After landing the job

Apr 30, 2018

So you got the position you wanted, but that’s just the first step. You have to (help) create something bigger than yourself.

Last month I wrote about my good fortune of meeting Art Gensler and intuitively sensing there was a philosophical fit with his fledgling firm, where I ultimately spent a fulfilling 34-year career. I labeled that first blog installment “How to find a Job.” With this installment, I turn to what I did after landing the job, when the work really began.

In my case, when I first joined Gensler, I felt aligned with this new organization and where Art and others in the firm wanted to take it. There were some core principles I wanted to support and build upon. I knew that for both the firm and for me to be successful, I had to be part of making those principles a reality through the culture we built at Gensler. This is about building an enterprise that works so consistently to a set of values that, as it grows, clients as well as employees know what to expect. This was particularly important as we grew to a large number of offices scattered all over the world.

I spent my career at Gensler, from 1969 until 2003, helping to make the principles a reality and ensuring everyone else in the firm was working together to do the same. When I became president in 1995 and then CEO in 2000, I realized I needed to add a dimension as the steward of our culture and values. Sure, I was watching the firm’s finances closely. And I worked hard on staying close to our clients and their goals, the people in the firm, and our recruiting efforts. But the most important issue for me was that all of this supported the reasons we were in business for our clients.

At a point early in my career, I took on the responsibility of documenting the firm’s vision and values. I began carrying a notebook at all times, particularly as I traveled to our other offices. I asked people what they thought the values of the firm were. I tagged several people around the firm whom I thought understood what I was trying to accomplish. Each time I had a draft, I would send it around to them and ask, “What do you think?”

I got terrific feedback. Sometimes it was “right on;” other times items would come back annotated, “That’s not us, what we should say is …” One day I seemed to have achieved a consensus. We published the result as a statement of “Vision, Mission, and Values,” and asked everyone to operate by these values. I knew we had nailed it a few years later when we were in a period of particularly rapid growth and one of our partners during a management committee meeting said, “We’ve strayed from some of our values. Let’s republish our ‘Vision, Mission, and Values.’”

That’s when you know you’re in the right place, working beside people who share the same values and within a culture that speaks to your professional and personal fulfillment. Here are the five principles that guided Gensler during my tenure and are said to guide the firm today:

  1. We’re in the business of using design as a business tool, not to win design awards, although those are gratefully accepted. Something that pragmatically solves a client’s business problems can also be “pretty.” We were thrilled if a magazine chose to publish our work, touting the design, but most important was that the client’s business performed better.
  2. We should make each design solution suit our client’s culture, both for the employees and the clients or customers.
  3. As the firm grew, we realized we had an enormous body of talent throughout the company. The most qualified person to work on any aspect of a project may not be sitting next to you or may not even be in your office. We asked everyone to adopt a collaborative attitude, reaching out within the firm to bring the most qualified person to the team for a specific aspect of the task that aligned with their expertise. For us, it was about using the aggregated talent of the firm for each client.
  4. We were all in this together with a common goal: the best business solution that meets a client’s needs and goals. To be clear, this never precluded making the solution aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetics have a strong influence on clients’ and customers’ attitudes about the company and product, but also affects people’s behavior and performance.
  5. We carefully documented our clients’ performance goals. We established success metrics before we initiated design, and we measured results after occupancy and periodically after that. This helped our clients justify expenditures to their board, their banker, or governing body and gave us some wonderful stories to tell future clients. It was a practice in the firm to start each design meeting with a client with a review of what their stated performance objectives were and ask if those objectives had changed. Design presentations specifically noted how each design element was meant to enhance one or more of the client’s performance goals.

Part Three of this series will demonstrate how these principles were applied at Gensler with real-life client examples. Visions, missions, values, and principles are easy enough to list on a laminated card, but they are unbelievably powerful in the application, leading to job satisfaction and success.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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