A New Model of Professional Development

March 2, 2009 · by J. David Hoglund

As the younger generations seek to define their own version of professional success, they increasingly find value in workplace opportunities for learning and collaboration. Redefining professional development can address this need and groom future thought leaders in the process.

Increased specialization and new practice-based technologies such as building information modeling are impacting the firm of the future. These demands on the profession, coupled with new generations of information-age employees — Generation X, Generation Y, and millennial — will transform the way information, knowledge, and thought leadership are attained and shared. Not that long ago, institutional knowledge was the marketing staple; it’s now replaced by new ideas that evolve as thought leadership.

In addition, compensation models have been challenged over the past decade as young professionals have searched for more than salary and are establishing their own measurement of success and professional satisfaction. Progressive firms are developing internal universities for professional development and exploring new technologies for knowledge sharing within their firms. The profession must accelerate development of these new models of knowledge sharing to create the empowered and creative work force of the future.

Staff resources, while available at this time, will be in short supply as the major global building boom of the next decades unfold. The challenge to the profession is to find new ways to share learning experiences and to avoid traditional education models of reading, writing, and reciting.

Information is not the same as knowledge, and when we confuse them we develop traditional models of learning that will frustrate a new generation of professionals who are looking to their employer for accessible and fast-paced opportunities with personal interaction and collaboration.

New Generation of Professionals

The drafting room model of professional training has dissolved. Young professionals expect engagement at a level well beyond rote creation of standard details. Senior professionals are looking for opportunities that establish them as thought leaders in their areas of interest. Software innovations such as Revit and SharePoint allow the creation of more collaborative models in which information transfer is immediate and integrated with allied industry partners. These perspectives create rich opportunities but raise new questions:

•    What will be the new model of professional development?

•    How will we transfer knowledge and thought leadership to the next generation of professionals?

•    How will we empower these individuals to be seekers of knowledge through the use of inquiry, the design process, and post-occupancy research?

•    How will this new information age create collaborators rather than controllers of knowledge for a perceived marketing edge?

These are no easy answers, and these questions will no doubt take years to address.

Professional Development

As one of the largest international architecture firms in the world, Perkins Eastman takes these questions very seriously. The firm has started to redefine its own concept of professional development through a number of parallel initiatives that have created tools and processes that contribute to the evolution of practice and design — recognizing that our staff of the future will need to be internally developed and groomed. We cannot rely on external training and education sources to create leaders; we must develop them ourselves.

Exploration of our internal professional development programs identified a disproportionate gap between educational opportunities and personal growth. The firm’s leadership had been quite satisfied with the number of educational opportunities — skill development, basic technology training, and project management — and the level of participation across the firm. However, an internal survey identified that a significant percentage of staff felt they lacked both appropriate opportunities to grow and personal encouragement in their professional development by the firm. Equally startling was the confession that senior employees expressed similar concerns. It was clear from the responses that individuals identified the continuing education opportunities provided by the firm as part of the daily integrated work experience, not a perk of the job.

The results of the survey indicated that our firm’s internal efforts needed more individualized personal involvement with clearer competency models and expectations. We also recognized that the solutions needed to be both technologically driven and personally interactive. Our younger staff is clearly comfortable using technology for social networking and communication, but solutions need to be people-centric. Professional development has clearly become part of the basic compensation expectation.

ORCHARD

In early 2001, Perkins Eastman recognized the need to create a communication and collaboration tool that could knit together the geographically diverse offices and expanding practice areas. Sharing the knowledge — a high level of thought leadership, a recognized design brand, and an ever growing portfolio of national and international work — had become increasingly challenging to maintain.

We began by hiring a trained knowledge management professional to help build and implement the firm’s conceptual thoughts of a firm-wide knowledge resource engine. This initiative led to the creation of the firm’s award-wining intranet site On-line Resource for the Creative Harvest of Architecturally Relevant Discovery — ORCHARD. More than a company news and information repository, it became the structure by which we develop a practice area community (PAC) around each of our core practice areas. The PAC became the formal conduit for facilitating the exchange of both explicit and tacit knowledge. PACs are recognized by staff as a key resource representing the sum of the collective wisdom of all staff that contribute to and participate in any particular project. They are similarly structured and provide area-specific knowledge that is searchable through our intranet-specific search engine. The firm’s Knowledge Resource Team interfaces with the PAC gatekeepers, who maintain and review content provided to them from a network of 13 international and domestic offices.

The introduction of new technologies such as SharePoint over the coming year will also allow real-time discussion of issues, insights, and lessons learned through ORCHARD. The new generation of practitioners expects a culture of mutual respect and reciprocity and is comfortable with new social networking platforms. The online format of ORCHARD provides open and equal access to the firm’s knowledge base with an implicit offer of participation and growth. To heighten interoperability for our increasingly mobile staff, individuals can remotely access ORCHARD from their BlackBerry devices.

This collaborative learning model is not without its challenges. ORCHARD provides a technology-driven solution to accessing information, but it does not singularly provide the learning environment necessary for knowledge sharing and evolution of ideas. While we can gather and analyze significant programmatic data on projects across the enterprise, we are not yet able to convey fully the external forces that shaped both the program and the design solution.

Crosstalk

We recognize that even these opportunities for translating information into knowledge lack the opportunity for extended analytical discourse and personal discovery.

These challenges led to the creation of Crosstalk, which is commonly a practice area presentation facilitated by senior staff to bridge project-specific information with knowledge-based insights for application on new projects. Presentations are broadcast firm-wide via video- or Web conferencing. The overarching goal is to breathe life into the data and information available through ORCHARD by enabling staff from all offices to share in the same presentation, ask questions of the presenter, and collaboratively bring their expertise to the forefront of the discussion.

Crosstalk presentations vary from broad industry trends and overviews of a specific building type to virtual tours of a building while it is in development or construction to unique new design ideas being incorporated on projects. These insights become part of the PAC along with the presentation. Currently, we are experimenting with recorded audio versions to accompany the visual presentation available on ORCHARD for individuals who may have missed the broadcast or reside in different time zones.

Design Resource Groups

In its initial stages of development, several offices have begun design resource groups that create a wide array of forums for sharing resources, discussing design ideas, and sharing knowledge across projects and multiple practice areas. The traditional design pinup has offered the opportunity for critical analysis of a project’s evolution and its success in reaching the client and design team’s stated goals. It is also an opportunity to review several projects that address similar challenges or to identify precedent projects that had successfully resolved a similar challenge.

The goal is that a design solution is informed by both past experiences (institutional knowledge) and current thinking (evolution), which leads to thought leadership. The project team and their peers become part of the informal information exchange that internalizes knowledge without rote duplication of what has come before. The balance of what works with the application of new ideas creates knowledge and instills models of collaboration and inquiry on which the profession has always been based. Inquiry, by its very nature, is the creative curiosity that makes use of research and precedent study to determine truths that influence the design process.

Research Collaborative

We all know too well that our profession has relied too much on anecdotal observations and too little on rigorous research. The rise of evidence-based design is providing a forum for challenging conventional wisdom by, among other approaches, evaluating the success of the built environment after occupancy. A new type of knowledge sharing has evolved as we begin to look at and holistically measure the outcomes of our design decisions. In 2005, Perkins Eastman piloted a research initiative with a three-phase, five-year plan to:

•    Create a design team-based post-occupancy evaluation process.

•    Provide structured building evaluations research.

•    Partner with external organizations (academic institutes, universities, and industry organizations) for multi-disciplinary research initiatives.

The first step was developed from the recognition that one of the best ways to make research meaningful to the design process is to have it conducted by the design team itself. The Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative established a process and protocol for the design team to conduct a quick on-site post-occupancy evaluation approximately one year after completion of the project. The dual purpose is to add to the overall knowledge base by evaluating a project’s success at achieving its goals and to establish an immediate transfer of knowledge without the filter of senior staff or presentation formats. This approach is now being used by the Design for Aging Community of the American Institute of Architects.

The Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative has ventured into more involved research studies as well by conducting a multi-site evaluation of community formation in affordable housing and an assessment of the impact of sustainable design features on users of a high school and convent in western Pennsylvania. These studies queried the users for measurable outcomes related to the fundamental design goals of the projects. The results confirmed positive outcomes from commonly accepted design premises but also challenged preconceived design ideas with data that clearly demonstrated a disconnect between the design team’s goals and the physical operation of the building.

It is important to note that these investigations were not structured with rigorous academic research standards but rather with a practice-based model that establishes a cycle of design thought that moves from inquiry to premise/precedent to solution to measured outcome and back to inquiry and refinement of the idea. This approach is firmly rooted in the concept that, unlike information, which can be stored, knowledge is a process of socially constructed learning. The purpose of these investigations is not to gather information but to stimulate critical thinking, which hopefully leads to creating an informed “Eureka!” moment.

Next

ORCHARD, the Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative, Crosstalk, and design resource groups are only the first tools that will lead to a new practice model. Some of these methods are strikingly new, while others are reinventions of both academic training and professional practice models. We have invested significant resources in a technology platform that is both a firm-wide library and a tool for sharing and communication. We believe these are the essential tools to empower a new generation of thought leaders. Our own first steps are at times inconsistent and far from the goals we hope to achieve. The platform is present, however, to create a fertile ground for defining professional development as something more than collecting learning credits.

We know that the new generation of professionals is seeking new models of education that are strikingly different from the drafting room model. New models must evolve that become part of the daily work experience are valued as part of a broader perspective of a compensation model and truly lead to design intelligence.

 

J. David Hoglund is principal and chief operating officer of Perkins Eastman. He established the firm’s office in Pittsburgh, where he continues to provide leadership for the firm’s global senior living practice. Hoglund oversees Perkins Eastman’s domestic offices and strategic operating groups for human resources, finance, information technology, and operations. A licensed architect in several states, he is a member of the College of Fellows of the AIA as well as a member of the Environmental Design Research Association, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and the National Association of Home Builders.

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