In our third installment of Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles series, we attempt to tackle the nuanced role of the Studio Director without falling back on search engines like Google and Bing or job boards like Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, or Ladders [not in original article]. As with most positions within architecture firms, the lines are quite blurry when it comes to the role of Studio Director. For some, this leadership position acts as a kind of operations specialist and strategist while also functioning as a firmwide design leader. For others, the Studio Director might function as a buffer between design teams and the higher-level leadership of an organization. And for others still, this individual might run their studio as a kind of “mini-firm” within a larger firm, responsible for their own business development, hiring, project management, and overall growth. The intricacies and variations associated with such a dynamic posting can’t be explained exhaustively, there will always be some deviation. Nevertheless, what follows is our attempt to capture the inherent essence of this career path in architecture.
Architecture firms come in many forms. Depending on size, the internal structure of the personnel will differ. Some firms might operate in a departmental structure, where each team works on a specific phase of a project: a design “department” might work on the programming and schematic phases before passing the work on to a technical department that would realize the construction documentation. Others might have various project teams, each with its own project managers who are overseen by a Studio Director or Principal(s). And others still might divide into multiple studios, each with a specific function, and led by their own Studio Director, respectively. In this structure, each Studio Director would report to a Managing Principal, Design Principal, or both. Some Studio Directors may even be partners of the firm or Principals themselves. When it comes to the possible organizational structures of design firms, the variations are many.
While the interpretation of the role will differ from office to office, a Studio Director will typically oversee a studio. This may be a single studio under one roof, with a small or medium-sized staff, separated into smaller teams, each with a project architect/project manager, a job captain, and designers. Each team leader could report to a Studio Director who then might report to or collaborate with a higher-level leadership team, such as a firm’s Principal(s).
A studio could also be one of many within a larger firm, each with an expertise focus such as hospitality, healthcare, sports, workplace, restoration, or interiors. Each Studio Director would have specialized knowledge and experience in their area of expertise. In this model, studios might operate under the umbrella of a larger firm but would function as its own “sub-firm,” having its own clients, staff, and sometimes even its own receptionist. These “studio structures” can vary widely, and the nuances will depend on the organization in question.
A Studio Director Needs to be a People Person
In Archinect’s Growing Leadership and Practice: Laney LA’s Search for a Studio Director, we dove deep into conversation with Anthony Laney of Laney LA about his search for a Studio Director. “On day one, five project managers, each with their own team of one to two aspiring architects, will report to the Studio Director,” Laney told Archinect. “So, in total, the Studio Director will be leading a team of about 14 people. Right now, I’m giving about 30 percent of my time to a Studio Director role. We want to tear the lid off of that and allow someone to give it 100 percent of their time.” Here we have the leader of a relatively medium-sized firm in need of a Studio Director to act as a point person between him and his project managers. Laney saw this as someone who was not only in love with design, but who also had a deep passion for creating and building a great team.
People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more…
Archinect also spoke with Lindsay Green, Principal and Studio Director at OFFICEUNTITLED, and Shawn Gehle, Principal and Co-Founder. On the topic of managing a team and dealing with different kinds of people, the pair elaborated further. “People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more,” they said. “You have to deal with multiple personalities every day. Happy people; sad people; staff; clients; personal issues amongst the team.” They went on to articulate the expansive role a Studio Director might have within an office. In addition to effectively managing people, a leader in this role might also take on responsibilities of reviewing the office’s backlog and ensuring future staffing needs are fulfilled, overall professional development and client management, internal development of team members, human resources, and finance. “We really rely on Lindsay to run this office, we look to her to understand our overall health and outlook,” Gehle said of Green. “She acts as a kind of Chief Operations Officer, shepherding the resources within the office.”
A Strong Business Acumen
Green’s role goes far beyond that of the traditional project manager or project architect, but rises further into rigorous strategic planning and execution, calling for business acumen and facility not typical in architects. “I think if someone is considering this role as something to work towards in their career, they should consider getting an MBA. Understanding business is crucial in this position,” Green elaborated. “And even after that, it’ll take on-the-job experience to establish an understanding of how firms operate.”
Where before one’s core preoccupation might have been client satisfaction, design quality, timely deliverables, and internal team health, the focus now expands to a broader higher level concentration dealing with the business, strategic, and developmental aspects of the organization as a whole. Yes, project teams are concerned with these aspects, but on a fundamentally different level. They have a responsibility for their projects, whereas a Studio Director’s daily duties directly deal with the trajectory and direction of the bigger picture, moving beyond a partial focus to a comprehensive one.
What are firms looking for?
So what are firms looking for in a Studio Director? Take Gensler, a corporation based around a “collaborative studio leadership model.” Each studio has a specialty and is led by a highly experienced Studio Director, who oversees everything from overall management of the team and projects to the finances and budget. They work closely with staff in both professional development and mentorship as well as hiring in collaboration with HR. Studio Directors at Gensler are responsible for marketing, developing new business, and responding to RFPs, along with several other high-level responsibilities. According to Gensler, those pursuing this role should have a minimum of 15 years of experience and have a proven record in their area of focus. Moreover, Studio Directors at Gensler should possess a comprehensive personal portfolio of work, illustrating their aptitude and understanding of their expertise. Essentially, Studio Directors are leaders of their own small firm within the larger organization that is Gensler.
A Multi-Disciplined Leader
In the end, Studio Directors are multi-disciplined leaders with a depth of experience that allows them to lead a team of professionals of varying experience levels. They operate on multiple fronts, some of which include business functions such as staff development, hiring, strategic planning, finances, as well as traditional functions like QAQC, guiding design quality, and managing clients and projects. The possibilities appear broad and wide-ranging, but we’ve learned that business acumen is crucial, people skills are essential, and a deep understanding of the traditional functions of the architect, indispensable.
Author – Sean Joyner is an architect-trained writer and editor at Archinect. His articles and essays utilize themes in history, philosophy, and psychology to explore lessons for students and professionals within the fields of architecture and design. Sean’s work prior to Archinect focused primarily on k-12 and higher education projects in Southern California. Some of the things Sean enjoys are playing and practicing chess, studying obscure topics like quantum physics and cryptography, working out, and reading compelling books.
Sean Joyner’s Blog on Archinect
Consulting For Architects, Inc. Staffing and Recruiting Hiring Trends Blog
Salary and responsibilities for design directors for interior design
Harvard GSD announces winners of 2020 Richard Rogers Fellowship
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Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers, and their millennial replacements are very different in terms of personal characteristics, as well as job and workplace expectations. Millennials, aged 18 to 34 years old, already makeup more than one-third of the workforce. By 2025, they will account for close to 75 percent. Architecture firms are now in an intense competition to attract and retain qualified millennial professionals. Understanding the millennial perspective and developing a suitable workplace environment are imperatives for business sustainability.
Characteristics of Millennials
Millennials are one of the most analyzed generations because of their complexity. They are the first generation of digital natives, and technology has enormously influenced their expectations. For example, they are driven by a need for social connectedness and have integrated technology deeply into their personal lives. As such, they now expect the same in their work lives. CISCO calls it the “new workplace currency,” since 56 percent of college students surveyed said they would not accept a position at a company that banned access to social media.
Millennials have high expectations. They want higher pay based on skills sets and faster promotions. They believe the firm should provide appropriate leadership development and have values that match their own. If the business fails to meet these expectations, the employee will leave. Millennials are not interested in plugging along doing eight hours of mundane routine work they see as having little social impact. They want to do meaningful work that is clearly connected to solving complex societal problems.
Millennials are optimistic about the future and are a diverse generation, with over 44 percent identifying with an ethnic group or a minority race, according to theU.S. Census Bureau. They are content creators, thriving on collaboration. They also want work-life balance, which for the millennial may mean using remote-work technology. A 2015 CISCO survey found that over half of Gen Y (millennials) and Gen X (generation sandwiched between baby boomers and millennials) consider themselves accessible for work 24/7.
Perhaps the most important characteristic to understand is that millennials want to work for companies that reflect their personal values. A Deloitte survey found that 56 percent of millennials had ruled out working for an employer because their values were in conflict. This is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts for traditional organizations to master.
Why are You Leaving?
Understanding the top reasons millennials change jobs provides a knowledgeable foundation for developing recruiting and retention strategies. Consulting for Architects, Inc. (CFA) conducted a survey which asked architecture and design firms to rank, in descending order of importance, the reasons employees aged 18 to 35 years old left their firms. The results are revealing and support much of the academic and business research and studies conducted over the years to identify millennial characteristics.
Ranking number one in the CFA survey as the top reason for millennial turnover is concern about the lack of opportunities for career advancement. Number two is a desire for more challenging work. Number three is dissatisfaction with the leadership of senior management. Number four is disagreement with the overall direction of the organization. Number five is dissatisfaction with the compensation and benefits. Number six is unhappiness with the amount and/or type of rewards and level of recognition for contributions to the firm. Number seven is a desire to seek a better work/life balance.
It is not surprising the leadership of senior management ranks high because these are the people most responsible for the firm policies and procedures, business culture, and talent management system. Since many of the senior leaders are baby boomers, there is a generational difference in attitudes towards work, career, and the need for employee recognition. Baby boomer architects and designers spent many years doing low-level assignments, putting in many hours without regard for work/life balance. The rewards were the work itself and steady career advancement, and for some, reaching a point where it was possible to start a new business. Now baby boomers are managing organizations in which millennials already comprise or will soon comprise most of the workforce, and the younger generation wants change.
A good example of the generational difference is found in a blog written by a millennial architect. The title says it all – “Millennial Architect Won’t be Your CAD Monkey.” There have been other surveys conducted, and they support the CFA survey results and the need for senior leaders to adapt the work environment to meet the needs of the millennials. A 2012 survey, for example, found that millennials expected to stay in their jobs for less than five years.
The strategies for attracting and recruiting millennials specifically address their characteristics and the top reasons they leave architecture firms . First, it is important to develop a workplace culture that nurtures the millennial spirit and makes young architects believe this would be the best place to work. The culture must embrace diversity and cherish the organization’s brand and reputation. For instance, since millennials always check social networks for information, potential employers should take into consideration what current employees, clients and communities are saying about the company. Every architectural firm should regularly monitor and manage the online conversation concerning the organization. The online conversation coupled with the marketing strategies needs to demonstrate the architecture firm’s mission, values, ethics and beliefs, so that recruits will see that their personal values align with the organization’s values.
Technology plays a critical role in other respects. Video interviews can showcase an architecture firm as a progressive and flexible culture, and can often provide distinct advantages to both the firm and the interviewee. For the millennial, video interviews are also more convenient, as they get an opportunity to show their true character instead of only what is on the resume.
For the architecture firm, video interviewing saves time and money because the cost is much less compared to in-person interviews. It makes the hiring process quicker while also giving the interviewer an opportunity to explore facets of the person’s personality traits, something not possible with a written resume. Overall, video interviewing fits a modern workforce expecting efficient use of technology, flexibility and a willingness to collaborate for mutual benefit.
Other recruiting tools include developing a good pay and benefits package, supplemented with the presentation of career path opportunities that demonstrate potential upward mobility. Millennials who see a position as dead-end will either refuse a position or will accept the position only as a stepping stone for obtaining licensing.
Millennials have been described as “children of the revolution.” The “revolution” is a shift in individual perspectives to a focus on the needs of the community. Millennials want to do meaningful work centered on people; therefore, one of the most critical retention strategies is developing work with these attributes. Tasks must allow them opportunities to work on projects that make a social impact, like environmental sustainability renovations, low-income housing solutions and disaster relief architecture.
The type of projects offered will influence the turnover rate. Research indicates that 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years if the work is not challenging. They are entrepreneurial and will leave a boring job to start a new business in order to meet personal goals.
Architecture firms must rethink everything from work schedules to leadership training. Strategies include allowing flexible work that lets employees work within a loosely structured schedule. The 9-to-5 schedule is out. One of the ways personal and organizational values are integrated is by allowing employees time to take care of personal needs, like family or community projects. Ideally, the flexible schedule is coupled with the right to work remotely. They are as likely to be found reading and responding to work emails at 9 p.m. as they are at 9 a.m.
Professional development is also crucial. In the Deloitte survey mentioned earlier, six out of 10 millennials believe their companies do not fully develop their leadership skills. Yet, this is one of the most prized activities determining business value. Skills development involves a variety of activities, including training software, mentoring and collaborative teamwork. Millennials need and want a lot of support that encourages them to pursue leadership roles on teams, as well as over projects and departments.
Overhauling Business As Usual
Attracting, hiring and retaining millennials requires a complete overhaul of “business as usual.” All aspects of the talent management process should be viewed through the millennial lens with the ultimate goal of building a loyal, innovative workforce. Admittedly, the current disconnect between millennial expectations and the traditional architecture firm’s work structure is wide, so now is the time to begin making required changes. No one ever said it would be easy to move into the future – a future that is here now.
The Growing “Gig Economy”
There has been a lot of debate over the past year about the merits of the gig economy—where people work on a project or contract basis instead of holding down jobs as traditional full-time employees. Presidential candidates have weighed in on the pluses and minuses of “gig” or contingent work. Lawsuits against on-demand work companies like Uber and Handy are widely covered in the press while investors continue to pour billions of dollars into similar startups.
For the most part, these discussions and debates have focused on companies like Uber and Lyft that connect independent contractors with customers to provide consumer services. More often ignored is the growing population of contingent workers, including independent contractors, statement-of-work-based labor, and freelancers who provide services to corporations. But this is a growing population of workers, many of whom are highly skilled.
It takes a careful mix of mission, management, and culture.
Attracting, retaining, and managing these highly skilled workers will require new ways of thinking about talent management and the role that external talent plays. Companies will need to become “the client of choice” for these high-end contractors.
Recent research illustrates the growing corporate use of contingent workers:
Our own research reinforces these findings. The MBO Partners 2015 State of Independence workforce study found that 6.4 million Americans report that they provide professional services to corporations on a contingent or contract basis. Of these, about 2 million report earning $75,000 or more last year.
Not only is this group large—by way of comparison, this is substantially more than the roughly 4 million Americans who work in the automotive industry, including those working in car dealerships and automotive parts retailing—it’s also growing. Our study shows the number of contingent workers providing professional services to corporations has been growing at about three times the rate of overall employment over the past five years.
Two broad shifts—one on the employer side, the other on the worker side—are driving this boom. First, companies increasingly need a flexible workforce to compete globally. In our research we heard from company leaders that their businesses are turning to independent workers to increase business flexibility and agility. Independent workers allow them to quickly and efficiently scale staffing up and down to meet shifts in demand and changing business circumstances in an increasingly volatile and always-changing global economy. Businesses are also turning to highly skilled independent workers due to difficulties in attracting and retaining employees with hard-to-find specialized talents.
Second, many skilled professionals want independence and are going into contingent work to gain greater work/life flexibility, autonomy, and control over their careers. These highly talented professionals are realizing they are able to go off on their own and make as much or even more money — so they’re doing just that.
These professionals are in demand, and they know it. According to our research, 83% say they have a lot of choice or some choice over who they work with. Only 17% report having little or no choice over who they work with. In other words, these talented professionals can choose what to work on and with whom to work.
So what do these highly skilled independent workers want from their clients?
Being paid well and on time is obviously important to independent workers. But less obvious — and generally more important — are the non-monetary reasons independents choose their clients.
Skilled independents want the ability to control their lives, have meaningful work, and to be part of the team. When it comes to deciding which clients to work with, 96% selected “Value my work” as an important client attribute. Right behind was “Allow me control over my schedule” (89%) and “Allow me control over my work” (88%). “Treat me as part of the team” came in fourth. While independents value their autonomy and don’t want to be traditional employees, they also want to be treated as contributing team members.
Steve King is a Partner at Emergent Research, a research and consulting firm focused on small and micro businesses.
Gene Zaino is the founder and CEO of MBO Partners, a provider of support, tools and resources for independent professionals and their clients.
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