I want a "purpose driven" firm. Where do I start?

"What I want is a company that sustains itself on quality design and client service.  I want my employees to genuinely feel like family.  I want to work together for the greater good of our profession, our community and our families as we grow." 

It's more than a trend - it's a noble and important goal for business owners. Respecting your profession, collectively supporting a purpose, and bringing work/life balance goals to a firm is driven from the top down.  Firm leadership must define what "purpose driven" means to them, how it fits into the firm's workday and how it can mesh with the client's day and process. Your staff will appreciate your commitment and, more importantly, so will your spouse and kids.  Those goals are wonderfully achievable today.

How is this done?  Step one is for principals to voice a real commitment to their profession.  The passion that you felt in college and while interning with others is a fire that should not be quenched.  The fire should be fed and ignited in those around you.  This is it, it's your life and it's not a drill.  Details matter, process matters, communication matters and error free work matters.  When the principals think and act in this manner, it's contagious.  Hire graduates that burn with the same fire and passion as you. Engage younger staff and get them involved with projects, site visits and the client.  Develop whole professionals.

"Build your office around your process, not your hierarchy.  Be flexible, allow movement and foster cross-communication of experience, problem solving and idea sharing.  Shed those good old bad officing habits."

Now think about home base.  We spend a good part of our lives in our professions.  Our home away from home should be just as inviting, comfortable and accommodating as our actual home.  It should be a place where everyone is respected for their best efforts and contribution.  Recognize that the work environment is changing at an accelerating pace.  Likely, between the time you started college and started your firm - a new business world evolved.  Build your office around your process, not your hierarchy.  Be flexible, allow movement and foster cross-communication of experience, problem solving and idea sharing.  Shed those good old bad officing habits.  Still confused?  Visit the Top 10 Best Places to Work in your city to learn how others have approached this topic.

With the physical facility reflecting more of your operational personality, give your staff the same respect you expect to receive from them.  Build a strong policy of work/life balance allowing staff to have the opportunity to refresh, rejuvenate and come in fresh and spirited each day. It is well known that given a choice of extra pay for extra work, more flex-time or expanded PTO, staff may often prefer time away from the office.  Great firms manage a little of both.  They build strong teams.   Of course, professional goals and commitment to client must always be honored.  Without successful projects and satisfied clients, your work slows, projects end and you may have to shutter the business. Espresso machines, bean bag chairs and foosball tables can become irrelevant overnight.

Finally, supporting the community with purpose may be easier than it sounds.  Back 10 or 20 years ago, professionals were asked (told) to pick a charity and go to work with fund raising as a civic duty. Today these choices seem to pick us rather than the other way around.  While it might not be obvious, your personal concerns for feeding and housing homeless people and pets, your family's fascination with animals in the zoo or enjoyment of the park system, or active involvement in the performing arts like ballet, live shows, music and dance, could point the way.  A little soul searching and conversation could lead to conclusions that could be deeply personal and rewarding.  Discover in-kind contributions and teach the art of participation, as support is not always about money.

It can be helpful to have guidance from someone with no connection and an outside perspective to help your firm launch into the future with a purpose.   Give me a call and we'll plan the strategy together.

William M. Burwellis a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com