From the Chairman: A new recruiting philosophy

Jul 18, 2013

Listen to your staff, have an appealing culture, hire selectively and keep your employees for the long-term.

I’m hearing more and more about the market firming up and people being in demand. So, I think it’s a good time to be talking about recruiting; particularly to note that recruiting has two sides to it – the firm seeking someone to help with their increasing workload… and the firm from whom the person is being recruited. If your business has turned up, your workload is mounting and you need to add talented professionals; other firms will as well. Don’t forget the care, feeding and nurturing of the people who are already part of your team. Remember, if the market has improved, someone is probably after your brightest and best. Let’s lay out some fundamentals of a recruiting (and its corollary, retention) strategy. First, you need to find out what it’s like to work in your organization. Remember, your current team members talk to their friends about what their work experience is like. Your best recruiting resource is your own staff. When they’re happy enough with the experience they’re having, they reach out to their friends. If you don’t know what they’re saying, here’s a way to find out. The Gallup Organization published a book several years ago titled, “First Break All The Rules.” It contains 12 key questions that determine if members of an organization are“deeply engaged” in their work. This is Gallup’s key determinant for how effective they are for an organization’s clients, how committed they are to the team that they’re part of and, by extension, how resistant they are to being recruited by another firm. Buy the book. Read it. Use the 12 key questions as a survey tool. Use “Survey Monkey,” an online free service or, after September, Gallup will be able to support this online as well. Now let’s take it a step further. Do you know what your firm “culture” is? Every firm has a culture, whether you’ve recognized it and documented it or not. Have you identified the cultural characteristics that, if true for your firm, would make for a place that you and the people you’re trying to attract would be proud and excited to be a part of? Remember, potential recruits will ask people what it’s like to work in your firm. They’ll find out, whether it’s from people in your firm, contractors and subcontractors, consultants you work with, or someone else who interacts with you. If asked, can anyone in your firm respond with a lucid and compelling description of your culture? Even if your culture has not been fully established, is it something the people in your firm honestly believe you’re striving toward? Your cultural characteristics can be powerful attractors to people you’re trying to recruit (or another firm’s powerful draw when they’re trying to recruit someone away from you). Remember, people don’t join a firm for money or title. They may find a specific position or project opportunity compelling but, at the end of the day, it’s the soft stuff that will sway them… and it’s what will keep them. Now let’s move on to how selective you should be about new candidates. I favor a high level of selectivity, no matter how crunching your workload is. Do not ever hire a warm body just to get the work out the door! Consider every new member of your firm as someone you would like to have with you forever; someone who will contribute a high level of value to your clients and the people they work with. How do you determine whether someone has this potential? I happen to be particularly interested in a person’s communication skills. There are no “Lone Rangers” in the design professions today. Leadership and collaboration are necessary at all levels. When I was speaking with a candidate for a firm recently, I asked a question that is on top of my list for anyone I interview, “How did you become who you are?”What I’m looking for when I pose this question is who and what their life influences were. It’s similar to asking, “Who were the mentors who influenced you?”But putting it this way opens the door to a deeper, richer discussion. I’m looking for and usually get stories about family and friends, influences from childhood on. Most people’s values, ambitions and curiosity are formed at a very young age and rarely change much. This candidate told me about her parents and family life, giving me an immediate picture of what had made her a highly self-reliant, entrepreneurial and ambitious person, someone I’d bet on for the future. By contrast, over the years I’ve heard some tragic tales of very empty childhood experiences that have made a person bitter and cynical. It doesn’t take me long with a candidate to have a pretty clear picture about whether the person is looking for a “job”or a “career.”Look up the definitions of each in Webster’s and tell me which you’d prefer in a candidate. You’ll also learn from the way the person articulates their stories whether they have a command of the English language that will allow them to evolve as decent communicators and whether their influential experiences involve collaboration. Not everyone needs to be able to stand up in front of 500 people and deliver an inspiring presentation that results in a standing ovation. But hiring a designer or an engineer who can’t present his or her ideas coherently and compellingly, one who expects that their beautiful drawings or brilliant engineering solution are going to cause the world to beat a path to their door, is on a fool’s errand. Today’s world is collaborative, requiring everyone, even engineers, to be able to “sell” an idea convincingly – to an architect, an owner or a contractor. It requires the ability to negotiate a great solution in the face of a team with disparate values and priorities. I hope these thoughts help you avoid the trap of recruiting and hiring based on a résumé. Credentials rarely predict success in fit, performance or longevity, and they have nothing to do with whether the candidate will be attracted to your firm or not. More importantly, I hope these thoughts help you keep the great talent you’ve worked so hard to bring to your firm. Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with ZweigWhite and theformer CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1016, originally published 7/22/2013. Copyright© 2013, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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