It’s time to evolve the “Human Sacrifice Department” into “Human Prosperity Department” within the architectural firm.
“The only person who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes new measurements every time he sees me. All the rest go on with their old measurements.” —George Bernard Shaw
The relentless passage of time is by default its own advocate of evolution. It is astonishing how far all business practices, large and small, have evolved as operating entities in the post-World War II period. With the advent of civil rights legislation, two income households, tort legislation, employment rights, tax legislation, public policy, environmental issues, health insurance, family law, labor rights, workplace violence (not to mention the ever evolving social and cultural issues of any given half decade) the rules both written and unwritten make our practices ever more all-encompassing. As if following man’s evolutionary journey from four legs to two; the “Hiring Department” became the “Personnel Department” which became the “Human Resources Department.” Further, the economic realities and global job issues of today confirm that the role of the Human Resource Department is likely to evolve even further to the “Human Sacrifice Department,” if it hasn’t already.
The architectural profession should be at the forefront of directing a sort of new-found “people prosperity” due to our propensity to be involved in all the issues of the day in order to design the built environment and hence accommodate evolution. Our ongoing, symptomatic, cyclical type of business forces us through emotional and quantitative highs and lows very quickly. This makes architectural firms the perfect “lab rat” for the emergence of the “New Human Resources Department.” Therefore, in the future we must learn to realize the people that pass through our doors and call us on the phone become part of our experiment and our business—whether employees, consultants, clients, vendors, competitors, guests, students, families or end users. They are all ever so much more important to the success and the profitability of our firm and need to be recognized as such. Their degree of happiness is concurrent with your firm’s health, happiness and prosperity. They are inextricably linked and architects need to recognize this incredible opportunity. Whether yours is a five-person firm or a 1,500-person firm, creating “people prosperity” one person at a time is the future of human resources. The Human Resources Department is the entire firm!
However, set all that aside for a moment and think about just adding to the richness of one’s life. Isn’t that the lowest common denominator? Not to get “Pollyanna-ish” here, but what ever happened to the pursuit of happiness? Not too long ago I attended an open company forum at a Fortune 500 company. The CEO advertised the session as an open dialogue. He started out by saying, “OK, OK, I already know everyone is unhappy, what else do you folks want to talk about?” Hmmm, that comment set things back five years! You can imagine the effect on a talented person in the audience who was already thinking about going over to the competition! Another person is probably thinking, “Great. I can continue being miserable, pass the Prozac!” The CEO might as well have said, “I’d love this job if it weren’t for the people!”
I recognize that most architectural firms don’t have a “Human Resources Department.” Usually a partner or an advanced administrative person(s) takes on that charge—but regardless of who is designated the responsible HR person, too often we see firms muddled in the nuances of employee issues. Inevitably, the firm’s legal counsel gets involved and days turn into weeks then months before resolution of a simple policy or procedure is put in place. And then within days or weeks, the policy is changed again to accommodate some hybrid situation. Because of this, firms lose valuable time, waste money, create an anxiety-filled workplace—where productivity is reduced, creativity is stifled and the watchwords of the organization become “It’s just a job, it’s just a pay check or I hate this place!” Worse still, minor “hatreds” or “jealousies” of some individuals start to cloud the office environment washing out any possibility of a joy-filled workplace. Fear of layoffs makes the daily grind agonizing. Even the innocent bystanders are swept up by the gossip and live their work life on pins and needles based on hearsay and perception of who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy. Then each person in the office starts making decisions on what they “heard” happened to so and so. Concentration for everyone working on the job at hand is diminished to just showing up! Fear and avoidance begin to guide all actions. Everyone and every project suffers. This is human sacrifice!
It’s well past time to overcome. It’s time to evolve the “Human Sacrifice Department” into “Human Prosperity Department” within the architectural firm. We can start with a simple word change. Let’s change the word “department” to “sphere.”
That sounds a lot less tribal and accommodates the entire office, not just a “handful of people that know how much you make!” The “Human Prosperity Sphere” is only accomplished one person, one attitude at a time. Departments or spheres aren’t “set up,” firms are not “established.” They are organisms that with the right ingredients become our homes for one third of our lives. Why not make that one third personally gratifying, pleasant and prosperous?
This is not an indictment of Human Resource Departments throughout American business. Rather, it is recognition that every business, large and small requires traditional Human Resource functions (and there are a lot of those), but if the firm creates the proper atmosphere, orientation and attitude, the majority of Human Resource functions can be managed by the staff and the need for departmentalization diminishes dramatically. Hence prosperity!
Think about all the functions that Human Resources must traditionally undertake: payroll, compensation, benefits, employee relations, discipline management, training and development, organizational restructuring, recruiting and staffing, career counseling, employee recognition, event planning, downsizing, retirement planning, employee stock purchase, stock option plans, etc. Huge corporations can maintain entire departments for any single one of these functions. The average architectural firm accommodates these functions in piecemeal fashion, usually with one or two individuals that receive only on-the-job training and maybe some outside help.
How are all these functions handled in your office? What will the future hold for your office environment? How will the people, and by extension the office, separate you from other firms? What will prevent you from becoming a revolving door? What will be the legacy created by your work and the people who work with you? How will you avoid being known as the owner or partner that sucks all the money, power and glory out of the organization for self promotion and aggrandizement? How will you avoid becoming another anonymous architectural firm that serves as an altar for human career sacrifice?
Forgive the metaphor, but each of your firms make apple pie, and each has its own recipe. Let’s start with a few ingredients that when stirred, spiced and baked meet the unique needs of your office and become guiding principles. Over time these principles can evolve into a primer to define a Human Prosperity Sphere that reflects your firm. Note: we’ll avoid the word “policy.” We’ll group our principles into three categories, fundamental, technical and personal.
Humor. All human interaction is positively stimulated by good humor. Allow it to flow, starting at the top. Allow people to be themselves even if their sense of humor is not your style. Be wary of offensive or inappropriate humor (and particularly sarcasm) as it can hurt.
But tell your staff about this up front, so there is a clear understanding that they can be themselves. You can say, “After all we like to think that our firm put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional!” To borrow part of an ad slogan, “When you’re comfortable with humor you can do anything.” It’s true!
Hospitality. Every person that comes into your office should be treated as you would treat a guest in your home. Think of your front desk as the concierge in a five-star resort. The person that oversees it should be charming and knowledgeable enough about the firm to handle any situation with grace and good manners. That person should be able to hold a conversation with anyone. At a minimum, they should be conversant with the firm’s history and major ongoing projects. They should be able to make reservations, accommodations and recommendations. They should know the community, its history, some facts and a few interesting things to see and do. This person is the mouthpiece for the firm and visitors’ first impression. Don’t cut corners with this position. This individual should become savvy enough over time to diffuse difficult situations in person, over the phone and via e-mail. When you find this person, compensate them above the local average and reward them with small spot bonuses for exceptional handling of unusual situations.
Good hospitality skills, however, apply to everyone in the office, not just the front desk. Teach all your employees good hospitality skills. A draftsman should feel comfortable explaining a drawing to a stranger who finds it interesting. A sort of “schedule of events” should be posted daily via e-mail, alerting the staff to the day’s visitors and events. Have a token of the firm to give visitors to remind them of their visit. Every person in the firm should be responsible for making each colleague or each visitor feel special; not occasionally, but all the time.
Good manners. Good manners build respect for your organization both inside and out. We expect excellent service in a restaurant; why shouldn’t we expect it in an architectural firm? Yet I see people waiting to be served in offices far more often than in restaurants. The principle is, “If I’m treated well in here–I’ll be comfortable coming back!” Insist that all employees develop good eye contact and listening skills. Even if they’re busy, they should stand when introduced. This is common sense, but it’s surprising how
infrequently it happens and the bad vibes that occur because of bad manners. When appropriate, walk visitors safely to their car. Provide a “private” sound- isolated office with a phone. Invite guests to use it if they need to, and ensure staff that it is there for their privacy as well. (Awkward personal calls can come at any hour.)
Orientation. Familiarize your new employees immediately with who you are and what you view as important. Explain the firm’s history and mission. Spend a lot of time on this, maybe several days depending on the size of the firm. Have the new employee visit with several members of the firm. Make sure
that after the first week they can give the 30-second “elevator” pitch for the firm. This will have the result of making the new person feel wanted, engaged and capable of adding value beyond his or her CAD station. Don’t hide your warts and mistakes; take them on. Tell the new employee, “This is what we did. Here’s what we’ve learned from it.” This lets everyone know that the firm values honesty and integrity. Most importantly, explain to the new person what it is that makes your firm “different” from others and why those differences are a very good thing. Tell them why it’s better to work here!
Confidentiality. Explain the meaning of “confidentiality” to every employee. Teach them the power of using the word and what it should mean to them as individuals and as a firm. Impress upon the culture of the firm that when the word “confidential” is used, the strictest definition should always apply. Make it clear that if something is confidential it will not suffice to say, “Don’t tell anybody, but …” or, “Don’t tell anybody I told you this, but…” Correctly using and abiding by confidentiality builds fantastic trust among the members of the office.
Integrity. Wow! This word has taken a beating over recent years! Our society has certainly put the gritty in integrity! Character, honesty, soundness, completeness are all good synonyms for integrity. Go on the record in your next staff meeting or in a new employee orientation that “our firm will be judged by its integrity and as a member of the firm you will be a contributor to that judgment. Don’t let us down.” Then define integrity.
When it comes to fundamentals remember the words of Aldous Huxley. “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”
“You are here because you are the best. Together we are going to become even better!” These words should be repeated to every new and existing employee, including partners and administrative staff. This should be said over and over, privately and publicly. If you aren’t using this premise, what’s the point? Why did you hire the person? If you won’t be getting any better, what’s the point of coming in every day? If the individual has been with the firm awhile start asking that individual what in his/her opinion is needed to make them a better professional? Find out the answer and help that individual make it possible. Have provisions at hand for technical and nontechnical training.
Share the numbers. With the exception of private salary and bonus information, why not share with everyone in the firm all the numbers? Share financial goals. Share statistics. Share fee information. Share revenue information. Create a chart of the company’s growth objectives, and share it at every staff meeting. Make it some sort of graphic thermometer, just for fun. When a new RFP comes into the office, let a couple of different people try their hand at the fee and/or schedule calculations. Make it
known that anyone in the firm can ask anything about the numbers anytime they want. And in return, those who calculate the numbers should provide the status of any given project to all members of the firm. Trust me; your competition can guess your numbers pretty closely if they want to, so don’t clutch them so tightly.
Don’t mess with people’s money! Your company has offered to pay an individual a certain salary or hourly rate. They agree. Done! That individual now sets up his/her personal budget and starts making purchase decisions. Commitments to homes, cars, travel, schools, entertainment, etc. are all part of that equation. Your firm has set this person’s economic life into the “go” mode. Make it known from the beginning that there will be no docking of pay or salary reductions in your firm. Let everyone know that the difficult decision to let someone go will have to be made if the firm encounters an economic downturn and that proper warning will be given. This way, with adequate warning, one person gets a chance to make the same or more money at another firm while those still with the firm don’t lose 10 percent or 20 percent of the salary for which they’ve made commitments, thus creating six or seven unhappy and negative people in the firm. The person who has been released was treated well and knew the rules. Again, this is a simple case of just telling people the rules up front. When you come to work here you agree to this process, period. How many times have you heard or said yourself, “Gee, I wish we would have had the contractor’s input at the beginning of the project.” Or, “why didn’t we invite everyone to the table at the start of the project?” The same is true of human resource issues. Tell everyone upfront how things work in your firm. Don’t hesitate to frequently remind the longer-term employees of your philosophies. When you play it over and over, it becomes popular!
Don’t mess with people’s vacation! Architects have a remarkable capacity for work, sometimes to the extreme. I have observed architects giving up long-planned vacations because of deadlines or because of short staff or a myriad of other dumb reasons. The point is to make people prosper they need their vacation—they should take them. Often entire families have nonrefundable tickets for a carefully planned vacation only to have the deadline of a big project be delayed two weeks—forcing the conscientious architect to stay behind or cancel the trip; only to face the wrath of their family and a lost opportunity to relax and recharge. This is not right. Never, ever reject a person’s desire to take earned vacation time, no matter when it falls. This is the worst form of morale depletion you can mandate on an individual. Yes, we must all plan our time off to coincide with the best circumstances of the office environment, but too often that would mean never, or the best circumstances sometimes become the worst. This is where people prosperity kicks in. The person must take the vacation! It is the leadership within the office that must deal with overcoming the departure of that individual. That’s why the leadership, whether it is a supervisor, job captain, project manager, director, vice president, partner, president or CEO, makes more money! They are paid to orchestrate/manage around this type of situation. And the firm has the added benefit of a happy camper when the vacation is over. As well, the prosperity sphere includes the families of the employee. Whether you actually know the families or not, they know you!
People leave people not companies! “People who leave people are the unhappiest people in the world.” —(with apologies to Ms. Streisand)
This is a much overused statement, but certainly a truism. When you hear employees say “I hate this company,” what they are really saying is, “I hate my boss or his boss or her boss or all of them combined.” When good people leave, they leave because there is simply no other way to tolerate the perceived idiosyncrasies, hypocrisy and selfishness of those around them. It happens every day. So let’s eliminate the conflict. This can change almost overnight with a few simple attitude adjustments by anyone in any position in the firm. All people from the CEO to the brand-new student intern must start by making just one or more of the following adjustments to their style. No one can do them all consistently, so try just a few and see if they work for you.
I repeat; all 18 items above work for those doing the following, not just those doing the leading. But just try a couple that you are currently not doing and see what happens.
At this point you may be thinking, “Oh please, that’s way to goodie-goodie an approach. No one behaves that way!” Exactly! And probably no one comes to work saying, “I love this place!” either. So just take on a few of the points above and try them and just maybe some people will come to work saying, “I really like working with so and so.” This alone will start the process rolling. Remember the human prosperity sphere starts one person at a time!
The performance review debacle. There are only two persons in the sphere of your life that you should talk to just once a year—your tax accountant and Santa Claus!
Spending an hour or less once a year to conduct a performance review is ludicrous. The anxiety, the wasted time, the worry, the fallout, the ill will, the negativity, the apathy that goes hand in hand with most annual performance review processes is not worth it. For some the emotional pain of doing these things is uncontrollable and energy wasted. And if you are naive enough to think that your salary increase is actually tied to your performance score, you need to start paying attention. The performance review process has become the joke of the business world. In most firms it is the equivalent of the tribal ceremony leading up to the human sacrifice! The lawyers insist that something must go in the file. The accountants want it quantifiable; the engineers want it in percentages to several decimal points. The architects want it soft and wordy. The interior designers don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The human resources people want to hire a consultant to revise the system for the third year in a row. The arrogant people in the office never do them, and somehow get away with it. You write what you truly believe and then the lawyers come back and say, “No, you can’t say that!” Some people are even oblivious enough to think that the performance review will someday be pulled out of a locked file cabinet and re-read to determine if the reviewed deserves a promotion or a layoff! Please, get help! It doesn’t work this way. No one ever looks at your performance review once it goes in the file cabinet. The answer is—ELIMINATE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS!
The time and money wasted on talking about the performance reviews, gathering input, writing them, scheduling them, delivering them and working out conflicts is downright wasteful! We all know they are all B.S. anyway. No one ever writes down what they really think. Productivity, and hence, profitability will increase dramatically without performance reviews. If a good supervisor or manager or director is doing their job they are in touch with their people. They are providing feedback instantly, daily or at worst weekly. They are asking the right questions, providing critical feedback and encouraging their people to grow.
The value here is in the conversation, not the evaluation. If an individual wants something in writing to follow as a guideline or a goal setting statement, give it to them right on the spot. The relationship soon becomes one of respect rather than fear. Over time supervisory levels observe the strengths and weaknesses of the staff and discuss them right on the spot. (If it’s a serious admonishment, it’s always in private). Talking about performance is not an annual thing, it’s an everyday thing, it’s now! On the day that you announce “no more performance reviews” watch for the immediate positive improvement in office attitude!
It’s the restroom, Stupid! This may sound ridiculous, but it is absolutely true. Clean up your office restrooms! Renovate if you have to! Get the old presentation boards and broken models off the floor of the restroom. Change out the fixtures to the latest in green fixtures. Put in new partitions or renovate the old ones —and make sure the locks work. Increase the number of air changes in the mechanical system. Make sure your restroom is clean and well-lit. Make sure you have coat hooks and a table or folding shelf for purses and brief cases. Make sure your restrooms meet the latest ADA standards. Create somewhat private and separate entrances to the men’s and women’s rooms. Place a stylish cabinet in each restroom with little travel samples of everything from toothpaste to mouthwash to disposable shaving materials. (Think of the visitors that flew half the day to get to your office and need freshening up or the garlic chicken you had for lunch!) Make sure your restrooms are well stocked with tissues and toilet tissues. Provide air fresheners. Create privacy with sound proofing. Employees who aren’t comfortable in restrooms that they have to use several times a day will end up going down the hall or down the elevator to someone else’s restroom. This will be a source of great embarrassment. Few things make an employee more content than knowing they will have some privacy and cleanliness in the company restrooms! When you think about it, the restroom is the only refuge for privacy in most offices with lots of open space and cubicles. As well, no one wants the cubicle right outside the restroom door! Move it or partition it off. The clients who aren’t comfortable in your restroom are going to wonder if your firm can design a decent a restroom. What if a hospitality-based client interviews your firm for a five-star hotel project with 800 rooms? That means 800 bathrooms and dozens of restrooms. Will your broken partitions, leaky faucet and drab appearance give them confidence? Frankly, if you’re in the design business or the place making business you should have a state of the art restroom facility. After all, the restroom is a place too! The prosperity sphere includes the restroom! It’s the restroom, Stupid!
Despite that it’s a technical world, good manners and personal contact still apply every day! OK, so the 21st century is full of technology: little pieces parts and electronics are fun, engaging and frustrating; computers that serve as electronic pencils and communication devices keep us in touch around the world. —commerce does not move forward with out these devices. Nevertheless, nothing, nothing replaces face-to-face contact and hand written notes. Our tendency is to try and use every new piece of technology that comes along, thus demonstrating to our clients that we have all the right tools and demonstrating to the staff that we have invested in technology. Further, by purchasing the latest techno stuff we are proclaiming to our staff that we are state of the art and everyone will get to learn the new device. That’s fine and new technologies have to be explored. But if you want to expand your sphere of prosperity; if you want to give meaning to your message and if you want an emotional connection with the people you spend a third of your life with; then next time try a personal visit or send a handwritten note. This is true for everyone in the office and for everyone dealing with the office. Look around. Do you ever see any e-mails framed on someone’s office wall? Are there any photos of your last phone call to a client? Of course not! But you can safely bet that the handwritten note from the CEO is displayed prominently and the photo of you and the client at the topping off ceremony are framed and on the wall! Printed Hallmark sentiments are meaningless. Handwritten sincere sentiments are powerful. Take the time to hand write a note. It says you thought about that person. People will be flattered and people will prosper!
Drop in and sit with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Actually sit down at their workspace. Inquire about the progress and process of their work. In the process actually look at them. This used to be described as “walk around” management. Walk around management got a lot of lip service from business gurus in the ‘80s and ‘90s but, to be honest, it never really happened. At best it should have been called “pass-by” management. “Sit down” management really implies a two person personal/professional conversation. It means communication! Pull up a chair! What a concept!
“But I don’t have time,” you say. You had time to make golf arrangements, right? You had time stop at the Jag dealer after lunch and look at the new model, right? You had time to call your college roommate to discuss the game, right? You had time to stop by the Human Resources Department and fill out your “change of beneficiary form,” right?
“In the information age, flexibility is the critical foundation for success. Future generations will need more than just mastery of subject matter; they will need mastery of learning.” —Morris Weeks
It’s all about you! We’ve been spending the last decade throwing out clichés like “It’s not about you!” when people don’t seem to get it. As well, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that “It’s not personal, it’s just business!” WRONG! People are hurt; people are wounded psychologically by what transpires in business. Just because this is a great line from “The Godfather” doesn’t make it true. When people don’t get it or when they get hurt it’s really like throwing the human sacrifice into the volcano! It is about you, and it is personal! Everything you do is about you and everyone else is watching. If you want to prosper, your sphere of self absorption had better be on solid ground with those who are watching and perceiving. Once we realize that it’s all about us, the best advice comes from Stephen Covey. “Treat everyone as if they had to deliver the eulogy at your funeral.”
The triumph of politics! Politics are forever. Politics is in every aspect of our lives. Negotiating over which relatives are coming for the holidays is politics! Trying to get your young children to go to bed is politics! There are those in the office that say things like, “I don’t play politics.” Or “I don’t understand the politics of that.” Or “I have no talent when it comes to politics.”
Nonsense! If you are alive, you are a political animal! You don’t have to gamble with your life, you just have to understand that all organizations of two or more people will be engaged in politics. If you are not good at recognizing the manifestations of politics that’s OK. Ask thoughtful questions. Listen and learn, then have a take. Learn to express your take on the issue confidently and without prejudice or rancor. Don’t fool yourself into thinking, “I’m smart and you’re not!” You will be perceived as smug. Help others see creative solutions through politics. Get things done because you understand what will be required of the situation. Remember the definition of “politic” is characterized by shrewdness in managing, contriving or dealing. That sounds ominous. But the most common synonyms of “politic” are expedient, suave and delicate! That sounds prosperous and those seem like worthy causes!
Equity-Bias and favoritism is unavoidable. Inequities abound. Bill Gates has $60 billion and I don’t! Yet another thing to get over! How many times have you heard someone in a leadership position say “We must create equity in our salary bands?” Or, “We must treat everyone equitably.” Or, “everyone deserves the same treatment.” I’ve heard it hundreds of times and I’ve come to realize that such philosophies are nonsense! Only people who don’t know their people make these kinds of rules. We should all recognize that the people in our offices are individuals of phenomenal intellectual, physical and social diversity; not to mention diversity in talent, experience and savoir faire. Therefore, different strokes for different folks. When we evaluate another individual we often do it through our own perception combined with things others have told us. This process of evaluation is inherently unfair because it leaves out the No. 1 ingredient. What is that? It’s actually talking to the person! Allow everyone in your office the opportunity to represent themselves to you. But help them by asking the right questions. Go ahead and ask, “Do you think your salary is fair?” “What traits do you have that you think add value to our office?” “What do you really like to do?” “What do you dislike doing?” “What talent do you have that we are unaware of? “As George Gallup said, “Ask the people and they will tell you!” Once you establish a kind of “truth be told” resume of your people you will find that the word equity just doesn’t apply. Similar titles will make different salaries. Similar salaries will have different responsibilities. Varying talents will have different perks. People don’t fit into formulas; it just doesn’t work. Good judgment about diversity does work. I didn’t create Microsoft, so I don’t have $60 billion! I’m over it!
Anticipation! As architects we try and anticipate the end users’ needs through our design. Why not try and anticipate people’s needs through design. Sit down and think through a plan for an individual who needs guidance. Write it down, even on a napkin at lunch. Then discuss it with him/her as if discussing a design with a client. Take the client’s recommendations and changes; jointly revise the plan and voila! Once again you have demonstrated your care, your concern and your willingness to help people prosper. This is not a performance review. This is a plan for the future.
Criticism: “A good pilot always evaluates what’s happened so he can apply what he’s learned.” —from “Top Gun”
Mistakes are constant. Criticism is a constant. Consider the source, think about it. Is it correct? Make your adjustments and move on. Advise your people not to over-react. By age 20 no one is going to alter their personality, so forget about criticism that attempts to modify behavior or personality. If you are the one providing the criticism make sure that it benefits individuals professionally, and be sure to offer solutions. Criticism that belittles others is only met with anger and a desire to get even. Also, criticism to demonstrate authority is dangerous to the environment. One solution is for leaders within firms to be available for critical professional feedback. I have never heard a firm leader ask for criticism. If you are in a leadership position, ask for it. But respond to it with the maturity of a leader, never with defiance or defensiveness. If you get defensive it will clearly demonstrate that you have not learned much given all your experience and the respect of the staff will diminish rapidly. You will prosper from well-intended and professional criticism no matter what your position. This profession is full of professional criticism and jealousy over talent, performance, style and substance; not to mention the competitive nature of the business which creates rivalries over won/lost projects. Isn’t that enough? Other than evaluating our mistakes, why get carried away with internal criticism? We are too hard on ourselves.
Celebrate! Celebrate everything! Don’t think of celebrations as a big meeting in a conference room with cookies and sodas. Those are fine. It’s great to celebrate new work or project completions and we should always do that. But I prefer to think of celebrations as small, intimate things. A handshake in the hallway to say congratulations and talk for a few minutes. A gathering in the lobby to hold a new baby. A walk to the parking lot to see a new car. An announcement over the P.A system that someone passed their exam. Celebrations that are small and personal carry the most meaning. Ironically, we usually celebrate someone’s departure from the firm. If the person will be missed, that’s fine. If we’re happy and relieved that someone’s leaving, no one really wants to party with them anyway! Instead, we should be celebrating the arrival of a new person to the company. In that celebration talk about why you hired this person, (they are the best, their background, etc.). Talk about what they are going to do and let them know about the wonderful expectations you have for them. When we talk openly about expectations the individual usually meets or exceeds them. This is also a formal way to kick off the new employee’s orientation to the firm and welcome them to the sphere!
Recognition, recognition, recognition. If you celebrate everything, then sooner or later you recognize everyone. Try not to leave anyone out of the big celebrations and make sure that everyone gets noticed in small expressions of more personal recognition as often as possible. Someone once said, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae above a kick in the ass, but it’s miles ahead in results!” All of us possess a desire to be recognized both consciously and unconsciously. If you are a leader, you can establish an office environment where results are not only recognized, but also where recognition leads to results.
Organizational Discipline. Let the neat freaks be neat freaks. Let the paper pile people pile on. Let the person who has proven that they always deliver in last moment, deliver in the last moment. There is little enough time and money to manage this profession to begin with, so don’t waste it forcing people into behavior patterns they can’t change. Just make it clear that regardless of any particular organizational style each individual must stay within their space and not impose on others. Each individual is responsible to deliver on time when called upon.
Individual Discipline. Generally speaking 10 percent of the people in an organization will be the cause of 90 percent of the discipline problems in the office. These problems can be more difficult and time consuming than is reasonable. Real problems need real answers, so deal with them and do it quickly. Start by listening. Finish by following up and taking action.
Bad guys do win! Plus: There always have been and always will be greater nobles and lesser nobles! Accept it and move on! It’s true! Bad guys win every day! The undeserved promotion! The special perk! The excessive expenditures! The bigger bonus! The outright violation of company policy that goes unquestioned! The unpunished bad behavior! The huge recognition for the one little thing done all year! Yes it’s unfair. It’s unfair in reality and in perception. Most of the time reality and perception can’t be distinguished. So avoid passing judgment. Good things happen to undeserving people. Get over it! Fifty years of television culture has made many of us believe that work life is some sort of sitcom where conflict is resolved and all is well in one half hour. Some of us even have a tendency to behave like sitcom characters. Stick with who you are, what you do and how you demonstrate your talent. Pursue excellence for yourself. Go home in the evening and feel damn good that you are excellent!
Why does Joe get to go to the presentation? I did most of the work! Why does Sue get a company car? She does the same thing I do! He didn’t design that! I gave him the idea and even drew it up for him! Does she ever actually do anything for all the money the company must be paying her? Where is the nobility in this organization?
Sue got the car because she delivered more revenue than anyone else in the firm. You didn’t know that did you? Joe went to the presentation because his track record at winning presentations is 90 percent even though to you he makes it look easy and he seems lazy about it. Your presence and inexperience might lose a huge commission that is easily won by Joe. Getting that commission will preserve several jobs in the firm. Ask him to fill you in when he returns from the presentation. Learn something!
Generally, everyone gets a chance sooner or later. Recognize your chances and make the best of them. Watch, listen and learn; there will be many future Projects. One day your stock will rise and you will be the greater noble. Then you can explain this to the lesser nobles!
Follow up. There are few things that are as psychologically damaging to a person as being ignored. The ramifications are huge. All you have to do to avoid the damage is follow up. Get back to people. Return phone calls. If you say you’ll consider something, then consider it and provide an answer. Return e-mails with answers. Read e-mails carefully. There is always more in them than just words. Answer all the questions raised in an e-mail. Don’t ignore the questions you can’t answer. As well, acknowledge e-mails and voice mails that are simply statements or updates. The author wants to know you read or heard the message. All of this is particularly important when it comes to a personal situation. Requests for vacations; requests for resolution of a payroll problem; requests for information about benefits, these and dozens of other personal issues are important to individuals. If you don’t respond or you forget, you are saying you don’t care and you are not important. Follow up and prosper!
Read and read for others. In 1936 Dale Carnegie published the first edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s still the greatest management/business book ever written, despite hundreds of new titles that appear every year on the shelves of your favorite bookstore.
Carnegie’s book should be required reading for every new employee. However, encourage your staff to read everything they come across. Read old magazines at the dentist’s office. Read the newspaper someone left behind in the airport. Read the catalogues you usually throw out that come in the mail. Buy a magazine you’ve never heard of before. Read a chapter of your child’s text book. Pull out your college poetry book. Read a Nancy Drew mystery! If the reasons aren’t obvious they soon will be. Every aspect of your life will be enhanced, from your basic knowledge to your writing skills; from your speaking ability to your vocabulary; from your cocktail conversations to your quiet moments alone. At the office you will find yourself more engaged. You will be less one-dimensional and you will relate to so many more aspects of the lives of those around you. Your reading will enhance your knowledge and the prosperity of others. When you see an article that you know someone in the office has an interest in—bring it in. Show them that you are thinking about them.
The years of yelling are over. What is it with yelling? Did that begin with the Pharaohs? No one even yells while training dogs anymore, so why is it so commonplace in office environments? Sadly, there are still moronic, pea-brained individuals who think that yelling at people, throwing cell phones, breaking pencils and slamming fists gets results. Sorry, that school of management is history, long past. You are dinosaurs and most of you are too dense to get it. Some of our elite professionals still abuse people this way, yet their image to the client is one of creativity and progressiveness. What hypocrites! Usually these people had bad role models coming up through the profession, but that’s no excuse. Good, talented people (when treated poorly) spread ill will throughout the office and when they move on (which they inevitably do) further damage to the firm’s reputation spreads among competitors and the industry as a whole. One individual’s poor behavior can create years of reverse prosperity for your firm. The personal repercussions can last an entire career. If you are a person of reasonable courage and competency you can speak in normal tones to anyone about anything. If you can’t contain your emotional verbal outbursts, become a football coach!
Simple creativity! We think we’re so smart. We’re well-educated and well-traveled. We work on complex things that require skill, talent, experience and a lot of thought. So how come we’re so dull? How come our offices aren’t spontaneously creative? How come the AIA can do a public survey on the perception of architects and we come off as bow ties, black turtlenecks and spectacles? And what about the black thing? Everyone has to wear black! Since when? The black thing has become so comical! Remember when black was just for funerals? If your creativity in clothing only extends to black, you don’t have enough creativity to design my project! Have you looked outside lately? The world is in living color! Could we get past black, please! Lighten up! Have ice cream for breakfast! Have a putting tournament around the studio! Have employees bring in a childhood photo and put them on the bulletin board. Have a “did you know” section in the company newsletter. I found out that the uncle of one person I worked with was one of the five Marines in the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photograph. Another person was the grandson of L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wizard of Oz. Another person had once been a concert pianist. And please, sponsor a day when everyone has to wear colors! Ban black!
The recognition factor (leadership roles). Make sure everyone in your office knows what everyone else does. The quicker new staff members “recognize” what the organization looks like and how it connects and who performs what functions, the sooner they get things done. Don’t assume that they are just going to get it! New employees will waste a lot of company time hunting down the right person (or potentially embarrassing themselves or someone else) in their search for whom does what. A 10-minute explanation will suffice. Draw the organization on a flip chart as you are explaining it. Nothing works better in this profession than a graphic representation. Don’t use PowerPoint and don’t hand out a preprinted organization chart. Draw it! Make your explanation a chance to personally connect with people by “draw and tell.” Organizations are naturally dynamic. The org chart you draw today will be different next week anyway, so what’s the point of printing them up? I knew a guy who used to draw organization charts that linked people by multiple overlapping ovals. His diagrams looked like fly wheel assemblies on a ’57 Chevy, but they were very effective!
Err on the side of generosity. When in doubt, be generous! There is no excuse for tightening the belt so much that people become resentful. If it gets to that point, there is something wrong with how the organization does business. Sometimes there is a fine line between being money savvy and being a cheap bastard (much like the fine line between genius and insanity). Don’t cross the line! Maybe someone you have to let go doesn’t deserve a severance package. Give it to them anyway to give them some dignity. Maybe someone overindulged on a trip. Check out the facts before rushing to judgment. Maybe a more expensive piece of equipment was purchased than you thought necessary. Does it work? Does it do even more than you imagined? Does it make the office more efficient? Let it be! Teach the youngest people the way expenses work in your office. Most young people right out of school have no idea how these things work. Be generous with flowers and gifts. Have enough petty cash on hand for quick purchases and on-the-spot recognition ceremonies. Pick a charitable cause that is of great importance to someone in the office and put a spare change bowl on the front desk. Get rid of your pennies. In three to six months, count the money and give it to the charity!
Was it good for you? A good test of your firm’s human resource capabilities is to do a follow up with those no longer with your firm. I’m not referring to an exit interview. There is no need for such things, because no one is going to tell you anything of substance on the day of their departure from the company. The best thing to do is wait two years (or four or five) and call a few people who have moved on. Are they better off? What is good about their current environment? What things in their current organization are better? What was good when they were with your firm? Do they speak highly of their experience with your firm or not and why? Are they prosperous? The goal is for those who leave your employ to one day be able to say, “Gee it was a great experience working for you. I was treated well; I learned a lot, I grew professionally and personally. I understood the mission, the environment and the philosophy. I’d work with you again. Great people! Great firm!”
“You are the same today that you are going to be five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate, and the books you read.” —Charles Jones
The evolving office environment will never be formulaic or precisely defined. Organizations cannot be fit into a grid or a spread sheet. As the human brain is more complex than the fastest supercomputer, human dynamics within an organization are just too complex to satisfy a business model, no matter how many parameters. Nevertheless, any office environment can be consistently gratifying and prosperous. As time passes, social, economic, political and legal consequences will continue to be the ingredients which define the environmental and cultural boundaries within the office, but “human resource departments” a.k.a. “human sacrifice departments” will be overtaken by the growth and rewards that come with being a prosperous and respected organizational sphere.
Williston Dye is the principal in charge of the Stubbins Associates’ Las Vegas office. He is the former head of Disney Imagineering and former board member of the DFC. His new book is Five Potatoes: Things are as clear as Vichyssoise! Humor, Hubris, Humility and one Human’s Huge Hallucinations from un Homme de Terre!
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