Friday, June 12, 2009

Getting work: it's harder than it looks

I've had the (mostly) good fortune lately to be involved in the process of getting jobs along with Bosley and Howie.  During May, Bosley spoke at a few office-wide seminars regarding how we get work, and we even went through a few RFPs and interview slide shows and talked about what worked and what didn't.  During those conversations, Bosely shared with us the changes in getting work over the past almost-thirty years that he's been practicing.  

Up until sometime in the 1990s, architects never advertised (and there were actually some laws in place for a while that kept us from doing so), and we got work by knowing people or having a client find us through a reference from another client.  We had lots of steady clients who would just call up one of the partners and say, "Hey, you mind coming by to talk about a women's care suite we're thinking about doing?"  Many healthcare facilities would have us present at their long-range planning meetings because we could provide some valuable insight into the physical manifestation of their policy and practice plans.  However, things began to change in the 1990s.  We were allowed to do a little advertising, though usually you see architects "advertise" by sponsoring some sort of nonprofit activity or radio or TV programming.  I think there was a bit of a rise in number of firms as the economy slowly got better, so suddenly there were lots of small firms out there to do the smaller commercial and residential work, and the larger firms grew such that they could take on larger projects.  Also, the nature of facility mangement changed: there was a lot more turnover at higher admin levels, and financial management of companies made it such that those companies wanted bids for the work, not to just hand a job over to someone.  This especially proved true in healthcare, where smaller hospitals and healthcare facilities and systems were taken over by larger HMOs or care systems (e.g., HealthONE and Catholic Health Initiatives to name a few).  So, we had to start doing RFQs, RFPs, and interviews.  

RFQ stands for Request For Qualifications; it's a document that you send a potential client to tell them a little about yourself and show that you are qualified to be involved on their project.  RFP stands for Request For Proposal; it's document that you send a potential client to tell them more about your experience and how it relates to their particular project, and sometimes it involves telling them what your fees are for certain kinds of work.  The interview is just that--you show up at the client's offices and talk to a group of their reps and elaborate on some of the stuff you talked about in the RFP.  Usually the order in which the process happens is RFQ, then RFP, then interview, but many clients skip the RFQ and just invite a handful of firms to send in RFPs.  They then narrow that list down for the interview.

We're doing an RFP (due in July) for architectural services for a small health system in west central Colorado, but this week Bosley, Howie, and I have been working on our interview presentation for a surgery suite renovation in a hospital near Wheatlands.  The client had someone do a little sketch of how they could do their surgery department renovation, and they gave a PDF of that plan to all the firms interviewing, along with a PDF plan of their existing department.  Part of our approach will be to note a few issues with their plan and then show a few options of our own.  Yes, Virginia, that means we're doing some work for free in order to get this gig.  What we hope it shows is that we're thinking about their project already and we're really interested.  We've been told after the interviews for some gigs we didn't get that we didn't talk much about the potential client's project, their facility, their needs, etc., so we're trying to address that as well.

We're doing a lot of graphics, sketching, and flat-out work to make this interview and presentation clear and outstanding.  Next week, we'll work on the words on the PowerPoint slides and what we're going to say with each slide as well as who speaks when about what.  The last time we worked on some slides together, it took a lot of work to get Howie to thin the words off his slides.  He likes to use his slides as his notes, and that's a really bad idea.  According to brain researchers, the same part of the brain handles spoken and written words.  So if you're reading slides, you're boring and insulting your audience.  If you're talking a lot while there are a lot of words on the slide behind you, then your audience can either read the novella on your slide or listen to you talk, but they can't do both.  Either way, you're wasting effort in one place or the other.  

I think I'm going to be involved in this interview, but I'm still not 100% sure.  I presume I am because I'm being involved in the meetings and conversations.  After a somewhat contentious meeting with Bosley today to show him what we have so far, Howie turned to me with an odd smile after Bosley left the room and exclaimed, "Man, that was great!  Really good!  I'm psyched!"  I wondered silently if he was trying to convince me or himself.  It was one of those where Bosley would shake his head after Howie said something and then almost spit, "I have no idea what you just said."  Again, at what point are we all going to agree as a culture that "It's not personal" is no longer an excuse for rudeness and obnoxious behavior?  We wonder why the world is so rude, why kids flip you off on the street and people curse and honk in traffic and telemarketers call you during dinner.  It's not the TV, people--it's us.  TV is just catching up to our crappy behavior.  When "it's not personal", "no offense", and "don't take this the wrong way, but..." are used to excuse rudeness and nonsense, we become inured to insult, and naturally it seeps into the rest of our culture.  

However, I'm a professional and an adult, and I will continue to behave as such as a model to some and as a mirror to others to reflect their behavioral inadequacies.  And if you find my deportment snobbish or abhorrent, you can kindly go fuck yourself.  Nothing personal.


mizscarlett said...

I think you've stumbled upon something here. Many people do justify borish behavior on the "well, its not personal."

Whereas, I have had management that truly gives feed back and criticism in a "non personal way" as opposed to those who do make it personal when they eviscerate you.

One HR training session I had made it very clear: When couseling employees, you refer to the facts.

The fire is hot.
If you touch the fire, you will get burned.
Do not touch the fire and expect that you will be OK.

That's the easy side of feedback and coaching. Its the nebulous stuff that you guys are so desparate to get good - perceptions and sales - that make feedback much harder.

"Bob, you're a douche. And it shows when you talk to our client." is clearly personal.

"Bob, we need to approach this from a position of strength in OUR skills, not a position of "You're a fool if you don't use us." is better, but still....

What you're trying to do is correct someone's behavior based on your ability to discern what the "common perception" is going to be of that behavior. Unless the person truly is an asshat and frankly thinks the commons are wrong, most people will respond OK. Its the ones who question your interpretation of "common perception." Then again, you have people who are so clue-free they just don't get what you're trying to tell them unless you leave the tact behind in the car when you get to work.

The whole point of criticism, feedback, coaching, etc... is SUPPOSED TO BE to facilitate change, not to express displeasure in the other person's abilities or performance. People loose sight of this so much, or they think that their displeasure or personal attacks should be enough of a change motivator. Then again, some people thing having their subordinates be "sucessful" means making the boss happy.

Sounds like either Bosley doesn't know how to coach Howie in a effective manner to get change, OR Howie is missing the whole non-verbal and even verbal cues to change his methods. Probably a combination of both.

The trick, Pixie, is who actually is correct? Probably a mixture of both, and you're caught in the middle.

A therapist said to me once, "There are no two legged stools - for a significant conflict where both parties feel justified, there's always at least one other person (sometimes more) involved, supporting a side."

Be careful, chica.

Miz Scarlett, who just vomitted random crap all over your blog comments.

Gustavo G. said...

such a nice blog; interesting news from US...
Greetings from Brazil

Arc. student

Wilderness Gina said...

How could you forget Bless their/her/his heart..."? Still pisses me off after all these years. Has it really been 39 years since I moved lock stock and sewing machine to GA?
And What The Hell Do Your Bosses Smoke? Git me some of dat she-it! (Dumb asses)