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.....


ms. kitty said...

Good work, Pixie! You've effected good change in the workplace, sounds like to me.

Miss Kitty said...

This should prove very interesting. Even my word verification thinks so: "sticink."

WG said...

Hur Hur. I gots a kwestion. How you always seem in the middle? I distinctly remember you being the youngest child... I didn't have another one somewhere along the line did I? Ghost child lurking in the ether! How exciting!

Anyway, you just prod a little buttock. It's good for them.
("quitings". o..k..)

New Hampsha said...

Come on Pikseh! No cliffhangahs (Boston speak). Write about your kittehs or Sasquatch (your husband) if you are sick of work. Works for me!

Now I don't mean to sound like Kathy Bates when she said to James Caan in 'Misery', "I'm your biggest fan..." That gets creepy. So let's just not let it get to that point. hahaha

Take care. Love your stuff.

Some New Hampshire fans.