Doug Parris and A.J. Montero never get tired of change. They have to deal with it every day with their clients and employees.
It’s not the kind of change that involves turnover in either of those areas or new ownership or new policies. Rather, it’s eating, sleeping and breathing the company culture built around change.
As leaders and partners of the Columbus office of global architecture and design firm NBBJ, Parris and Montero, both partners in the firm, focus on transforming their clients’ enterprises through design. Spearheading that effort requires one of the standards of management: leading by example.
“If we, A.J. and myself, and our other 15 partners don’t live our culture every day, then we are not setting the example for the staff,” Parris says. “Part of living it is communicating it and always making sure it’s at the top of everyone’s thoughts as they work with our clients.”
“Everyone” includes the 135 employees of the $52 million Columbus branch of the worldwide company.
It’s a given that change comes with the territory of the architecture and design field. Not long ago, blueprints were drawn by hand. Today, 3-D drawings sketched by computer programs are the norm. With such advances that have been made in that step, it’s only natural that the best chance to boost a company’s success is to stress to clients that if they are interested in a new building or remodeling project, they should couple it with a new and different culture.
“Design often requires cultural change within an organization — how do we make it easy for the client’s staff and employees to transition from one environment to another and basically embrace the cultural changes that are required?” Parris says.
Here are some ways eating, sleeping and breathing change all fall into place at the Columbus office of the nation’s third-largest architecture firm so that it is not feared but desired and enables the company to reach new levels of success.
Find a shoe that fits
As simplistic as it sounds, the road to the highest potential often starts with a good fit between parties — be it designer and client, supplier and client, or consultant and client.
Obviously, you should avoid ones that don’t look like a good fit. You may save yourself from a possible problem client who will wear you out, avoid a reputation hit if you can’t deliver on your promises and be able to exploit your niche better by declining someone from outside your specialty.
A system to evaluate clients is often beneficial. You should check references and compare what types of work or what other companies with which your target has dealt.
“We have a system internal to NBBJ that we use to look at potential clients and see whether or not they align with our values,” Montero says. “Having that filter very early lets us see clients that are trying to transform themselves. We see clients that understand that they want to go somewhere. That is a big first step.”
Again, don’t hesitate to be a little choosy.
“It’s not just looking at everybody who needs something to be done no matter what they’re after or what their model is, you are not judging. You are just saying that, in many cases, those are not clients for you,” he says.
This is the time to analyze the leadership and employees.
“One of the most important things that you see in terms of getting started is that they have the right leadership in place,” Parris says. “Leading a project is not a skill set that everyone comes to the table with.”
If you can categorize the participants in three types, it will give some insights to your potential partner.
“What we typically see is you have three levels of participants,” he says. “You’ll have the very top leadership in an organization. They need to be on the same page so that they have a clear kind of vision of what they need.
“Second, you have kind of a working group, the people that are responsible for getting things done every day to keep things moving forward and pushing information up the ladder to the leadership of whatever organization it is, whether it’s a corporation, a university or a hospital.
“Then you have the people that do the work, and they end up being the most critical to getting things done because you have to meet with them and understand how they do what they do,” Parris says. “A lot of times, one of the key elements of working with any organization is that they only know what they have been exposed to.”
Opening all their eyes to the bigger world out there, be it new office design, a new product to consider or a new practice to undertake, is very important. Many people only know the places where they have worked and the procedures they have been following.
Do some role-playing
One of the more effective ways to get a grip on what may need to change in your company culture involves some mental exercises. When undertaken, they often lead to some startling conclusions.
“We call it suspension of disbelief,” Montero says. “You try to open people’s minds to say, ‘OK, for a minute, let’s just pretend that we were in a different circumstance.’ We have role-playing exercises that allow us to really understand that world.
“If you take them out of it for a second and see what the possibilities are, no pressure, just being able to look at those things in a fresh way, whether or not they choose to go down that road, ultimately, is going to be up to them. But what we found more often than not is that when they go through an exercise of discovery, they find out that it isn’t as scary as they thought, that the change is really not going to be that dramatic.
“There are people who work in the trenches every day, who are really seeking change, and it opens the door for that communication between top-level leadership and the users that maybe didn’t exist before in their eyes, so that kind of engagement is really something to achieve,” Montero says.
“A good example is that you might make the CEO of a hospital role-play as one of his own patients and walk through the system or have the president of a university be a student for a day and walk in the student’s shoes,” Parris says. “I use something called ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’”
“When you design hospitals, you work with a lot of high-powered administrators and surgeons, especially, who have very strong opinions about the way things should or shouldn’t be done,” Montero says. “So they’re very well-educated; they have to run very important enterprises. So when we get into these types of role-playing exercises, they are meant to show how the way that you do something isn’t necessarily the way that it has to be forever.”
While the role-playing may sound like children’s fare, it is indeed often extremely helpful to open the mind to different ways of thinking.
“Most of the time, when you introduce something like that, you can just imagine going to the Cleveland Clinic and sitting down with the top people in the world when it comes to heart surgery, and you’re trying to propose doing something that almost seems frivolous,” he says.
“There may be a lot of pushback, but once you go through the exercise, you will be surprised how much they get into it.”
The effort to gain new insights really takes on a life of its own, Montero says, and brings engagement that is a distinctive plus.
“You have doctors and surgeons saying, ‘Well, based on that scenario, maybe we can create this device that is actually implemented in the ambulance as opposed to waiting for the patient to get to the hospital,” he says. “It’s that type of thinking outside the box that these role-playing exercises allow you to engage in. It’s a disarming environment that allows people to think creatively as opposed to the day-to-day grind that they usually are in.”
“Role-playing actually gets us and our clients into kind of a different persona so that they can see the world around them from a different perspective. And it’s actually a lot of fun,” Parris says.
In this pseudo-environment, people feel they can say what they think and don’t have to worry about making errors.
“You create an environment where you allow for mistakes to happen,” Montero says. “You allow for people to think up stupid ideas that you can discuss that sometimes actually become really interesting ideas.”
“Let people take risks,” Parris says. “Let people take chances to innovate and create new things. You can give people all the authority and responsibility in the world, but if there’s no room for them to grow, no open space there, they’re never going to achieve what they can achieve if that space doesn’t exist.”
Instituting change doesn’t come without problems. There is a point where leaders need to show empathy for talented performers who contribute to the organization but only can be pushed so far.
“In all honesty, there are people within our firm that say, ‘This is what I enjoy doing, and this is all I want to do. I love my work, so I don’t have an aspiration to do other things,’” Parris says. “We have to respect that also. We really have to make sure that we don’t push people beyond where they’re comfortable being pushed.
“Everyone has a tolerance for that kind of thing. So that’s the kind of empathetic leadership that you have to develop all around, the kind of diversity that we build because everybody is not the same.”
There is a very fine line between the creative culture and one that expounds dogma.
“You don’t want to be dogmatic about the things that you do,” Montero says. “You have to be empathetic that everyone brings something. And there’s a gradient in there — some people are much more conservative than others.”
A culture can be considered well-assimilated when the people with the right mix of skill sets, temperaments and expertise blend to make the machine work very well.
“But you can’t have everybody think the same way, even if it’s thinking creatively, because then you become very one-sided,” Montero says.
“The thing you have to guard against is being homogeneous,” Parris says. “It’s not just the diversity of people and skill sets, but it’s also diversity of thought that lends itself to greatness.
“That should apply to all businesses. In the design profession, no matter what you do whether you are an architect, a graphic designer, an interior designer or product designer, innovation comes from the ability to think in different lights. Otherwise everything will look the same and like a formula.”
Lest you tear up your book of formulas, think about uniqueness instead.
“In a lot of businesses, there are formulas,” Parris says. “If you’re making toothpaste that people buy, you’re not going to want to change that formula. In design, it’s not that way. They don’t want what you gave to the last guy. They want something that is uniquely theirs. That is an important part of that diverse thinking and not being too homogeneous within the office and the firm worldwide.”
“I think many professions are moving toward that idea that creativity and idea sharing, innovation — is a big impetus for what they do. We are finding more of that in all the different project types and professions that we touch.” <<
How to reach: NBBJ, (614) 224-7145 or www.nbbj.com
Parris: Bremerton, Wash. I’m a Navy brat — born on a Navy base and moved around my whole life.
Montero: Havana, Cuba
Parris: I graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and have a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in architecture.
Montero: I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University.
What was your first job?
Parris: Digging and planting trees for a landscape company inFairfax,Va.I learned it was really hard work. Now they do it with machines. I had to do it with a shovel.
Montero: I think you’re going to find a pattern here. I worked in construction all throughout high school in south Florida. It was very hot, and it was very hard work. What I learned from it was that I never, ever wanted to do it again, which was one of the big reasons that I made sure that I went to college to get an education.
What was the best business advice you received?
Parris: Your career will be defined by the success of those around you. That came from one of our former partners.
Montero: I got some really great advice from a close family member: If you’re a cheese maker, then make cheese. What that means is if you’re good at something and you are passionate about it, really dedicate yourself to doing that and supporting others in that enterprise.
Whom do you admire in business?
Parris: I’m conflicted about it. I guess if I had to say historically whom I admire, it’s Frank Lloyd Wright because his passion and rigor around architecture are something that I’ve always respected. In a more contemporary sense, probably Steve Jobs because he had a kind of a boundless creativity — the ability to imagine or at least create an organization that could imagine what’s next.
Montero: I have a lot of respect for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The reason is not because of Facebook but because whatever he has created has influenced society in a positive and negative way. I think that Zuckerberg has been able to touch on something that is very, very relevant, that we can even put our fingers on, and I think that is the kind of definition of somebody who is a visionary.
What is your definition of success?
Parris: Transforming our clients’ enterprise through design. If we work with the client and the outcome has taken them from where they were to where they can be, it is really the definition of business success for us.
Montero: I look at that but more internally. I think that success for us is really creating a great culture where people can fulfill their professional and sometimes personal aspirations and goals. We want people to come into this building every day and feeling that they can change the world, that they can accomplish everything they want to accomplish and really make a difference. If we can provide them with that kind of environment, I think we will be a successful business.
There are several methods of design and construction that can be used on a project. Each determines who produces the designs, who performs the construction and who is liable in the event of litigation.
The type of project, whether public or private, its level of technical sophistication and the time frame in which it needs to be finished determine the preferred method.
Smart Business spoke with T.G. Davallou, partner and head of Alfa Tech’s San Francisco office, about the different methods, what they entail and which is better for a given situation.
What are the differences among the methods of design and construction?
Traditional design-bid-build features a consultant who will design the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems for the building, the construction of which is put out to bid. The contractor with the winning bid then performs the construction.
Design-build means the MEP consultant writes the performance specifications, which provide the design criteria for the project, then hires a design-build contractor who finishes the design based on the specifications and performs the construction.
Design-assist entails a MEP consultant who realizes the design and draws it up to 50 percent completion before bringing the contractor on board. The contractor becomes the owner of the documents and completes the designs. The MEP consultant in this arrangement remains the engineer of record.
Are each of these practical in different situations, or should one always be chosen over the other?
The most sophisticated or innovative projects are either full design-bid-build or design-assist through integrated project delivery. Even though design-build contractors are getting smarter and have greater resources than before, they can’t compete on the engineering side with traditional consulting. If you look at simple tenant improvements that don’t have any design elements, design-build makes sense. But if it’s an innovative design or a complex project, like one with renewable energy or façade natural ventilation, these resources need a true consultant and not just a contractor, so design-assist makes better sense.
Business owners are getting smarter and are looking at overall life cycle costs of buildings instead of just the initial costs of the building’s design. They consider initial construction, utility, maintenance and replacement costs over the life of the building, which means design-bid-build or design-assist is more appropriate.
The schedule also has a big impact. There’s no way traditional design-bid-build would do a proper job with no issues on a high-rise building that needs tenant improvements in two months. Design-build would be better in this case. Scheduling has a large impact on which method should be used.
Who should a company appoint to serve as a liaison between the contractor and itself to stay on top of the process?
Typically an owner will recruit a project manager or construction manager first if he or she is not sophisticated enough to oversee the project. That person is the conduit between the business owner, the architects/engineers and the contractors. The construction manager is a third party who manages the whole process for the owner and has input on who is hired, such as the architect and engineers. Scheduling and costs also come into their recommendations to the owner.
Which method is used more often today?
Design-bid-build was the traditional method from the 1970s until the mid-1980s. Contractors weren’t very sophisticated or knowledgeable enough to handle entire projects from designing the specifications to completing the construction, so they relied on architects and consultants for design and to be liable for any issues. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the method shifted because numerous legal claims came out against contractors constructing public properties, such as state/county hospitals, institutional facilities, educational facilities and libraries, after the projects ended.
The problem is that public jobs are awarded to low bidders, as state law dictates. This often resulted in changes to the design or materials used during construction so the contractor could keep the project on budget. The owner of the building didn’t want to spend money on litigation, which is why the design-build concept arose because it reduced or eliminated change orders. The contractor in this method is the owner, designer and builder so legal discrepancies are reduced because there are fewer change orders.
Design-build contractors, it was later discovered, were not really giving top quality because the interest from public entities is low initial costs, so contractors were cutting corners, which led to systems not performing as they should. Thus, design-build declined as the preferred method of construction.
Now ‘big campus’ designers have found other ways to get a better design. With so much interest in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, projects are getting more sophisticated, so property owners are looking at how to get the most efficient systems without claims or lawsuits against the contractor at the end. This led to the establishment of the design-assist method, where a consultant can introduce the most innovative design and then become a partner with the contractor. The consultant brings the design up to 50 percent, meaning all the design elements are there, and it’s just a matter of coordination to make sure ductwork fits, etc. The contractor can’t change the specifications by, say, undersizing the ductwork, because he’s the engineer of record and the designer stays involved though the project’s completion.
When does litigation become a greater concern?
During a construction project, all parties are legally liable. Litigation issues happen mostly with public contracts. For commercial jobs the construction manager has pre-qualified and negotiated with a selected contractor. However, with public projects, the low bidder gets the job, which usually results in a lot of change orders that can lead to litigation.
T.G. Davallou is partner and head of Alfa Tech’s San Francisco office. Reach him at (415) 403-3092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech
The business model of a sales funnel shows leads that enter at the top and filter down to become customers at the bottom. The simple logic of this model suggests that to grow what comes through at the bottom as customers, you need to increase the leads that you fill into the top.
“Effective Web marketing that produces leads through quote request forms and phone calls is a proven way to pour more into your funnel,” says Kevin Hourigan, the president and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency Bayshore Solutions. “However, without the right processes and people in place to effectively turn those leads into customers, just turning up the volume on inbound leads can create more chaos than clients.”
Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to keep your sales funnel free from roadblocks and improve performance in filtering leads to customers.
What’s wrong with a huge increase in leads?
There are two situations where more leads might not be a good thing: if the leads are unqualified and will never become customers, and if there are more leads than your current structure can handle.
As marketing attracts a population of leads, each business has a certain percentage that will ‘filter out’ for qualification reasons. The challenge lies in keeping the filtering out from being due to reasons like: ‘they never got back to me,’ or ‘they couldn’t answer my questions about the product or service.’
In today’s world of readily available online information, customers are accustomed to getting the information they need quickly. If they can’t get it quickly and conveniently from you, they won’t wait. They’ll move on to your competition.
Why is an immediate response so important?
Numerous studies have shown that the quicker a business can respond to a Web form inquiry, the more likely they are to win that potential client’s business. This is a key aspect in a top performing sales funnel.
If you can immediately reach an online inquirer, impress them, and then set up the next step (an appointment for a face-to-face meeting, an appointment for a detailed project scope discussion call, offering a proposal, etc.), then in many cases you could eliminate your competition.
If you are able to sufficiently impress the inquirer that you are capable and competent as well as establish rapport, then you can interrupt their shopping mode and foster a feeling of: ‘maybe I don’t need to continue shopping right now,’ in your potential customer.
If you don’t provide as immediate a response as possible to your online inquiries, chances are a competitor will. You invest time, money and effort into the SEO, focused messaging and marketing that generates this lead. You don’t want to let a competitor beat you to the pivotally important first contact.
How can I be the best first contact?
In the dynamic and fast-paced world of online marketing today, a number of marketing automation tools exist, from simply sending out e-mail alerts to key people that announce new form-submissions to automatically integrating online form inquiries into your CRM tool, with workflow technology to automatically assign the lead. In addition, automatically triggered e-mails that acknowledge the online request and offer relevant, valuable content to a prospect should always be sent as an inbound marketing best practice.
The real challenge, and what creates a distinct advantage, is getting beyond technology-based responses to make a live, in-person interaction. This may not have to be the ultimate sales representative. Dedicating a marketing resource as a ‘first round of response’ to inbound leads can have the additional benefit of gathering qualification information beyond what is collected in a Web form that directs the lead either on to a focused sales conversation, or into a nurturing program.
This first contact, whether from the sales, marketing or any other team, is your company’s first live impression, so the process and people in this role need to ensure capability and availability.
- Capability through adequate education on your company’s products and services. This will best ensure a ‘knowledgeable’ initial impression versus ‘an appointment setter’ that doesn’t connect with the potential client. This knowledgeable trait is doubly important for a company’s sales reps. It is safe to assume, with the sheer amount of information instantly available online, that your potential customers are well aware of general product attributes and even price-points before they speak to you.
- Availability to respond with reasonable immediacy. This may require some creative scheduling, based on the patterns of when your inbound leads occur. For example, your first responder may need to shift work hours to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. if leads tend to arrive during the traditional lunch hour or shortly after 5 p.m. Each business can clarify an optimal approach to immediacy through understanding the psychographics of their target customer and researching their online behaviors. Look to your website analytics to see the data specific to your business.
The key to clearing any clogs in the sales funnel centers on making the process as smooth as possible for both the target customer and your firm. When leads can be smoothly filtered along the funnel, the time and efforts of your sales force are put to best use, and your marketing organization can gain quick insight on messaging points and other potential adjustments to improve overall lead quality. When potential clients quickly encounter a knowledgeable and helpful representative of your business, you already win from a branding standpoint, and you are set up to more easily win their business.
For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions’ Web marketing methodology, click to: www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method.
KEVIN HOURIGAN is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.