The world is changing
The A/E industry, like so many others, is hurtling towards a convergence point. The rapid rise of technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM), instant communication, the rate of innovation and obsolescence, and the widening gap between Baby Boomers and successive generations are placing unprecedented demands on businesses and individuals to work faster and smarter. In the next five years, fifty percent of managers will retire, taking their experience with them. The college graduates who replace them expect to spend only 16 months in a job before moving on. Yet only 27 percent of businesses are actively transferring knowledge. What can we do to leverage the power of the changing world, instead of just keeping up or falling behind?
With increasingly less time to pass on or develop knowledge, businesses need to address the differences in the ways Baby Boomers and Millennials think, work (think about work), and interact. Traditional talent development models like top-down mentoring and lengthy career trajectories don’t make bottom-line sense when information increases at an exponential rate and few employees stay in the same job for more than two years. Understanding and incorporating Millennials is critical to sustaining business viability: this generation will soon constitute the majority of our clients.
Two dominant and distinct work populations will emerge in the next decade: the young lions, technologically savvy, culturally diverse multi-taskers with a decidedly non-traditional work agenda; and the owls, whose deep experience and traditional work values and ethics have ruled the workplace… until now. Young lions are native children of the digital age. Owls, however committed to learning new skills, are immigrants from an analog world. The challenge is to forge a work culture [paradigm] where digital natives and digital immigrants learn from each other.
Traditional mentoring models assume a one-way knowledge flow. Older, more experienced workers share expertise on a project-by-project basis with younger workers who eagerly soak up the information. This model minimizes its effectiveness by assuming that experience gained slowly over time is the only intellectual asset worth transferring and by devaluing fluency in emerging technologies that are changing the way we design, collaborate, and deliver projects.
Two-way or up-and-down mentoring captures both kinds of knowledge. Experienced staffers share acumen with top young talent, who in turn share their fluency in BIM and the collaborative technologies that support Integrated Project Delivery. It’s a win-win for everyone. As hierarchies give way to collaborative teams, employees feel freer to share what they know and to test the potential of new ways of thinking and designing. Employers more quickly develop human capital and grow intellectual capital. And clients enjoy the best of both worlds: the expertise that comes with years of experience; and the innovation of enthusiastic young digital agers.
Speeding knowledge transfer
Once upon a time, “go with the flow” implied taking a laid-back approach, but that’s not the case in our 24/7 world. Our culture has become one of instant gratification and fast results. Clients are demanding faster delivery; young Lions expect more challenging and creative career paths; and Owls need their teams to get up to speed now. A/E firms need to swap the “trickle-down effect” of traditional, one-on-one mentoring (which, by the way, was never all that effective) for something more like the rush of a fire hose. We need to transform knowledge transfer to accommodate—and anticipate—the insatiable appetite for “more, better, faster” or be left behind. One way to speed things up is to involve more people working at greater intensity, so that knowledge—like traffic on a superhighway—can flow faster and in both directions. That was the thinking behind EYP’s creation of two innovative talent development programs: A16 and E10.
A16 and E10
Appropriate for a firm with a large client base in higher education, EYP is a culture that celebrates inquiry and discovery. To create a more effective and collaborative work/learn experience, we brought senior and junior staff together, literally and virtually, for an intense group experience. A16 assembled 16 of our best and brightest young architects for 16 weeks and 16 learning modules. E10 was the corresponding program for our engineers. The cross-office program included class time, field visits, one-on-one mentoring, leadership training, and collaborative group activities. Our “Huddle,” driven by LifeSize high-definition video and audio systems, supported a dynamic remote collaboration. Not only did this technology enable us to offer the most complete course, this method of collaboration mirrors how our teams work across offices every day. The highly successful launch of A16 and E10 yielded powerful results:
1. Stronger relationships between senior and junior staff
2. Better engagement-feedback loop
3. Formal and informal mentoring that works
The programs also challenged millennial perceptions about expertise and the workplace, resulting in better communications across project teams. Best of all, A16 and E10 have created demand for more opportunities to work/learn together… in AE16, which launches in 2011!
Just do it
Global, industry, and cultural trends are having a greater impact than ever on our business. Don’t be caught off guard: be aware! Know your culture; study the trends; and understand where your business (really) stands. Knowledge transfer is not automatic; it takes the personal commitment and time of leadership and staff on all levels. Assess where you are, where you want and/or need to go, and start drawing up a game plan to get you there. Most importantly, start now! The future is already here.
About the authors
Melissa Lassor, SPHR, is Director of Human Resources at EYP, providing firm-wide operational and strategic leadership across the full spectrum of HR issues. A certified Executive Coach, she has particular expertise in leading strategic initiatives including organizational change and development.
John Pocorobba, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is Chief Operations Officer at EYP and a nationally recognized expert on Building Information Modeling. He is responsible for operations and project profitability and leads the firm’s Venture Team.
John will be talking about A16 program and two-way mentoring at KA Connect 2011.
About the post
This guest post has been reprinted from the AIA Practice Management Winter Digest with the generous permission of the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community.
The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment. The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.