2021 Letter from the Chair

By Matthew Clapper AIA posted 01-09-2021 05:47 PM


Happy New Year Everyone,

2020 was a crazy and difficult year for everyone, and the AIA’s Small Firm Exchange (SFx) Member Group was no exception.  We plan most of our efforts during an annual, in-person, meeting at the beginning of every year.  We were able to hold that meeting in-person in 2020 and then just two weeks later we found ourselves in an entire new world and our country in lockdown.  Just like every other organization last year, we adjusted.  We put a focus on creating digital content, articles, webinars, and social media so that small firms across the country would still be provided with resources during these trying times.  I want to thank our 2020 Chair, Michael LeJong, for leading the group during that time and being able to turn an unforeseeable situation into a positive one.

This year we’re still holding our annual meeting, digitally of course, which comes with its own trials and tribulations.  The one advantage to this years meeting though is knowing that the pandemic is here and what that new world looks like.  The pandemic can be a blessing in disguise for organizations, if approached the right way.  It opens the door for introspection and almost forces everyone to take a moment of pause.  That’s exactly what we’re trying to do during this year’s annual meeting.  It’s allowing us to take stock in our group, examine our past and plan for our future. 

For too long the group was in a cycle of production for production’s sake.  This is a common issue, especially for entrepreneurs, which make up the entirety of the Small Firm Exchange.  Too often we feel the need to be produce something, to have something tangible that shows that we achieved something with our efforts.  That’s not the only way to measure success or production though.  Efforts can also be spent on communication, internal frameworks, and reorganization that, while they may not show immediate tangible results, will show incredible gains when looked at over the next several years.  I think a lot of good organizations have come to this realization during the pandemic.

That approach is the one that the SFx will be taking for 2021.  We’re looking inward, to be able to be more outwardly efficient going forward.  The focus for the year is on communication.  That’s a broad topic, but the one that is most important to any group’s success.  More specifically the SFx will be creating liaison positions between the SFx and almost every Knowledge Community and Member Group that exists within the AIA.  This will allow the SFx to be fully informed about what content is being created and/or researched across the entirety of the AIA. 

It will also allow us to share feedback and let the KCs know what gaps in information and resources we see, so that together we can fill those gaps in the future.  Spending this time listening and gathering every year will also allow us to get pertinent information out to our constituency quickly and reliably, via our social media accounts and AIA publications.  In future years, it will allow us to to gather, combine, and curate all of that information into more valuable resources, such as articles, webinars, continuing education, conference sessions, etc.

As I said before, communication is broad and the most important aspect of communication is people.  Getting people involved, making sure your message is reaching the right people, and so on.  To achieve this goal the SFx this year is completely restructuring how it’s organized.  Part of this is in response to be better aligned with the AIA transition from regions to states, but mostly because we think this is just a far more effective and efficient way to function going forward.  The new structure creates an SFx Board, made up of 8 permanent states and 22 rotating state seats, and 55 state reps (one for every state, plus outlying areas/districts and an international seat). 

The combination of eliminating regions and creating the new state rep positions allows for far greater access to participation and representation.  In the previous model there was only 1 seat for someone in a 4-5 state area and once that spot was filled it wasn’t open again for 3-4 years.  This system was far too limiting and exclusionary.  The new system will allow 1-2 people from every state, depending on if there is both a board member and state rep, to be able to participate within the SFx.  This new system allows for more voices, more diversity, more points of view, and a pipeline for future SFx leadership.  Externally, it also means that the SFx will be able to reach every corner of the country and be able to hear about issues that exist in every corner, like never before.  This will result in a more complete representation of our members and allow us to bring a greater value to small firm owners who choose to join the AIA.

If you’re a small firm owner and are interested in learning more about our group, or participating as a state rep, please reach out to us!  We’d love to talk to you and tell you more of the details about the items discussed in this letter.  We look forward to meeting all of you and listening to your story!  We hope you’ll come join us!

Matthew Clapper, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
2021 SFx Chair