Small Project Practitioners

1.  RE:My firm is aTeenager!

Posted 06-25-2013 17:46
Every small group is going to have a unique dynamic. What works for one firm might not be valued by your particular employees.  Why don't you ask your employees what will make them feel appreciated?  After 20 years of managing my firm I have found  a few constants:   everyone likes and appreciates money, and word of praise and positive well-deserved 'call outs' are a no cost way to show your sincere appreciation.

And for new hires, a couple of things we have found that help:  firstly, pair them up with an existing employee who will help them in the first few months with all the questions they will have.  This does not have to be formal- it can be someone who they will be working with on a project, or a supervisor.  Secondly, we developed a 20 or 30 page "things you need to know" document with all kinds of information in it, like how we keep our files organized, how the server is organized,  keeping time sheet, an office 'map' with people's names and extensions, how to request new supplies, how to use the phone system and copiers, and where the extra toilet paper is kept. You will think of hundreds of useful things to add.  And  a 3-month review is always useful too.

Suzan Lami AIA
Lami Grubb Architects, L.P.
Pittsburgh PA

2.  RE:My firm is aTeenager!

Posted 06-26-2013 19:21
I agree with Suzan's suggestion regarding on-boarding of new hires.

Your other dilemmas are more complex and the solutions will be dependent on many factors, including your personal proclivities and your comfort level with sharing responsibility and authority. Often, when employees express the feeling of being under appreciated it is code for frustration about lack of ability to have autonomy in decision making, especially if the principal is often unavailable and becomes a bottleneck in the production process. Because of the reinforcing relationship between productivity and job satisfaction (happy employees are more productive and when employees are highly productive, they are happier), dissatisfaction is often a result of operational issues, rather than training or benefit issues. Education and increased compensation can help morale, but only if you get to the underlying causative factors. 

Organizational design issues, such as having titles will not help much unless they are truly reflective of shifts in roles and responsibility. Also, in a firm of 10 people, signaling out some staff over the others as well performing and giving prizes seems counter-productive, creating competition when you really want cooperation and knowledge sharing among the staff. In a firm of 10, everyone should be working together to help everyone to be well performing, you can't really afford under-performing staff. 

I don't mean to be self-serving, but in my book I discuss these issues in some depth and even have a diagram called "everyone is dissatisfied" that illustrates a situation similar to what you discribe. My book is called "The Architect's Guide to Small Firm Management" (Wiley, 2010). I also have some articles on my website that discuss some of the underlying issues for the situations you describe: to read them, see blog posts on  

Rena Klein FAIA
RM Klein Consulting
Spokane WA

3.  RE:My firm is aTeenager!

Posted 06-27-2013 17:34

Robert Sussna AIA Emeritus
President, Principal
Sussna Architects, PA
Stockton NJ
As a retired practitioner of some years, this discussion sounds all too familiar. It distresses me to hear some of these issues still going around without resolution, as it was in 1970, 1980, etc. I suggest that managing an architectural firm is no different from managing any other business. The skills and techniques are the same as they always were, and are no different for other small firms in other fields. Probably, the crux of the problem relates to businesses where there is craft, and the founder/principals see themselves as different. They have the talent and see that as separating them from the issues of business, like charging enough, getting paid, refusing poor clients, getting things done on time, getting along with the folks who have to execute their work. I could go on quite a while. It may help explain why architects too often are not thriving.
If you want to see the solution, look at Rafael Vinoly's practise, and watch Tabatha Takes Over, or one of the many "Restaurant-is-failing" TV shows. Seriously, they are the models for the difficulty/failure of architects syndrome, and they illustrate the solutions.

4.  RE:My firm is aTeenager!

Posted 06-26-2013 20:18

What great ideas for the guide and the pairing up!  They are so obvious and so simple, it makes me wonder why I never saw them growing up in other firms and never used it in my own.


Victor Nahmias AIA
Envision Architecture
Los Angeles CA

5.  RE:My firm is aTeenager!

Posted 06-25-2013 17:48
Why not ask your staff what would make them feel more heard and valued? Maybe ask them to submit a list of your firm's strengths, weakness, and ways to improve if they were in charge. Let them submit anonymously and then bring lunch in and pass out a compiled list and open the floor for discussion. Try to listen and not talk. Don't get defensive. Don't shoot down ideas. Do keep the conversation moving forward in a positive way and set some ground rules for no bashing any individuals, etc. You are looking for how to improve, not a vent session, necessarily. It may take a few lunches. Empower people to implement good ideas. Let go of the control of everything and let them have ownership in their ideas.

The worse thing is when staff feels like the bosses are making changes without even asking what staff needs.
Good luck!

Pamela Leonard AIA