Retaining the Next Generation of Leaders
The repetitive nature of conversations surrounding the future of the design and architecture professions can be frustrating. For my peers with roughly 10 to 15 years of experience, a regular topic of conversation is their struggle to find a firm they are willing to make a career investment in despite the opportunities available today. So how does a firm attract and, more importantly, how does it retain these individuals? Here are three seemingly simple ideas that are worth considering:
Create firm culture in a purposeful way, by listening
Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to take a cue from some of the best companies out there, even if they are outside of the profession. The recent list of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For indicated that many of the top companies shared these traits:
(1) A rigorous hiring process was in place to ensure they hired the best individuals.
(2) They focused on workplace culture as a competitive advantage.
(3) They had leaders who listened to their employees and created policies and programs to maintain a supportive environment.
Most firm leaders and project managers do all they can to keep their clients happy, but how much of that effort is spent ensuring that the stakeholders of the firm are just as happy? One policy change that many of my peers would appreciate more than a salary increase is time flexibility allowing for better work-life balance.
Allow for a more flexible workday
No one ever claimed that balancing work and life within the design profession is easy. The studio culture that was ingrained into us in school continues to plague the profession in the firm setting. Arriving early and staying late at the office is considered the norm. However, technology has enabled us to do a significant amount of work when and where we would like outside of the traditional workday. That means time spent outside of the office can still be as effective—if not more effective—compared to the hours spent inside the office. After all, how often have you said that you get the most work done when the office is quiet?
The ubiquitous Cloud, as in Cloud computing, has become increasingly fast, secure, and accessible, making it easier to work wherever and whenever we are most productive. For me, that is often at 7 a.m. when the office is quiet, 9 p.m. at home, and also at home on weekends when I have a clear schedule and the brain capacity to reflect on items that need to be accomplished. For those with young families, it often means finding opportunities to be productive in the midst of morning drop-offs and after school programming.
My design peers who are most happy with their current firms are those who can come and go from the office as needed without regret, and with a mutual trust from their peers, supervisors, and firm leaders that work is being completed in the in-between hours while making the most of their face-to-face time in the office and with clients. But this also raises a need for clear communication and understanding of expectations. In the long-term, being adaptable to the needs of today’s workforce will only create a greater pool of future firm leaders from which to choose.
Develop a path to firm leadership
Firm transition is a hot topic these days, and planning for it sooner rather than later with a well-developed strategy can ensure the firm’s longevity well beyond the lifespan of the founders. In order for young leaders to consider making a career with any firm, a clear path to leadership is needed. If that path is not evident, experienced employees will be more likely to leave to another firm or start their own practice.
The three ideas presented here are not groundbreaking, not entirely innovative with respect to successful design practices, and not necessarily the easiest topics to confront head-on. But they also are not universally accepted or acted upon today. Thus, they are necessary topics for both firms and employees to consider in an effort to retrain the best employees, enabling firm growth and loyalty.
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