to make smarter answers and ask smarter questions, and you’ll know the best way to highlight your strengths and talents.

To drive the point home, according to one study of 2,000 leaders, having little to no knowledge of a prospective employer is actually one of the most common mis-steps made by candidates on an interview.

5 Tactics to Research a Potential Employer Before the Interview

But not all research is created equal. As a candidate, you want to put your efforts into the right places- the places that will give you most useful information and payback. Below are five of the best sources of that information:

  1. Review marketing materials and communications. The first thing that candidates should consider is how the firm is representing themselves. Pour over their website. Take a good look at recent projects, awards, press releases, mission statements, and information about their services and culture. What language and imagery are they using? Who is this firm targeting? Does the firm have social media accounts? Take a few moments to visit them and see what they are posting.

Not only will this give you vital information about the firm and its core values, but it will help you to craft your approach during the interview. You’ll have a better idea which concepts, impressions, and suggestions will make the most impact.

  1. Take a look at the firm’s senior leadership. The senior leaders in a firm will directly influence the culture and “atmosphere” at work. So, you definitely want to go into an interview with at least a basic understanding of who is running the firm and how.

Aside from the bios found on the firm’s website, search LinkedIn for the firm’s leaders. Take a look at their profiles. There you’ll find bios, employment and educational histories, as well as a list of skills, talents, and any associations they belong to. All of this will provide you with valuable information and “fodder” for the hiring process that you can use to guide your responses

  1. Find out who your interviewer(s) will be. Make sure you have the names of the leaders who will be involved with the interview process. Here too, you want to take a look at their profiles- both on the website if available and on other platforms. As you do this, see if you can find some common ground, such as a shared hobby, association, or experience. Even if you aren’t able to find something in common, getting a sneak preview of your interviewers and how they express themselves can help you to tailor your message.
  2. Read up on the projects they have completed. Most architecture firms display a portfolio of their most recent and high profile projects. Don’t just look at what is on their website. Find out if there is any press on the project. Pay attention in particular to what is being said “on the street” about the project and the firm behind it.
  3. Understand the objective of the role. Finally, make sure that you understand the position you are interviewing for or the potential opening. Find out what skills, talents, and experiences they are after. I’m amazed how often candidates actually miss this step, and it becomes painfully obvious during the interview.

While this pre-interview work will help you to get a leg up in the hiring process, it doesn’t stop there. What you ask your potential employer during the interview is just as important as what you answer.

I’ll address this in the next article…

Read More

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of researching a prospective employer before beginning the interview process. Not only will this help you to build up your confidence, it is also a strategic move that you can use to refine your pitch for the position.

But while pre-interview research is an important step, it’s not the whole picture. What often happens is that job seekers are so focused on answering interview questions that they forget they are there to ask questions too. What these candidates don’t realise is that the questions they come prepared with can actually help them to stand out among the pool of other applicants.

That said, there are of course “right” questions and “wrong” questions. We’ll focus here on the right ones.

Asking the right questions at an interview is important for three reasons:

  1. It shows you have an interest in the position and the firm.
  2. It confirms your qualifications as a candidate for the position.
  3. When you ask the questions, the table gets turned, literally. You become the interviewer trying to find out if this firm is a place where you want to work.

While there are many good questions that you can ask on an interview, here are ten to get you started.

  1. What kind projects would I typically be working on? Here you are trying to get a sense of the nature of the projects you will be focused on. What is their size and scope, and what are the expected outcomes?
  2. Who would I be working with? There are several facets to this question. First, you will find out which people you will be interacting with and how often. You will also get a taste of the firm’s hierarchy and organisation. Finally, if you listen carefully, you may be able to pick up important information about the work environment, such as how competitive versus collaborative the employees are.
  3. Would my work be focused only on one area or on several areas together? Here you are trying to get an idea of how broad your responsibilities will be and which skill sets will be relied upon and developed. Typically, smaller firms offer more opportunities for employees to juggle several, often disparate responsibilities. Depending on what you are looking for, this can be either exciting or stressful.
  4. Why is this position available? What you want to know is if this is a new position. If it’s not, then why did the previous person leave? If the previous employee was fired for not performing sufficiently or quit, then it could be a red flag to keep in mind.
  5. Is there anything you can tell me about the position that isn’t in the description?(Ok, I know most firms in Architecture and Interior Design don’t have position descriptions to read, however, by now you should know what the role entails). Here you are indirectly getting a sense of the work environment and the expectations that come along with the position.
  6. What defines success at this position? This question directly deals with the on-the-job expectations. It also indirectly hints to your desire to be successful at the firm.
  7. What are the opportunities for growth and development? Does this firm offer continuing education programs, professional training, or mentoring? What are the promotional and leadership paths at the firm, and how are employees chosen to participate? Is equity participation down the track something that the firm offers for star performers?
  8. What do you like most about working here? Pay close attention to how the interviewer answers this question! It’s not just what’s being said over here, but how. Is there any hesitation? How comfortably does the interviewer respond? Either you’ll get a confirmation that the firm is a great place to work, or you’ll walk away with some red flags to consider.
  9. What is in the works for the firm going forward? The answer to the question will give you a good idea of where the employer is headed. Is the firm growing, entering new markets, or taking on any new big projects? Is there a drive to make the firm better?
  10. Where do we go from here?This is a good closing question. You are basically asking what the next step in the hiring process will be, and it also shows that you are still interested in the position.

Bottom line: the best interviews are conversations. It doesn’t matter how formal the setup is. The candidate can almost always turn it around. In the end, both the candidate and the hiring team should walk away with more clarity about whether or not there is a good fit. At the end of the day, that is the goal.


Read More

Running a successful architecture practice has become more challenging over the last few years. Prior to the global recession in 2008, the biggest headache facing firms was finding qualified and experienced staff to complete projects and keep the practice running smoothly.

Flash forward ten years… Today, though hiring is still a challenge, we can add to that list the fact that securing projects has become more competitive, and the design and build process is only growing in complexity. This is aside from the fact that engineering and construction firms have been encroaching on architectural turf by offering architecture and design services of their own.

Firms are getting squeezed from all angles.

While some mostly smaller studios have been adjusting to the new climate by altering their business models (and there is a growing pressure across the industry to follow suit) the transformation overall has been slow in coming.

Predictably, much of that resistance to change is happening among the bigger, more established names in architecture. Perhaps the principals at these firms believe they can afford to hold on to a few bad habits or that the cost of change is just too high.

But just like most bad habits, it will catch up with you at some point. Without making the effort to fundamentally update the way they operate and manage resources, they run the risk of being left behind. Already many of these firms are significantly limiting their ability to attract good clients, hire and retain top talent, and maximise profits.

That said, here are three of the biggest mistakes firms are still making today that when corrected can lead to a significant increase in profit margins, improve staff retention and performance, and aid in client acquisition.

1. Poor resource management. Concepts such as resource management often don’t get the attention they deserve, yet it’s impact is felt throughout the firm. Here are a few examples of firms not investing enough in the organisation and development of the resources at their disposal:

·      Out-dated systems. I’m amazed at how many firms are still using technology developed more than 20 years ago. These out-dated systems are not taking advantage of the newer technology and ultimately leave the firm at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to project design and management as well as financial responsibility.

·      Insufficient or inappropriate staffing. This happens when a team is not suitable for the project requirements, when members of the team don’t have the right skills or experience and are poorly coordinated. Often this results in a big gap between what the client is paying for and what the team is actually delivering.

·      Inadequate training. Most project managers never receive the training they need in order to do their jobs effectively. Project managers are expected to handle a wide array of details including time and resource management, budgeting, and billing, and they must be experts in the systems used to support all of these processes. Yet, rarely do they get trained in many of these areas.

2. Hiring the wrong people. Many architecture professionals are ill-suited to their assigned duties. There are a few reasons for this.

Some architecture firms right now are stuck between two opposing forces when it comes to securing work: the drive to keep fees low and project schedules tight on one hand coupled with an increasing laundry list of “standard” services on the other. To help bridge the gap, the number of typical responsibilities that need to be shouldered on the job have multiplied, and many architecture professionals have started to complain that they are really doing the job of two or three people even at big, resource-rich firms.

Technology is also taking over some traditionally manual responsibilities- especially in the area of design.

In between all of this, most firms do not have real systems in place to develop, train and groom their top talent.

The professionals who “succeed” in this work environment are those with a breadth of experience (though not necessarily depth) who can multitask and can quickly do many things relatively well. Such desired qualities are affecting recruiting efforts. Instead of looking for long-term potential top talent, there is more focus being placed on a short-term quick fix: those who have the ability to churn out work. This may help firms to get through projects quicker and for less, but there tends to be a huge cost in work quality, the customer experience, and employee retention.

3. Giving in to unreasonable client demands. The urge not to say no to any work that comes through the door is an ailment that affects many practices big and small. Unreasonable client demands, such as wanting something in an unrealistic time frame or given an insufficient budget can put a costly strain on practices with not enough of a payback.

Exceptional requests should be built into the project budget. Period. If clients want something that goes beyond the norm, then they should be paying for it. Not doing so leads to overworked staff, smaller profit margins, lower employee morale, and less focus. Though the attitude may be that no client should ever be turned away, that the firm can handle the added expense and absorb the extra costs, it shouldn’t have to, and the truth is in most cases, it really can’t.

Above all, in business (and architecture is a business after all) there are no short cuts. When the market shifts and evolves, the firms that will be the most successful are the ones that know how and where evolve along with it.

Read More

In an earlier article, I discussed some of the benefits to young architecture candidates of working for a small studio. As an executive recruiter, I’ve found over the years that architecture candidates coming from smaller firms tend to be more passionate about the field, more well-rounded and adaptable, and more in touch with their career goals.

But, this does not mean that big architecture firms are without opportunities. To the contrary, the range of possibilities for personal development and career advancement can be staggering.

A lot, however, really depends on how you use your time. Unlike the flexible, all-hands-on-board structure of a small practice, when you enter a large firm, what you are really doing is becoming part of a large, often immutable machine with established practices and deeply ingrained culture. Within such an environment, you will have to work harder and put up with more daily annoyances in order to take advantage of all that the large firm has to offer. You also absolutely have to be more disciplined, be out-going enough to make the personal connections that count, and have clear career objectives from the start. Without these things in place, you could easily get lost in the shuffle, or worse, become despondent and turned off to the whole design process.

Why and When to Consider Working in a Large Architecture Firm

While the description “large architecture firm” can mean different things to different people, I’m going to focus here on the well-known names in the industry- the famous, international studios that attract the best and brightest architecture talent. These firms have a global footprint, massive resources, and a reputation that precedes them. They offer young architects three very important benefits that smaller firms can’t offer:

  1. The scope of projects. Bigger firms work on an international scale and often take on big, high profile projects that include iconic urban buildings, busy transportation hubs, and huge office complexes. Working on an international project, gives you the opportunity to learn about new cultures and environments, and maybe even get in some traveling. You can be a part of the process from the inside, watching the various aspects of the project develop, evolve, and come together over time- not just read about it after the fact in some design magazine. Best of all, you may find the experience of contributing to something that will affect thousands or even millions of people exhilarating.
  2. The networking potential. In the world of architecture and design, success is not just about who you are and what you know, it’s about who you know. The larger and more established the firm, the more opportunities you have to meet other professionals and connect to the best talent in the industry. The networking potential is further facilitated by the open plan and “collaborative” structure that many firms are embracing these days. What this means is that you will have greater access to senior leaders than ever before.

A final point to keep in mind: depending on your position, you may also get exposure to clients, developers, and vital architecture support professionals, such as IT experts and project managers. All of this can be useful later on if you chose to start your own practice.

  1. The available resources. By this I mean both physical and human resources. As I mentioned earlier, larger firms can afford to hire the best talent and implement the most effective tools. They also tend to support comprehensive training, leadership development, and educational programs.

Aside from the fact that larger firms are a repository of highly talented and experienced architecture and design professionals, they also support a wide array of specialised departments and cutting edge technologies. While all of this is meant to assist architects throughout their project, what it means for you as an architecture professional is that it’s possible to change positions and explore a new role without leaving the firm. When you are just starting out, having the option to experiment a bit can help you to refine your career goals.

In short, large firms offer a wealth of opportunity, but only to those willing and determined to go out there, work hard, and use the system to forge their own path.

Read More

A number of diverse, evolving factors are set to shape the way architecture projects are designed and built over the next year that will have architecture firms of all sizes scrambling to keep up. Not only will technological advancements continue to revolutionise the architecture industry, both on the inside and out, but there has been an on-going and pervasive shift in client preferences and requirements. Architecture firms throughout the world are now facing a new standard in the project research, design, and build process that will significantly impact their business model.

Here is my pick of five of the biggest and most influential architecture trends to watch out for in 2017:

  1. Functionality comes first. Form will follow function as more clients embrace “quieter,” more conservative designs that offer practical solutions to their everyday problems. On the surface it may seem like this new urge for simplification is merely a sober step down from the dizzying heights of artistic expression. Don’t be fooled. The simplicity belies a tremendous amount of complexity. It’s why I believe this will be one of the greatest architecture trends to shape 2017. There are several factors that will significantly affect architectural functionality and design:
  •     The first is the Internet of Things, which is a growing inter-connectivity between devices, buildings, and the internet. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that architects need to be technologically savvy. Here is yet another area to consider.
  •     But as clients demand connectivity, they also want spaces that allow them to detach from it- spaces that give them a sense of comfort, stability, and ease. If this sounds like a contradiction to the preceding factor, it isn’t. The technology will no doubt be there; it just will be expertly hidden.
  •     Another important factor is the concept of transformable spaces that can be quickly and efficiently altered to suit the changing needs of the users. This isn’t just about convertible furniture. Transformable elements are increasingly being worked into architectural structures in both the public and private sectors.
  •     Finally, there has been an increasing demand for the use of sustainable materials, energy and water saving designs, and the incorporation of alternative energy harvesting methods.
  1. Collaboration like we have never seen before. As the architecture design and building processes respond to new technologies, end-user needs, economic concerns, and environmental issues, we are going to see architecture firms expand their teams to include a wide range of experts from a variety of fields. Expect to see more scientists, engineers, environmental experts, and technology professionals playing active roles in building projects over the next year.
  2. The rise of private clients with high-profile, public projects. Private and public sectors will continue to merge, as an increasing number of big corporations demand buildings and amenities that serve the greater public- whether partially or completely.

For example, several major corporations, like Facebook, Google, and Apple, support headquarters that are their own mini cities. Aside from private grounds that hold a complicated network of workspaces, restaurants, recreation areas, and mini transportation hubs, these complexes often integrate with a variety of public amenities, such as parks, paths, and public buildings. Another famous example is Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in Paris.

  1. The increasing use of technology in project design and construction.

As I mentioned above, in our modern, hyper-connected world, architectural design will continue to incorporate an increasing number of complex factors. In order to plan for these factors in a sustainable and profitable way, architecture firms will be increasing their reliance on Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other tools, such as big data and virtual reality. When they are used in the right way, these tools will help architects reduce costs and production time and can improve project design by increasing building functionality and efficiency.

  1. Consolidation among studios. In a report released by research consulting firm Zweig Group about two years ago, more than two thirds of architecture and interiors firms stated that their strategic plans for the next five years included either a merger or an acquisition. I expect this trend to continue strong throughout 2017 as firms seek out new ways to attract clients. One strategy that’s gaining in popularity is to offer a broad range of services that tend to compliment architectural design, such as interior design, engineering, construction, and landscaping. M&A’s also allow architecture firms to enter new and emerging markets in order to capitalise on growth opportunities.

In short, the pace of change in the architecture industry is quickening. The architecture firms that will succeed in this environment are the ones that clearly recognise and decidedly respond to these rapidly evolving currents.

Read More