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When most young architects are considering whether or not to take a new position (or leave their present one), they typically look at the job’s benefits- things like salary, location, culture, and how interesting or fulfilling the work is. Often absent from this list of qualities is one key benefit that can significantly make or break the work experience. The firms that “get it” are the ones that are attracting and retaining the best talent.

The Architectural Glass Ceiling

Young architects and designers in their twenties who are just starting out in their careers may not really be thinking about where their present jobs will take them ten years from now. Most people this age are intent to just get a job and look for something better later on.

But this attitude typically changes with employees who are a little further along in both their careers and lives. That’s when some fundamental priorities start to shift.

Every single week I am contacted by numerous Senior Associates and Associate Directors who are not happy with the lack of direction and options their current employers are giving them. These are extremely talented, experienced people. They are typically in their mid to late 30’s or early 40’s, have been with the same firm for several years, have put in a lot of good hard work and a lot of hours, and have risen through the ranks.

Then, bam! They hit a glass ceiling.

It’s a barrier that affects both men and women (though women do have it harder). But it comes at a pivotal time when people are building families and preparing for the future. The Associates who contact me are taking a good, hard look up the organisational ladder. Though the wording may vary a bit from person to person, they inevitably all ask the same question: what’s in it for me in the next 5 years?

Thinking About Tomorrow’s Needs Today

These firms are not giving their best employees hope for the future, and they are not grooming them correctly to move through the upper corporate ranks. The result is that some ambitious young star performers are feeling disgruntled, frustrated, and ultimately not engaged. The firms that are not recognising and acknowledging high performing, high potential talent will continue to lose these people to their competitors.

That’s how it should be.

If a firm’s senior leadership won’t make the effort and investment needed to cultivate their key talent, to prepare for both the future of their employees and of the firm as a whole, then that sends out a very strong message: There is a crack in the foundation, and the employees will be better off taking their talents elsewhere.

That being said, it is a two way street, and the next generation of leaders need to understand that in order to progress to Director level and equity- you have to develop the essential entrepreneurial skills in marketing, business development and commercial acumen, which are imperative to help lead the continued success of the firm.

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In the Architectural industry ‘Value Creators’ come in many forms. They’re not just the business developers generating revenue through winning multi-million dollar projects, they can be on the delivery side driving profit margins, or creating profile through innovative design leadership.

Yet there continues to be an apparent disconnect between key employee performance and what architecture and design firms are willing to offer as compensation and incentives. In order to attract and retain the best talent, architecture firms need to get creative on how they are paying out appropriate bonuses and incentives to the employees and leaders who are going well above and beyond the call of duty.

Across the professional services industries, Architecture is regarded as being low-paying considering the education and skill level required. Therefore, it is critically important to reward your key employees. It’s often one of the main reasons top talent leave; they need to see recognition through the reward structure.

Equity Isn’t Orange

Before I get to some of the qualities that make up a good performance-based incentive plan, there is one important issue I want to address first. In order to attract quality candidates, too many firms are dangling the promise of equity like a carrot. But many of these firms are not really prepared to give this equity up, nor do they have the systems in place to pair these equity offerings with a clear pathway to leadership.

You need to have solid systems in place for singling out the right employees, developing them, and allowing them enough time to comfortably build their partnership interest in the firm. If these systems are not in place, then your employees may just end up feeling pressured and resentful. In other words, your equity offerings can end up doing more harm than good. 

Elements of a Good Performance-Based Incentive Plan

Though some of your top performers may be self-driven, a properly structured performance-based compensation plan can motivate them to continue to give it their best over the long run. Some companies choose to simply allocate bonuses and other incentive payments during profitable years, and on an arbitrary basis. Some don’t give individual bonuses but hive off a portion of profits to be split (more or less) equally amongst the team. Some don’t offer bonuses at all.

Assuming a company is profitable, here are some guidelines that over the years I’ve seen both employees and employers respond well to.

  1. The expectations, incentives, and rewards are clearly spelled out. Employees should understand what’s expected of them to qualify for the incentive compensation. You should clearly spell out minimum performance standards as well as the ‘over-and-above’ standards that will lead to incentives.
  2. The performance of both the company and individual employees are considered:This means simultaneously focusing not only on company-wide performance goals, but also individual performance goals.
  3. There are ‘subjective’ as well as ‘objective’ measurements: Individual performance goals and measurements of performance also include subjective measures, such as client satisfaction, peer reviews, and evaluations from direct supervisors/leaders.
  4. Put it in writing: too often prospective candidates complain that the road to incentives is woolly. Bonuses can’t be based on a wink and a nod.
  5. It’s not all about the money: sometimes incentives come in the form of education sabbaticals or time to pursue extracurricular industry participation such as delivering university lectures or tutorials.

In short, if you really want to cultivate and keep the top talent in your firm, then you need to properly invest in them. These days, you can’t afford not to.

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A while back, personal wealth expert Ramit Sethi was promoting something called the ‘briefcase technique’ that he claimed helped him and many other people land their dream jobs, get a pay rise, and walk away from virtually any form of business negotiation a winner.

That sounds like a gimmick, but it isn’t.

The most important factor behind it’s success is that it ultimately forces you to change the way you approach any interview or negotiation. Instead of passively answering questions or making requests, when you pull your proposal out of your briefcase, you are actually defining and positioning your value, and that helps to bring the decision maker over to your side. But to do this properly, you have to go in with a keen understanding of the business as well as the hopes, challenges, and dreams of that person sitting at the other end of the table. You also need to figure out the best way to sell the person on your abilities and passion. As Sethi puts it, “80% of the work happens before you walk in the room.”

He’s right- with or without the briefcase.

If you want to be successful in business and in life you should never see yourself as an interviewee in an interview, a negotiator in a negotiation, nor a presenter giving a presentation. In every single one of these situations what you really are is a salesperson.

Selling Is Not Sleazy or Superfluous

I frequently interview talented, experienced candidates who have a hard time promoting themselves. Some of these people are uncomfortable with the whole sales concept. It makes them feel pushy, arrogant or fake. Others just don’t see the need for it. Shouldn’t their qualifications speak for themselves? On paper, these candidates may have better skills and better sector experience. Yet, time and time again they lose out to the candidate who can better articulate his or her value in the interview.

The reality is that landing a job requires a different skill set than doing the job. Most candidates are solely focused on building the skills and credibility to do the job. They come to the interview thinking they are prepared because they have all the “right” qualifications, experience, and certifications in place. Getting the job, however, means knowing how to effectively interview, network, and negotiate. In other words, you need to know how to influence those around you to get the outcome you want, and this applies to anything in life.

It reminds me of a quote I a recently read;

Selling impacts every person on the planet. Your ability or inability to sell, persuade, negotiate, and convince others will affect every area of your life and will determine how well you survive… Your ability to do well in life depends on your ability to sell others on the things in which you believe! … It doesn’t matter whether or not you call yourself a salesperson because you’re either selling something or someone is selling you. Either way, one of the parties is going to influence the outcome, and it will either be you getting your way or the other person getting his/her way… Regardless of your preconceived opinions, ideas, or evaluations regarding sales and salespeople, you need to fully adopt the idea that you are going to have to sell no matter what your position or job is in life.

The individuals who know how to sell, persuade and influence are the ones who can get the promotion they deserve or the pay rise they have been looking for. They are the ones who can sell design solutions to clients, win competitions, lead design teams, and achieve strategic partnerships. And, they are the ones more likely to be hired over their more qualified peers.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic – I have always said ‘selling is not a dirty word’ – please post your comments for discussion.

(Quote – Grant Cardone, Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and in Life)

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Joe sat across the table from me with determined look on his face. He was a compelling candidate all around: experienced, confident, and talented. He had already spent years climbing the corporate ladder and had proven himself in positions of leadership. He knew how to solve the critical problems and arrive at the solutions that could win clients and build partnerships. But the architectural firms that presented the best fit wouldn’t even consider him. The problem: he’s 50.

Over the years I’ve worked with many Joe’s (and Jane’s)- extremely talented and experienced people in their 50’s who are actively looking for mid and senior level positions. While many of them may be exceptional individuals, they are by no means exceptions to the rule. But when they try to convince hiring teams of their value, they just hit a brick wall. Though they may have proven themselves while working for other firms, now they can’t even get their foot in the door.

I find this attitude surprising given that the most celebrated names in architecture are in their 60’s and 70’s. Think: Philip Cox, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, et al. Architecture and design is also a sector that requires a maturity of creative thinking and the ability to see the potential pitfalls and bottlenecks before they happen. These qualities come with age and experience.

There is No Substitute for Experience

But, the reality is that many firms these days are reluctant to hire older workers in favour of those in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s. I suspect that there are a few motivations behind this attitude. Here is perhaps the top three:

1. Some employers believe that older workers will not be so nimble or easy to train.This is especially true if the position involves working with cutting edge or constantly updating technology. While this may be a valid concern, the candidate’s ability to adapt to new technologies and experiences will likely be evident in his or her previous work. But candidates need to provide suitable evidence of this adaptability (more on this in my next article). On the other side of the table, the hiring team should spend a sufficient amount of time investigating the candidate’s background and references.

2. They think older workers are more expensive. This added cost takes on several forms: 1) many older workers want higher salaries commensurate with their level of experience and expertise; 2) older workers may not be as productive and may take more sick leave; 3) the company may not get so many years out of the older employee before he or she retires.

What these factors really boil down to is the long-term goals and values of the company. Younger workers tend to make more mistakes; they may be less committed to the company and its values, and more likely to leave for an apparently better opportunity elsewhere. The firms that are committed to excellence and long-term winning strategies will always prefer experience, maturity, and tenacity over a cheap salary, since they want the best for their clients.

3. They want to promote people from within. I’ve mentioned in an earlier article that the longevity of a company depends having the systems in place to recognise and reward top performers, encourage professional and personal development, and allow for employee advancement across divisions and leadership levels. While it makes sense to groom people from within, it’s a long-term strategy that can take several years, and there is always the risk that the person will leave the company along the way.

Hiring older people with 20+ years of experience, who can immediately start in a senior level position has several advantages. These people are less likely to run off and get married. They don’t need maternity leave or have to take off time to care for their small children. They are also more likely to work collaboratively with others instead of stepping on people in order to climb the corporate ladder.

The bottom line is that there is real value in the experience and maturity that older workers tend to bring with them, and it is typically worth much more than the cost.

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Over the past few years some of the biggest names in architecture have brought their firms together in order to secure a growing number of high profile international projects. It has led to some unusual partnerships, such as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry’s combined effort for the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station in London and Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind’s ecclectic community of homes in Milan.

While a select pool of ‘starchitects’ can afford to create such partnerships almost at whim, it sets a poor example for the rest of the architecture industry. On the surface, many of these star-studded joint efforts seem to have little to do with synergy or common goals and values. They are often just big names on the marquee attached to glitzy, overly-funded projects. Like the stuff of tabloids, when these frivolous matches don’t work out, all we can do is knowingly roll our eyes.

But smaller firms simply cannot afford to follow in their footsteps. The wrong venturing partner can destroy individual brand equity, and a poor setup could lead to gross inequality in terms of compensation, input, and liability in the evident of a major error or setback.

Getting a Joint Venture Right Means Building a Good Foundation

On the other hand, small architecture and design firms cannot go it alone. Today, a firm’s ability to secure work is often directly tied to the quality of their partnerships with other firms and contractors. This is the direct result of vast improvements in communications and information sharing technology as well as the falling away of geographic barriers to entry. This past decade had also seen major advancements in construction and design technology. In short, projects are getting bigger, higher, and more elaborate, and they often involve the input of extensive multinational teams.

Joint ventures can help a company get a leg up over their competition and allow them to overcome the very real risks associated with larger, complex projects in an international market. The benefits of extended market reach as well as the combined resources, experience, and talent make joint ventures seem like a no-brainer. For these reasons, there has been a significant rise in joint ventures among architecture and design firms- both for one time projects as well as long-term collaboration across numerous joint assignments.

But, many architects and design professionals approach joint venturing far too casually, and while there has been a lot said about joint ventures, most of the attention has been heaped upon the “marriage contract”- all the logistical, financial, and legal issues that tend to crop up.

These are important points for sure, but just like any relationship without a certain level of chemistry and the sharing of some core mutual values, the chances for success are slim. The reality is that over half of joint ventures will likely end in failure within five years. That’s worse than the Australian divorce rate.

For this reason, it is extremely important that senior leadership make the effort to research and understand any key potential partners before an agreement is made. Who is running the firm? Who are they as individuals? Can they be trusted? What are their core goals and values? How do they operate, and what does their corporate culture look like? Though it may be hard to put a number on any of these qualities, they are often the ones that make all the difference between a good joint venture and a bad one.

Joint ventures aren’t just about collaborating firms; at every level they involve collaborating teams of people. Aside from the creation of a clearly defined, agreed upon, and documented strategy, successful joint ventures recognise and prioritise the people factor, and they are committed to making the relationship work from the inside out.

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A few of weeks ago, architecture firm Elenberg Fraser secured planning approval for a new luxury skyscraper in the heart of Melbourne. The so-called Premier Tower will be an elegant, curvaceous structure that will house 660 apartments, retail space and a 160-room hotel. While the building’s form is intriguing, so far its biggest achievement is that it has compelled us to mention architectural physics, design, structural efficiency, and Beyoncé’s music videos- all in the same breath.

Whether or not you are a fan of the building’s design (or Beyoncé for that matter), it illustrates a movement that is slowly taking over and redefining the architecture and design industry from the inside out.

Of Science and Slithering Forms

According to what Elenberg Fraser writes about the project on its website, the development of the Premier Tower was a blend of science, inspirational design, and those slinky, writhing forms in Beyoncé’s “Ghost” music video:

“This project is the culmination of our significant research into how to best work with individual site and climatic constraints, brought together using our new parametric modelling techniques. The complex form – a vertical cantilever – is actually the most effective way to redistribute the building’s mass, giving the best results in terms of structural dispersion, frequency oscillation and wind requirements… For those more on the art than science side, we will reveal that the form does pay homage to something more aesthetic — we’re going to trust you’ve seen the music video for Beyonce’s ‘Ghost.’”

Some have criticised this project, debating the use of a contemporary foreign pop icon to justify the form of a building, while others are caught up with the fact that the building is being designed around the female form as a sales gimmick, or that the structure will have little connection with its immediate surroundings.

But these practices are far from new. Several famous developers and architects have modelled buildings on iconic women. Consider Frank Gehry’s, Fred and Ginger building, located in Prague or the buxom towers in Toronto said to resemble Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass figure. Many buildings these days also seem conspicuously out of touch with the surrounding architecture and cultural environment.

Plus, the truth is I feel that all of this chatter is taking attention away from a much more important and deeper trend that is shaping the way projects are being developed and designed.

Elenberg Fraser’s Premier Tower was designed using parametric modelling – that allows complex shapes to be created in response to various data constraints. In the brave new world of design technology, architects are in a constant pursuit to push our building designs out of the box, literally, and it’s the smart blending of art, technology, and science that makes the interesting pieces of architecture that are in such demand these days.

Herein lies the fundamental shift.

Along with the unprecedented changes in design technology, from Microsoft’s Halolens to 3D printing, and the rapid, realtime sharing of knowledge over the internet, it seems that the exclusive demand for the traditional skills of architecture and design will eventually wane. In its place will rise a new wave of design professionals who know how to use the technology at their disposal to bring disparate elements together in new, unique (and eventually, cost effective and structurally sound) ways.

It’s not that those who know how to process and manipulate data will nudge out the true originators. Rather, the sharpest design minds will need to be fluent with the technology that will help them give expression to their ideas in ways that were simply not possible a few years ago.

This evolution is already happening, and though we may still be in the early stages of adaption, the blending of art, technology, and science will no doubt lead to some stunning, optimised optimised pieces of architecture in the years to come.

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Architects are not just architects any more. These days they are Design Principals, Directors of Projects, BIM Managers, Chief Fill-in-the-Blank Officers or Fill-in-the Blank Leaders (where that blank can be Culture, Systems, Global Sector, Collaboration, Marketing, Innovation, etc, etc).

These new titles tend to have two functions- one internally within a firm and one external to it. When leadership and promotion systems are working properly within a firm, titles can be used to define an employee’s compensation, level of responsibility and growth path. Externally, these self-same appellations are meant to distinguish key talent in a competitive market. They help outsiders, such as clients, peers, and recruiters, apply an immediate judgment on skill and experience so they can more accurately understand an employee’s exact role within the firm.

More often than not, however, fancy titles do none of these things. When the systems that support these titles go wrong, it can lead to employee resentment and such pretentious job titles that outsiders won’t even know what the person really does for a living.

To make things even more confusing, there is little commonality among firms in how they relate to their home grown title system. Some studios guard their Associate, Director, and Principal titles like the crown jewels, while other firms seem to hand out leadership titles to everyone like lollipops. There are practices that only have two leadership tiers even as others have now introduced a fifth tier- a move that seems to devalue the whole leadership structure.

Sometimes titles can be the make or break for a senior placement when firms refuse to give titles away, or obscure titles get “lost in translation” putting added pressure on an already cumbersome hiring process.

What’s in a Name?

There are two main problems with the majority of title systems these days. One is that people develop, grow, and learn at different paces and in different ways, and a title alone cannot possibly hope to convey where a person is really holding in his or her career. The second is that the process by which titles are created and assigned is often itself subjective and flawed. Many times, they are inaccurate classifications used to define a typically artificial hierarchy.

While that hierarchy may be a convenient way for senior leadership to group employees together for compensation and promotion purposes, if it is enacted arbitrarily, it can cause confusion and resentment that ultimately discourages good performance and pulls teams apart.

Changing the Rules of the Naming Game

I think the solution to all of this is a change in approach and perspective. Instead of trying to re-create a title, focus instead on recreating the processes of growth, leadership, and ownership that it is supposed to define. Then, the goal and the responsibility is on senior leadership to guide their employees, to lead them through experiences that will allow them to learn, document, and recognise their accomplishments, and also help them to quickly recover from any mistakes they make along the way.

Use the same old title, while implementing and selling the new process- both to employees and clients. Do that, and those same old titles become so much more. Fancy names alone won’t attract top talent, nor win more clients.

If you think its about the title, you’ve already lost the game.

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One of the biggest paradoxes in leadership is that many of the most powerful decision makers, trend setters, and influencers in the world can be some of the hardest people to work with. Though this is a phenomenon that exists in just about every sphere of human activity, the business world in particular stands out. The hollowed halls of the corporate elite are littered with countless examples of gross mis-management, greed, and inflated egos. The sad truth is that even if someone may have a high position in leadership, it doesn’t mean that this person is any good at leading.

In fact, I recently saw a study which claimed that the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies end up performing, and don’t think this just affects a handful of ridiculously over-compensated CEOs, either. This same pattern exists, claim the researchers, regardless of whether the CEOs were at the highest end of the pay spectrum or at the lowest.

How did we get here?

While it may be easy to just blame the leadership itself, the truth is behind every bad leader, you will also find a group of people who choose to follow this person as well as the the systems and processes that allowed the leader to attain his or her position in the first place. When people are selecting leaders based on superficial qualities without the proper due diligence, and the recruiting and promotion systems offer little leadership support and training, then it’s little wonder why the potential star performers are turning into big black holes, sucking up precious resources and sapping a firm of its vitality.

In The Wake of Poor Leaders, Lots of Distressed Employees

There is a lot of incentive to get those leadership decisions right. A while back I read the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith. One of the biggest take aways from the book is that the higher your level of success, the more destructive your bad habits become because your potential impact on others is greater, and you can affect the experiences of a large number of people.

The businesses that have chosen to embrace poor leaders become toxic environments that negatively impact not just productivity but people’s self-esteem, health, well-being and relationships both at work and at home. As Simon Sinek puts it, “our jobs are killing us and the people who are responsible are our leaders.”

Good Leaders Make Good Impressions

In my opinion, leadership has little to do with position or titles. Real, honorable leadership is an attitude. It stems from the desire to serve and support others and to bring out their very best- not just to get the job done. Good leaders give off positive vibes that are infectious, rubbing off on anyone who comes into contact with them.

In my executive search firm, we make our assessments on individuals’ ability to perform by the confidential, 360 feedback we get from the people who work around them. This typically includes the employee’s former team subordinates, peers, and direct reports. We do this partly because the best indication of good leadership is the impact and influence employees have on those around them. This is a quality that is impossible to hide or fake.

Most importantly this process works at every organisational level. As employees rise through the ranks of general management to become leaders, directors and principals, there are usually very clear signs along the way that point to their leadership abilities. 360 degree feedback is certainly a good place to start. But the decision makers in the recruiting and promotion process need to be looking for these signs in the first place.

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge the effectiveness of a leader just by his or her title, no matter how impressive it may be.

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As the fight for talent continues in the Architecture and Interior Design industry, the salaries that some candidates are demanding are getting ridiculously high. In my executive search and recruiting firm, we routinely see architects with 5 or 6 years of experience asking for salaries that are 30 to 40 percent more than they are worth. On the other side of the table, there are the firms (usually big ones) willing to match these outrageous demands.

Hand in hand, both sides have created the perfect recipe for a pervasive counter offer culture that has been brewing over the past few years. I suspect this is happening because a) a lot of Architects and Interior Designers use the threat of resignation as a bargaining chip for more money or responsibility; and b) the firms extending the offer want to push off a costly or inconvenient hiring process.

This is just a waste of everyone’s time and money.

The rub is that these trends are creating a big rift in the Architecture and Interior Design industry between the have’s and the have not’s, and it’s putting a lot pressure on smaller firms in particular that are trying to compete for good talent.

Of course, supply and demand happens in every industry to some extent and affects the amount that someone is willing to pay for something. The problem is that in order to stay competitive the fees most Architecture and Interior Design firms are charging these days are not going up at the same pace as salaries.

How Do We Get Out of Here?

When money, convenience, and ego drive business decisions to the exclusion of all other considerations, such as human dignity, value and purpose, then the results are often negative and debilitating.

But the opposite is also true.

If architects and designers feel under-paid, then let them go to their current employers and negotiate a better salary. When architects and designers do move then it should be for reasons of sustainable value and purpose, such as career advancement, better project exposure, moving away from the glass ceiling, and seeking a better office culture.

If firms really want to hold on to their key employees, then it will take a re-evaluation of how to compel their employees to stay in the first place. It means creating an atmosphere where employees perform work that creates real value, and they want the best for the business as a whole. It means taking a good look at what is going wrong and taking real initiative to make hard changes.

But let’s get at the heart of the issue. Who is really at fault over here? Where did things break down? Should we attribute it to a competitive market… economic factors… corporate greed… ego… bad parenting, maybe?

Though it’s the individuals at the end of the day who need to rise up, I believe that real change will first need to happen on a business level, then eventually on an individual level.

It will take a group of firms that do business differently. Studios that don’t just throw money at their employees or their marketing efforts. They believe in making a positive impact and difference in the world. They value their employees and clients. They purposely hire people based on common values and nurture them.

These are the same firms that will create sustainable architecture and interiors that enhance their surroundings and improve the quality of life for all who use and see them.

At the end of the day, inflated salaries and equally inflated counter offers are not really the problem; it’s the attitudes and values behind them that need to change.

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Here’s a riddle…

What is the one asset that every single business on the planet has, the thing that has been proven to directly affect a firm’s financial performance, productivity, and rate of employee turnover, yet senior leadership often gives it little attention or consideration?

That asset is a firm’s culture; it’s the unsung hero that drives business success or, on the flip side, sets the firm up for failure. Yet, many, many firms seem to be totally unaware of it and its impact.

I suspect that this is due to a few factors:

•  Business cultures are strongly tied to the personalities and values of the senior leadership. Just as it is hard for individuals to see themselves objectively, so too is it hard for senior leaders to objectively see how their personal attitudes, values, and behaviours impact on the firm as a whole.

•  Culture seems to be this shapeless, fuzzy quality in total opposition to the “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” approach to business.

•  Culture is also hard to change once the business is up and running and it’s policies, practices, and systems are set in.

The problem is culture does exist whether or not it is recognised or worked on, and it’s making an impact whether or not it’s being measured.

In fact, several studies over the last ten years have all found that the companies with adaptive corporate cultures and strong leadership practices that reward hard work and innovation financially outperform those that do none of these things.

Consider the famous online retailer, Zappos. Much has been said about the company’s exceptional customer service, relentless innovation, and intense focus on employee happiness and development. The company’s strong culture has paid off in staggering year over year profit increases- even as other online and offline retail companies struggled through the dotcom bubble and a global recession. Recently, Zappos projected an operating profit of $97 million for 2015- that’s a 77.9 percent jump from the $54.5 million in profits in 2014.

What Makes a Great Culture?

At its most basic level, a business’ culture is an invisible web of expectations and attitudes. These spoken and unspoken rules shape our attitude and behaviour and rub off onto partners and employees.

Though cultures can vary, businesses with healthy, positive cultures tend to share some common characteristics. They strive towards some purpose and set of values that aim to make the world a better place. They highly value and respect their customers, partners, and employees, and they encourage leadership from everyone in the firm.

When businesses are focused on improving people’s lives- both inside and outside- they stand a greater chance of outperforming their competitors and achieving long-term financial success. To repeat, there is a very strong correlation between financial performance and a business’ ability to tap into fundamental human emotions, hopes, values and a greater purpose.

But that’s not all. Firms with great cultures are able to straddle two opposing, yet vital businesses drives- the need for production on one side and the need for innovation on the other. The result is that these firms are then both adaptive and productive. If client needs or attitudes change, for example, the firm’s culture itself almost forces people to change their practices to meet those new standards.

These ideas are particularly important to architecture and design firms on so many levels. Architects and their teams must be in tune with clients’ tastes and trends as well as the communities in which these projects are happening. They need to be motivated, passionate, and happy with their roles, or else prospective clients will pick up on their dissatisfaction. This doesn’t just happen by itself, you need the right culture and systems in place to foster it.

But, how do you go about building the right culture from the ground up? What can you do if your firm has already been operating for a few years, and you realise that things need to change?

I’ll get to that in my next article…

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