A/E Firm

Architecture and Engineering firm. Often includes interior designers and in larger firms, landscape architects.

Overlooked Internal Training Sources for A/E Firms

Use Professional Presentations for Internal Development

This summer I was reading a firm’s internal newsletter and noticed that there were at least sixteen instances of the firm's staff providing presentations and white papers at a variety of fall, national and international conferences and workshops. Some of the professional associations that were hosting these events would be recording the presentations. In a few instances these recorded presentations would later be converted to recordings or webinars and sold for a profit by the association or organization.

Having worked with associations for many years I realize that some associations rely upon the professional members to give back to the profession by sharing their knowledge. I believe that this is a great service and I encourage professionals to share their knowledge and research with the industry that they represent. This knowledge sharing process has been going on for decades with the A/E industry. It has been a win-win for the professional and the association. The professional is provided a platform upon which she/he can share their knowledge, research and opinions. The association wins by being viewed as a reliable source of knowledge within the industry, and in some cases receiving a revenue source for providing seminars, workshops, recording and webinars to the profession.

The source of the knowledge most certainly comes from the professionals and the firm that support the research and experience. The winners here are usually those professionals who sit in attendance during the conference or workshop or who later purchase the video or webinar. What is so often missed – the professional’s presentation that is recorded at a conference for future redistribution and sales is not captured by the very firm that supports the professional’s research and experience in the first place. To add to the problem, the firm usually has to pay additional fees for their other employee members who want to hear or view the recorded presentation given by their fellow employee. In other words, firm end up paying the association for a copy of the recording or webinar that was provided by their own employee.

Professional development within an A/E firms has evolved during the past decade. It is time to re-think how A/E firms share and distribute their intellectual property with professional associations. I offer two suggestions to this dilemma.

One, the firm’s legal department should create a contract that predetermines use, sale and resale of related material of any presentation that is recorded by an association or hosting organization. If the original presentation is going to be recorded and used in any way as a revenue source for the association or hosting organization, then at a minimum a copy of the presentation should be provided to the firm for its own internal use and training.

A second option, the firm could record the presentation themselves and copyright the material. They could then distribute the material internally for reuse, internal training and sharing of select material with their clients. By copyrighting the presentations the firm could shape how the material might be used or redistributed by another organization at a later date. .

Architectural Research Associates

A Situational Approach to Mentoring

Flickr photo by ariwriter

How do you design and build a situational mentoring program? Take the traditional approach of pairing or matching a mentor and mentee and turn it inside out by adding several more mentors and mentees. And yes, you now have a situational mentoring group or team.

In today’s society of social networking and media apps think in terms of pairing the best or most knowledgeable mentor at the right time and in the right situation when the mentee has the most need or desire to learn. As stated in the book Nine Shift, networking is replacing the hierarchy structure in business and society, so too should we restructure the mentoring process so that it draws from the strength of a network.

The foundation to situational mentoring is built upon the management concept of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. A successful mentoring program requires that a mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. The core of the Blanchard model, Situational Leadership II, highlights four primary leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive, and delegating. Like any good leader, the mentor is likely to be most effective in one or two delivery styles and less so in the others. A practical strength of situational leadership is that it also takes into consideration the development level of the subordinate, or in this case the mentee. Using a four step sliding scale the mentee is rated on competence and commitment.

The win – win of situational mentoring comes when the mentor using his or hers most effective delivery style is matched to the level of development of the mentee at the time of need. One example would be the mentor best at using a coaching approach when the mentee has a low commitment but some competence on a project. Another correct example would be the mentor most effective using a supporting approach is matched to the mentee who has high competence but variable commitment.

The intent of a well planned mentoring program is to identify key leaders (mentors) that are willing to share their knowledge and time with the next level of potential leaders (mentees). A situational designed mentoring program allows for the mentor who is most effective in a delivery approach to be matched with a mentee as the mentee learns and works through different development levels. It is very important that clear goals and expected learning outcomes are established and communicated from the outset of the mentoring experience by all participants of the group. A successful situational mentoring program can be a win – win –win for everyone, the mentor, the mentee, and the organization that supports the program.

Successful Change Agents

Photo of brainstorming activity board

Three Qualities of Highly Successful Change AgentsThree Qualities of Highly Successful Change Agents was written by Alastair Rylatt for the July 2013 issue of T&D magazine. This short article was a result of Dr. Rylatt’s research study highlighting the capabilities that enable professionals to be effective change agents in their organization. The article begins with Dr. Rylatt asking the question, “why do some leaders and managers succeed against the odds to facilitate and influence change?”

Well, with that opening question I was hooked and so I kept reading the article. The questions that Dr. Rylatt raised in the article made me reflect back on past situations and the positions I’ve held in different organizations. For several days I kept thinking back to what I thought were some of my perceived better successes and some situations that were, well … not so successful.

In his article Dr. Ryatt listed just three categories that effect change:
1. Resolving difficult challenges
2. Communicating compelling reasons for change
3. Ensuring accountability over time

The categories were not unusual. The categories Dr. Ryatt supported with two - three questions for each category. The questions were penetrating. Under resolving difficult challenges one of the questions related to acceptance of responsibility and how you deal with it. One of Dr. Rylatt’s questions was about reaction when confronting resistance and a reflection on communication style. As for accountability, Dr. Ryatt challenges the reader’s relationship with senior management. The questions are pointed and thought provoking.

It may only have been a sampling of his research but using those three categories and nine short questions I was able to match in each of my situations, why I might have been successful and why the situation did not work out the way I had planned. Now I am looking closer at some of my current situations and rethinking my approach to several of them.

I’ve read hundreds of similar articles but this one was refreshing and thought provoking. After reading Dr. Rylatt’s article you may just want to rethink your approach to becoming a more effective agent of change in your organization.

A Traditional Approach to Mentoring

Flickr photo by Nantucket Historical Association

A mentoring program, as most professional development specialist would agree is generally built upon a pairing or matching of a mentor and mentee. A mentoring program is generally successful when the mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. Historically the mentoring program grew from the concept of the apprenticeship where the master of a trade would impart their knowledge and skill to the apprentice. In many situations this is a very informal, loose understanding between two parties, the mentor and mentee. You are likely to find this scenario within a small office or across a profession with similar issues.

Creating a formal mentoring structure gets more complicate but the rewards can be great if the program is planned, designed and implemented well. Within a firm that structures such a program the firm may title such activities as a mentoring program, an internship, or even an intern development program (IDP). Some associations representing an industry or profession have similar programs. Some of the general benefits may be involvement of senior leadership and growth and development of the emerging professionals. For firms this may lead to better internal communications, improved retention and recruitment of staff, and a better return on financial investments of the human resource budgets.

The intent of a well planned mentoring program is to identify key leaders (mentors) that are willing to share their knowledge and time with the next level of potential leaders (mentees). A well designed program will set a framework and provide guidelines that participants use when participating in such a program. A well designed mentoring program allows for the mentor and mentee establishing goals and expected leaning outcomes from the experience. A successful mentoring program can be a win – win –win for everyone, the mentor, the mentee, and the organization that supports the program.

A Situational Approach to Mentoring in a Firm

There are several advantages for a firm to build, develop and maintain a mentoring program. The advantages are many and some obvious. Among the reasons for a implementing a mentoring program, expanding the skills of your staff, improved recruitment, retention, and return on investment (ROI). So why do so many firm choose not to implement a mentoring program? Size of the firm may be one factor. However, you really can implement a mentoring program with just two staff – at least a traditional mentoring format. Larger firms of 20, 50, 100 or more have the staff but too often they are concerned that the process takes time (translated – money) and it does, but so does the traditional route of staff training. Finally, a firm may not have anyone knowledgeable enough about how to set up, organize, and run a mentoring program. This leaves them three primary options: assignment to the HR staff function; assign to the program to a professional practice committee; or hire a part-time consultant to run the program.

Taking a firm mentoring program to a higher level – beyond that of the traditional pairing approach - does require a knowledgeable HR manager at the operationally level, or a committed professional practice committee, or an experienced consultant. The foundation to situational mentoring is built upon the management concept of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. A successful mentoring program requires that a mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. The core of the Blanchard model, Situational Leadership II, highlights four primary leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive, and delegating. Like any good leader, the mentor is likely to be most effective in one or two delivery styles and less so in the others. A practical strength of situational leadership is that it also takes into consideration the development level of the subordinate, or in this case the mentee. Using a four step sliding scale the mentee is rated on competence and commitment.

To build a situational mentoring program think in terms of a social networking format structure, pairing the best or most knowledgeable mentor at the right time and in the right situation when the mentee has the most need or desire to learn. A mentoring program within a firm takes on and becomes part of the firm culture. A mentoring program is not an add-on program and should not be treated as such. Coordinating the program is not an easy assignment but it is critical to the program’s success. Whoever is assigned to manage the program should have the conceptual and personal skills that will be necessary to correctly match mentors with mentees at the appropriate times and under the right situations. Remember, the win – win of situational mentoring comes when the mentor uses his or her most effective delivery style matched correctly to the level of development of the mentee at the time of need.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_leadership_theory

Learning Objectives Simplified: Check out the New Bloom’s Taxonomy Tool

Candle Flame

The tool is simple, easy to understand, and easy to use. If you are the course designer, a trainer, an instructor, or the firm's Learning and Development Coordinator, Manager, Director or the CLO - this tool will make your professional life a little easier. If only this tool had been available during the past 30 years.

I would like to thank the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the University of Iowa for posting on their website the Model of Learning Objectives. This model was created by: Rex Heer, Iowa State University.

Sharing this tool with my professional peers who are working in the A/E/C design industry, this is probably the best gift I can offer for the New Year. Try it for yourself; I think you will like it.

Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

If you have trouble accessing the interactive Flash-based model the content is available in a text-only table.

Free Learning & Development Resources - 7 Tips

Open Source Education

For those of you in the A/E design profession who have difficulty finding free time during a 24/7 work week consider a free, on-demand, learning–in-the-moment approach to supplement your formal training and on-the-job experience. There are a variety of free online resources available to you. Here are some great tricks and online resources for developing your own, personal professional learning skills and development.

7 Tips to Getting Started:
1. Formulate what you need to know. This is called your learning objective and can be revised as you go, but take your best shot when you begin. (Tip: Start with your annual training objectives).
2. Use search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube (the largest source of online learning) to find three kinds of information: specific, general, and connected.
3. Use search engines to find tutorials, ebooks, online courses and classes – the obvious. But also search and locate online communities (blogs, forums, associations, white papers and chat rooms).
4. Evaluate each resource that you encounter to determine if they relate or are connected to your learning objectives.
5. Organize your information for reading and assembly. If you are learning something that takes longer than a day, you can use free websites like All My Faves and Symbaloo to organize and group your links, and then retrieve them with one click.
6. Read, take notes, and learn the way you learn best.
7. If you have a certificate, membership or license -MCE requirements be sure to record and track your progress. You can do this for free in an EXCEL file or for those of you with a state license and who are willing to pay a little for convenience and due date reminders try AECredentialing.

7 Options of Open Source Courses…..

Coursera:
Outstanding engineering related college-courses from universities like Duke University, Rice University, Escole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, University of Pittsburgh, and Princeton.

Class Central:
A gateway to a variety of online and self-paced courses offered by Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkley, Udacity, and Courses.

MIT OpenCourseWare:
Free Online courses from MIT in energy, transportation, environment, business and others areas.

Open Culture – 625 Free Online courses:
625 Free online and self-paced courses offered by Harvard, UC Berkley,
MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford, that include the sciences, computers, Engineering (Mechanical, Civil & Electrical), Environmental, and basic business.

Ted Conference Videos:
Best for exposure and finding things to learn more about online. Inspirational, informative, cutting edgue and less than 20 minutes long.

YouTube/EDU:
YouTube really now functions as a video search engine, and so you can find much more to learn and see on YouTube than just the EDU area. However, this area has been tuned and curated just for good educational content on traditional subjects.

Today I Found Out:
Daily essays of well-researched interesting topics.

I would like to offer a special thanks to Katin Imes at Expedition 21 Media, Inc. for content suggestions.

Instructional Method: A Professional Action Plan

Learning contracts do not need to be complex. A number of years ago when I was involved with the AIA/CES Firm Leadership Symposium we needed to a simple method for an after-training-support-by-the-faculty. The process and tool we developed was simple. At the beginning of the workshop we would spend a few minutes explaining that each participant would be expected to identify at least one goal that they would like to accomplish after the workshop was over and they returned to their work environment. The action plan exercise was always planned at the end of the workshop so should that should they choose, the participants could include some of what they learned during the workshop into their action plan.

First we would discuss the purpose of the action plan. We would provide each participant with a Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan worksheet. The worksheet was intended as a simple structured outline for developing an individual action plan. Each participant was expected to identify at least one goal or action that they wanted to complete. The Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan required that the participants respond to 7 questions:

What is the goal?
What are the strengths related to achieving the goal?
What obstacles are we likely face?
What opportunities would likely be present?
What resources would they need?
What action steps are needed to complete the plan?
What were the related timelines?

First the participants would work to complete their own action plans. Additional time was then set aside to work in pairs - sharing with each other their goal and how they intend to accomplish it. At the end of the exercise participates exchanged POC information and committed to contacting each other after 30 days and again after 60 days.

The group faculty member or facilitator can become as involved after the event as appropriate. For those who did make contact at the 30 day mark, most went on to complete their goals. This process can be accomplished on-site, on-line or as a blended approach. I have since used the action plan approach successfully at the executive, manager and supervisory levels, and in both the private and public sectors. Hope this provides you with enough information. If you would like a free WORD copy of the worksheet just contact me directly at tlowther7@gmail.com.

After the Storm- A Plan for Renewal

Lowther7, LLC Sunset photo of a gazebo in Sanderling, NC

The challenge: How can we survive right now and prepare to thrive as a relevant business for the future? The answer: Channel resources toward organizational and professional development renewal.

By Guest author Sonja H. Winburn, SPHR.

Industries serving the built environment continue to weather a perfect storm: a tough economic climate, new technologies, and varying delivery systems. The tension between the way we have done our work in the past and the way it will need to be done in the future is causing firms to feel disconnects and dilemmas in all operational areas. There is fear, confusion and ambiguity in how leaders need to lead and carry their firms forward. This indicates that organizations need to create and communicate a new vision for their new reality and then realign their business model to match the new direction. In order to accomplish this, firms need to define where they are now and where they want to go in the future.

Firm Leaders need to be able to see and communicate clearly the changes they wish to make and the activities that may need to be eliminated. One way to start defining your needs is by challenging some of the assumptions held from the past. As we look over our shoulders and examine current dilemmas in light of past assumptions, the disconnection between them can be seen. Similarly we can look ahead, reviewing the current state of affairs in terms of the new environment and then make connections to new needs. Such efforts can only be accomplished if we can see and highlight the gap between the current reality and where to go from here. Then translate the change to the people that will need to carry out the strategy. Then the firm and its people can change and realign with the leaders newly defined path.

This kind of organizational change has to be addressed holistically. Plans for redirecting or reshaping an organization have to be purposeful, systemic, and coordinated. A new vision, ideas about innovation, attitudinal changes, and appropriate process changes all need to be aligned and communicated in a renewal plan. The plan should address what services we provide and to who, how we will lead and develop people, how to achieve operational excellence, and then utilize resources effectively. When we accurately describe our strategic goals and current reality, and then line up our resources to close the gap between them, we can move ahead with confidence.

Terminology from the industrial environment separated organizational development from individual profession or employee development. A/E/C leaders do not make this distinction and it hinders communication and holistic system change and planning. A successful plan will address both your organizational plan and include how this should impact the new skills and information needed by staff to be productive in their work. The implementation of the strategy must permeate employee selection and development, the orientation processes, skills training, manager’s mentoring, and the relevant education of your business along with the relevant issues in the markets of our clients. In other words this is an entire system “upgrade”.

Your renewal plan’s implementation map will look like a spider web that runs through all efforts and activities. For example, how do you now communicate with people on important information? All firm systems should be examined for more effective ways to access any needed information quickly and easily. Utilization of an intranet or a company Wiki to capture and disseminate knowledge and changes, or the use of VOIP options such as Skype to help facilitate long distance communication, are inexpensive ways of improving the effective use of time, people, and resources. Firms can also use forums and lessons learned sessions to share problems and solutions. There should be opportunities that require face to face interaction as well as the use of blogs and the standardization of project documentation. There is no replacement for face to face interaction because business is about relationships and trust. It takes time and personal interaction with those you work with to develop this kind of trust. Also remember to apply more than one method to reach target audiences because of differing experience levels and generational communication preferences.

As a starting point for developing a renewal plan:

1. Put forth the effort to discuss your business issues, markets, disconnects etc. with those in your organization that know the current environment and markets.
- Choose this group carefully. Rethink who can and will contribute in terms of defining the current and future needs of “your” business.

- Center your discussion on what your people need to know today to be more effective.

- Topics should include markets, operations, people, project management, technology, research and innovation, etc.

- Document the discussion and highlight any ideas for change or improvement.

2. Focus on the real and current client and business needs first.
- Correctly and honestly identify the issues that come out of this discussion. This will determine if your plan will impact and change your effectiveness as a firm.

- This effort should lead to ideas that will have full system impact, process changes in the way you market, manage projects and define subjects for an employee education plan.

3. Choose a champion.
- Make sure this is someone you will allow to take the time to work on this.

- Someone that understands learning theory and people.

- A person that really believes in the process and cares about the outcome.

- Someone that has a good understanding of the resources and can allocate them for this kind of effort.

4. Develop and document a formal plan.
- Commit to it.

- Designate responsibility to appropriate staff and set timetables.

5. Align defined implementation strategy with the resources you can afford and have available.

After you have established your needs, do what you can today with what you have today. Don’t wait until you have it all worked out.

In the past, one of the primary obstacles to establishing and completing this kind of planning effort was finding the time to devote to implementation. The people most qualified to take on such an effort are the same people wearing the project and managerial hats. When a conflict between the urgent project need and the important strategic need arise, the immediate project wins. The trick here is to either elevate in your mind the value of your strategy needs or to minimize in terms of your use of resources the conflicts by allowing someone with the proper skill set to hold this as a primary responsibility.

Another obstacle connected to having our project managers and our leaders combined in the same individual has hindered the development of good and relevant content for programs and training for the needs of the A/E/C environment. As technology and information sharing explode there are now ways to get this content at reasonable costs.
As a result of converging macro environment factors, the recognition by multiple design practices that this is the perfect time to leverage sustainable design and the LEED building certification process, together have allowed the USGBC to offer some ground breaking choices for firms. The education arm of the USGBC has developed case studies on green buildings and also provides content subscriptions. that are available for purchase, thus providing good and relevant content for at least this one area of possible program need.

Most small to mid size firms do not have people on staff that can facilitate this kind of holistic change or focus on the individual development components of the system. After you have specifically defined your needs you may need to seek help from outside resources in terms of outside consultants to help with implementation or program content development, facilitators, etc. But someone internally needs to be tasked with primary focus of the development of staff and their alignment with the newly defined vision.

If your firm develops this kind of holistic plan then you will feel more comfortable with your ability to deliver improved service that can impact fee and/or profit. The resulting changes will have elements to capture and communicate the strategy needed, then search for appropriate solutions to business and project needs, and somehow stretch the searching and communication into a continuous process. The new business system model itself should also hold people accountable to a defined, well-communicated specific set of expectations. Research shows that when people accurately understand what the firm expects of them and they have the right skills to execute it then performance does improve sharply. A comprehensive plan for renewal will translate into better project performance and more credibility with clients and staff.

Sonja H. Winburn, SPHR. is an HR and Business Operations Consultant for her firm “People and Solutions” Sonja helps organizations serving A/E/C organizations with organizational planning and implementation strategy. You can contact Sonja at sdhwinburn@bellsouth.net

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