I’m a firm believer in investing. Not the kind that you do with stocks and bonds (although those are good, too!) but also the kind that happens when you put time and resources toward developing a team of professionals. After all, even the most experienced architects, designers and assistants can benefit from additional training and development.
Here are five of my favorite ways to invest in your own human capital:
Lunch and learn. Midday is an excellent time to corral the team to grab a bite to eat and learn something new. Nearly every two weeks we do just that, bringing in speakers or vendors so that our staff can educate themselves on new products, interact with materials and chat and collaborate with one another, usually over a catered lunch. These sessions need not be a passive, sit-and-listen experience, either. To make ours a little more fun, we try to get creative. One week we paired a vendor expo with a whiskey tasting. (Did you know that whiskey spelled with an “e” is generally Irish whiskey, and whisky spelled sans “e” is Scotch whisky?) Another week it was conversation over wine and cheese. Not only does the classic social lubricant make the conversation wittier, but the turnout is always excellent and it gives everyone a much-needed energy boost heading into the afternoon.
Tech training. In my last column, I discussed how we’ve more fully adopted Revit, a modeling technology that has become increasingly popular for commercial real estate professionals and architects everywhere. To get the whole team on board with the initiative, we brought in an outside consultant and held full-day training programs for those who had not used it previously and a refresher course for those who already had. With the fast pace of technology, it’s not just a good idea to stay current—it’s essential. Scheduling outside experts to train the team makes sure everyone keeps their skills fresh.
Get with reality. Take those skills and bring them outside of the office and into the real world. We encourage our team to gain valuable experience by using their design know-how to help charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, Canstruction or Publicolor, to drop the names of a few of our office favorites. But this is not just good for the heart and soul (although it’s definitely good for that). Taking part in not-for-profit efforts allows our team to hone drafting and presentation skills and work within new teams and further develop as architects or interior designers.
Of course, it’s not just charity work that we encourage—another big way we engage our team to interact with the world outside of our firm is to enter design competitions.
Buddy up. Education is an ongoing process. We warmly welcome interns and externs because we know that mentorship is powerful. The mentor often learns just as much as the mentee, benefiting from the fresh energy, new ideas and gaining the management skills that come about when imparting knowledge to a future star.
Get industry involved. A well-rounded professional knows what’s going on in his or her industry. We tell our team to become a member of key groups, attend conferences and continue credentialing. For instance, we are regulars at IIDA, AIA and NEOCON. To foster that focus on education, we sponsor architects that are looking to get licensed, and encourage them by helping with the classes, exams and professional dues.
Each of these tips, like a sound investment, pays dividends. While they are not literally money in the bank, the return on investment can be seen in a happy, educated team and on the recruitment and retention front.
Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 2,000 projects.