Friday, August 27, 2010

In the words of Sheryl Crow, a change would do you (and all of us) good, Part 1

Okay, so, changes at work are thus...

A few weeks ago, I finally presented for the upper management (including most of the partners) the presentation that I did back in June at an industry conference. The presentation was about how mentoring and properly training interns and junior staff helps a firm in the long run, and those present ended up being really into it and rather receptive to the results of my research in psychology, management, and our industry. A very interesting discussion ensued amongst the upper managers and partners present at the end of the presentation (which is what happened at the industry conference as well).

I love hearing the "grown-ups" discuss the plight of the intern from their point of view. It always starts with someone saying something along the lines of "well, you work a lot in school, so what makes you think you're not gonna work a lot in the workplace? You don't get to run a firm or be a partner in a firm by just working 40, week after week." Then, there's a pause, and someone else says something like, "Well, yeah, you have to work a lot sometimes, but if you were told 40 is the typical week and 45 or 50 becomes the typical week, then you've either got a case of bait-and-switch or poor management and organizing of the workload." And then the discussion opens up even more, with upper management acknowledging some hard truths about their profession and ultimately realizing just how much their management and overall firm policies affect and therefore help and/or hurt the very people they want to motivate and keep. At the end of the discussion (almost two hours after I started), Vincent stated that he wanted everyone to reconvene at the same time next week in order to discuss real, doable ways to keep the few interns we still have, and how to reward them or make things better--we're so top-heavy right now that there's nowhere for the interns we have to move up to, so we need to figure out how to keep the ones we have."

Effing. Excellent.

So, I had lunch with as many interns as I could later that week and took notes while I got them to talk about what was good, bad, and ugly about working at Design Associates. The next Monday, I reconvened with even more of upper management to discuss what might be done for interns. Howie and Bosley were missing at my presentation the week before (each had a project meeting of some sort to attend), but they were present at today's meeting. Time would tell if they were going to be receptive to anything I had to say. Interestingly, as I shared observations and input from the interns, it was Bosley and Howie that were softly but ultimately the least into listening. I mentioned at one point that the interns appreciate both comp time and overtime pay, but not all comp time is equal. As I began to elaborate, Bosley looked annoyed and harrumphed, "I don't know why anyone's taking comp time. Comp time is illegal in the state of Colorado, and we don't do it. No one should be telling anyone to take comp time. If you work the time, you should be paid for it, end of story." I almost pointed at Howie sitting next to him and futzing around with his CrackBerry and said, "Really? Did you tell him that it's illegal? Because he makes all of his staff live and die by comp time." But I didn't. I was the bigger person...for now.

I began explaining how the interns had really enjoyed working for multiple managers and partners, as they learned more about more types of projects and felt better about the economy (when Bosley's project ends, Vincent's begins, and then Will has something...there's always some work somewhere, thank heavens!). Bosley speaks again at this point, talking about how we "really don't trade staff around that much, really." I'm thinking to myself, um, but we did for the past 18+ months, dude. Just then, one of Vincent's managers, a really good designer and great construction detailer named Hans, speaks up. "Bosley, we have been sharing staff more than usual, and we're hearing from them that they really like it and get a lot out of it. We've had people leave this firm because they felt stuck working for one partner or manager only. Maybe it's time that we rethink how we run our practice and allow for some flexibility in how we staff."

I then reminded everyone that interns want chances to work on unusual things, like RFPs and interviews, and they really value the on-site CA time, as it helps them understand how what they draw is made real. At this, Howie finally looks up from his CrackBerry and says somewhat mildly and yet menacing and apologetic all at the same time: "hard to do sometimes. If a project is more than an hour and a half away, it's hard to rationalize a $600 plane ticket for an intern--"

Hans interrupts a little more menacingly and less apologetic: "We've been doing it on the Western Slope Plaza project for months now. Five hours there, five hours back with interns. Each intern worked on a specific part of the project--the movie theater, the mall, or the apartments--and when that part was getting built, we brought them out to see it and it gives them an understanding as well as a sense of ownership." I've never been very close to Hans, but I suddenly I felt like leaping across the table and hugging and kissing him. Dude had a pair the size of Montana.

I took the opportunity to remind the managers that interns know that there's not a lot of cash around for raises, but giving them chances to work on and see more interesting parts of architecture is a way to reward and develop them in a way that doesn't explicitly require money. At the end of the discussion, some of the managers were really into some instant ways to make changes, such as getting a fresh copy of ARE study materials for the interns to use. And some of them are into more long-term ways to make things better. But I was blown away to see the range of reactions from folks around the table, and I wondered how we ever get anything done at DA. It's as if we have too many cooks who aren't even in the same book, much less on the same page.

After the meeting, I pulled Audrey aside and said, "Can I talk to you for a sec about the Interiors group?" Audrey's elegant brow furrowed, and she flipped over her notepad to a fresh page and clicked open her ink pen again. "Sure, let's go into a conference room," she said.....

to be continued.....

(Very brief) update

The meeting with the upper mgmt went well, and it was rather curious to see how decisions do (or don't) get made here at Design Associates. Meanwhile, there was shock and appallment (is that even a word) at Prudence's behavior but no word on how that will play out. More details today/this weekend when I shake off this hangover from drinking margaritas with Scarlett last night.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Architect is watching a paradigm shift, please stand by....

I know I haven't been posting worth crap lately, y'all. Part of it is my general life/mindset lately, where all I want is to chill out and be still and not do anything more than is absolutely necessary. But part of it is also that I've witnessed (and been a part of) some really interesting changes at Design Associates lately, I'm waiting to see how a couple of those things play out early next week before I post on them in earnest.

The short version is this: remember the presentation I did back in June to a group of architects from around the country? Well, I did it for the partners and managers at DA, and they loved it and want to focus on ways to make DA better for the interns (and even people at my level). Simultaneously, though, Prudence, the head of our interiors department, may be about to have a mutiny on her hands--years of cranky managing and a lack of a mentorship mindset on her part may be about to do her in, or at the very least have a walkout on her hands.

I'll post more this/next week as things unfold.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Teh Qte iz strong wif dis wun...

It's been about a month since we brought Gracie home from the shelter, and she's fitting in nicely...mostly.

Oh hai. i'z in ur flor, bein qte.

She was an outdoor kitty before, and while she appreciates the safety and spoilage of indoor life, she constantly watches through the patio screens, waiting for her chance to wander around on the balcony. She'll spend hours out there with me, just sitting on the little outdoor rug, half-chasing a fly, or sniffing the tomatoes.

Diz wun is reddy, mama! Let'z mayk sum pastah snauce!

Hazel, meanwhile, is less than thrilled.

Mama, teyke ur well-pedicured fut and put it up Gracie's butt, plz kthx.

Gracie has become dominant kitteh in some parts of the house--I've actually seen her reach out and swat Lulu-kitteh, who tries to brush it off as no big thing. Gracie gets some of the best seats in the house, but Hazel gets the spot of honor next to my butt on the bed.

Dis mai sleepee-playce..gzzzz.....

The detente extends to eating, though Gracie is always lurking--the vet says that she's not the 2.5 years old that the shelter said, probably more like barely 18 months old at the most and was probably pregnant on her first heat cycle. The vet thinks Gracie "wants" to be bigger. I want her to have a healthy bibbin (tummy) to match her new, spoiled/lazy lifestyle.

I tum bak latr and eet the rest of her fud om nom nom...

Hazel doesn't know what to do sometimes with this hyper little maniac in the house.

Ware she at? Did she go bek to sheltr? I hoap so!

Hazel also gets Spot of Honor next to me on the futon while watching TV. Recently, she burrowed under this blanket after getting into a scrap with Gracie and stayed like this for nearly five minutes.

If I kan't c hr, she kan't c meh!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Will no one take this cup from my lips?

In between answering RFIs and checking shops for Gestalt, doing the kick-off meeting and facility tour for the new project with Will, and performing a code study for a church renovation and addition project for Sven (don't ask), I'm still getting calls and emails from vendors and product reps, all trying to get in to do AIA seminars. And I do. not. have. time. for. this. Saralee ultimately turned it down, having done it once and also having just started back at Design Associates last week. I asked our new admin assistant, who used to coordinate the seminars at her previous firm, and she said she was so loaded down with stuff to do that there was no way she could do it. I asked another admin assistant, and she said she could maaaaaayyyyyyyybeeeeee do it, depending on what her workload is like from week to week.

Last week, Will observed that we were probably going to have to make somebody take this on; it was highly unlikely that we were going to get someone to volunteer. It's about 2 hours a week worth of work, but it's mostly that the responsibility is scattered and intrusive on regular billable work. For example, I have to email the Thursday presenter on Wednesday morning to let them know how many people will be attending on Thursday...but my Wednesday mornings are absorbed by 9am OAC meetings with Gestalt, so I'm out of the office for at least two hours every Wednesday morning, and I'm getting ready for that meeting in the hour before the meeting. And believe it or not, but that two minutes needed to email the presenter is just one more damn thing I gotta do in an already-booked morning.

Part of the problem is that Design Associates' powers-that-be think that an architect (or architect-like person) should be in charge of the seminar coordination. The problem with that is that a billable person is suddenly spending time doing non-billable tasks, the majority of which really could be done by someone without a B.S. or higher in Architecture. My mom could do this job, not because it's easy, but because it requires a decently intelligent person with good organizational skills, architecture degree optional. Our admin assistant who used to coordinate them at her old firm said that she used to check a potential presentation and presenter with an architect in the office, but eventually she got to where she could decide on her own if it was a good presentation for the office. The same could be said for anyone who spent a couple of months doing the coordination.

Mostly, we need someone less busy than me, who bills less per hour than me, who isn't going to as many meetings as I am. And I think that trying to get rid of this annoying, Chihuahua-like responsibility is due in part to my sudden weariness of doing pretty much anything. I need some more Fridays off, and I don't need more jobs to do and roles to play at work or in life in general. I think I've pretty much done my part for a while; let someone else prove how useful they are.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From the frying pan into the pizza oven

I got news today from another partner at Design Associates that we got a new project in which I was to be heavily involved. It's an MRI at a research facility that will be a pretty fast-paced project--the equipment has to be up and running by the end of 2010. The partner who involved me on this project, Will, is a delightful and charming and very talented fellow who looks much younger than his fifty-something. And I don't mean younger as in had-some-work-done or oh-that-devilish-look-in-his-eye or even hasn't-he-held-up-well; I mean he just looks barely 40. Anyway, Will asked me and another associate in the office to be involved in the sudden phone interview for this project, and evidently we did well enough that we've been given the project. Even better is that we snatched it away from a firm that's been snatching a lot of projects from us over the past couple of years. Boo-yah.

Will came up to me late this afternoon to give me the good news in person and to high-five me, which is always a nice reaction from a partner. Will adjusted his glasses and said, "Now, we need to get realistic about your workload. Your presence and involvement on this project is vital, and it's a very fast project, so it'll take a good chunk of your time. What else do you have going on?"

I explained that Gestalt's first floor project is a bit feast or famine--one day, there won't be much to do, and then the next I'll be eyeball-deep in RFIs and shop drawings. I also told him that I don't mind working more than 40 hrs a week, but I'm not able to do 60 hrs/week for four months straight. Been there, done that: I'm not productive at the volume anymore, as my mood of late has shown. Then, I got a lovely idea.

"You know what would help free up my time?" I asked. "If I could share the AIA seminar coordination duties with someone. You know, we just hired back Saralee this week, and she used to coordinate them, so maybe she and I could share--"

Will interrupted. "I think we should take that completely off your plate, Pixie. You've done a great job of revitalizing them, of getting them really organized and together, and I think it's time to pass that back to someone who will have the time to do it."

What's funny about this is that it was Will who asked me to start managing these back in February. I'm glad, though, that he can see what it takes to do the job right and that I'm just too damn busy to do it well anymore. We talked to Saralee briefly about it, but we'll have to talk it over with Norman, for whom she's working. On the one hand, it'll be nice to get rid of this godforsaken, thankless task...but I'm about to be crazy-ass busy, just at a time when I really need a break.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Just relaxing, kthx

Here's a pic I took of an immaculately-maintained American Gothic/Victorian house in Key West in June 2010. I just like the way the sun was barely reflecting off of the multiple paint colors and the occupiable attic's windows. marvelous.

Just having a quiet weekend with the kittehs, who are both doing well (Hazel managed to get her appetite back, sorta). After swiffing the house and wiping down the bathroom and the kitchen, it's time to slum a bit on the balcony and enjoy my plants and my wee garden, form which I recently got some tomatoes and some green beans.