How PDR Cultivates Innovation in Design and Business | cA Weekly 10/21 - Full Transcript
commARCH: Welcome to the commARCH Weekly Podcast Series, a place to share and explore the latest thinking in architecture, building science, materials, and design. Before we begin, please remember to subscribe to one or all of our channels, YouTube, all major podcast platforms, and of course, the commARCH website.
In this episode, commARCH has a dialogue with Laurie Goodman Lampson, President and CEO at PDR, and Larry Lander, Principal at PDR, to discuss PDR's focus on deep client relationships and their aims for the future of architecture.
Areas covered include: navigating the fraught landscape of sales to reach long-term relationships, adapting to the challenges presented by the pandemic with a focus on workplace design, and sculpting business organization to cultivate a strong future for a firm.
Laurie Goodman Lampson is President and CEO at PDR. Lauri is a business visionary who challenges founders and executives to rethink their approach to work and place. As PDR's, President and CEO, she's the mastermind behind the firm's innovative business model and integrated approach to consulting, design, and brand services.
Larry Lander is a Principal at PDR. An architect, and a pragmatic futurist, he has an innate ability to vividly portray possible futures that are rooted firmly in the present. As a principal and PDR's Director of Programming, he guides business leaders, to ask more of the workplaces - to consider what is, what if, and why change?
Thank you for joining us this week. Let's hop into the podcast.
cA: I'm going to start us right off. And there are a lot of things that really blow me away about your firm and about who you are - both of you - as people and professionals. Right now, maybe more than ever, architects struggle with, how do you weave from being just a service provider and achieving someone else's vision and how do you collaborate, how do you do those things? How do you bring more meaning to those relationships?
And some have done it really well. And others have just kind of said "Well, this is just the way it is." And again, one of the many things I really respect about what you're doing is, you're going deeper into your clients' being. How they work, what their brand is, all the different elements, as well as making great architecture for them.
So before we talk about the firm any of that stuff, let's talk about people in your firm. I had a conversation just a couple of weeks ago and it was a conversation that I'd been having for months. And it was that all day long, people are calling different members of our team at the firm and trying to recruit them right in front of our face. And it just becomes so wild.
Before we go into anything else: you as individuals are really your pure self, I think, when you go to work. How do you achieve that? How is it that your professional and your personal selves are so transparent that people want to be part of your culture and you're attracting people and they're staying as a result of what your foundation is.
Lauri Goodman Lampson: Interesting question. The first thing that comes to mind for me is lately, all the leadership gurus are talking about authenticity as if it's like a new thing that we should strive to be. My personal opinion is it's just harder to be anything other than authentic. What you see is what you get is way easier than - for me - than trying to show up as something that you're not, or you know, adopting a persona that you believe a boss or a leader should have. That's my personal approach. It's just easier, to show up the way that I am, and either it resonates with you or it doesn't. (Overlapping)
cA: A lot of times you work for a corporation, (Overlapping) you leave college and you go to a larger firm and you want to achieve and as your family changes or as your personal dynamics change, you become more and more dependent on that structure, and you make compromises.
cA: And how do you, as a thriving, growing firm, ensure that people aren't compromising? And my sense is, and why I really want to spend a few minutes on this is that you come in and you're your natural self and you're transparent and all those things already. And as you just said, the other side, just, it is impossible.
LGL: I think the other thing that might be unique for us and our firm, and what we do is: we are incredibly passionate about our work and that - you can't keep that in, that just emanates. So if you asked me to talk about what I do and my firm, I'm going to be excited. There's a lot of people in the world that don't enjoy the work that they do. And so their professional selves, it's not necessarily their personal passions, not necessarily coming through.
We do this because we love it, because it's freaking hard and you wouldn't do it if you didn't love it. And we do it because we get to impact people's lives in a way that's magical. Being a creative is a unique talent and skill. Not everybody has it. And we know we get that affirmation from our clients and the end-users that experience the worlds we create for them, because they aren't capable - they hire us because they're not capable of doing it themselves. And that just jazzes us up. I mean, that's so we're just super passionate about what we do and that shows, so...
cA: It's keeping the focus on the work and how it impacts, where a lot of times other places might say, "I'm worried about myself. I'm worried about my career. I'm worried about how I'll stand."
LGL: I guess the other side - the whole idea of the mentoring is who are your role models as you are growing in your career, in both skill and talent, in career development, but also in just how those individuals present themselves as leaders and experts. And one of the things that I know I did, and I encourage people to do, is to seek out role models you respect, that are modeling the behavior that you, that resonates with you, right? Because every leader is different, there's lots of models. And then sort of, try to understand what is it about that, the way that person leads, or coaches or mentors or behaves, or just execute their work and interacts with other human beings every day.
What is it about that that resonates with you? Can you find it in yourself? Because this takes development. I didn't show up as a puppy designer, you know, 30-something years ago, and know how to show up, right? You're learning from day one how to take who you are with what the world needs you to be and create - find your natural place in it, particularly if you have leadership qualities. You know, in the news right now, there is a spectrum of leaders: really really great, and really really not great. (Laughing) Right?
cA: It's harder now to have the (Inaudible), but it's always - Larry, you're coming up, don't worry - I guess it was always hard. Your heroes and the people that you look up to are always going to also let you down at some point. So there has to be a handoff to where you say, "I'm going to give, I'm going to make a life where I'm going to be my own hero. And I'm going to pull in the aspects that I believe in."
LGL: I think also - and we just had a company update three weeks ago and just took a pause - it's our mid-year - and we just took a pause and said, we all need to remember, we're all humans. And we need to also understand the situation we're dealing with in terms of internal and external. It is super stressful. The world is super stressful right now. We're all human. We're all stressed out. And so just cut everybody a break. Everybody needs some grace right now. Even your leaders. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. We will let you down every - we will let ourselves down. It's going to happen. And that's part of being human.
And because we're in the business, we're humans in the business of serving other humans to help humans be better, be their best. It's good to be reminded that we're not pursuing perfection. We're just pursuing better. Some days we're better at it than others.
Larry Lander: You know, one thing I would add is that - and I use this line a lot, maybe too much - but there is an awful lot that I never learned in architecture school.
You learn, you think, how to be a designer... but wow. Running a firm or dealing with people - you don't even have to be running the firm - dealing with people, dealing with clients. There were no classes on that. And so you do look up, when you were young, to people who were more senior to you. And the other line I use - and I use it in interviews with clients - is, if I was making the decision and trying to figure out what consultant to use, I would pick the one that I felt most comfortable being in the foxhole with.
Because our projects last years, and things go wrong, and people make mistakes, and people forget things - even I do. And you know, when that happens, you want to have somebody with you, and the firm is the same way. You want to have smart people with you who are going to try to figure it out and do the best they can. And I, you know, a lot of that sounds kind of trite maybe, but...
LGL: Actually, I think - we're in the relationship business.
LL: Totally, totally. (Overlapping)
LGL: We're actually not in the design business. (Overlapping) Design is the vehicle. (Laughing)
cA: So how do you tell your story? Because, in my mind, so many of society's issues would be cured if we just heard other people's stories. Because it seems like we're so judgmental until we know.
So how do you share that story effectively, when you're going to be working with a new client? Or have the potential, and you're just in the beginning process?
LL: You know, it's super challenging right now because this is - you and I having this phone call on the Zoom is not the same as if you were sitting in my living room with me right now, obviously.
cA: You didn't invite me. (Laughing)
LL: Come on. (Laughing)
LGL: I was in an interview - a pitch - yesterday morning. And it's a really good question because we are a complex... There's an idea - the market has an idea about who we are and what we do that barely scratches the surface of the place we sit in the world of business. And it doesn't actually understand who we are and what we do and why we do it.
So the first thing I said with - this as a brand new client, and we're pitching a very strategic integrated team approach. And so the first thing I said is, "Our goal is to make your business better. This project - we believe this project should make your business better."
So, just starting from, we're not here to tell you how to do a better project. That is what kind of the industry's approach is. We can save you money or we can save you time or we can bring you a solution that's been tested or what have you. That's not where we start. We start with, what are you trying to do as a business? How can we help that?
The workplace experience we create for you or your people to be their best and do their best, that's going to make your business better. And yet it's going to be a great experience working with us, to Larry's point. We want to have fun too. We don't want it to feel like work. We want it to be a great relationship. We want it to last forever because truly, we hate selling. It's not our favorite thing to do. So once we got our hooks in you, we're going to do our very best to make sure, for decades from now, we are still working together.
cA: Every business goes through this where you'll get an overview from a potential client that is more aspirational too. And then it's followed with, fill in the the cells of a spreadsheet.
LGL: Oh, yeah.
cA: You said you want this, then you just took us to the lowest common denominator of competition.
LGL: Yeah. Super frustrating for us. I feel like either A) buyers don't know how to buy - or even what they're buying - and procurement processes dictate approach it like it's a commodity and all competitors are equal and you just want the very best price because it's all the same. And some days it amazes me that this creative industry got to that place. That we went from, it all costs the same, because cost is irrelevant. It's talent and connection that you need to be engaging. You make the right engagement, make the right match. And costs are 6% of the project costs. There's no cheaper, no more expensive.
How we got from that - which apparently was considered price fixing - to, we all are the same and you should pay as little as possible for our talent, what the heck happened? And we did it to ourselves, I think. We need to get back to, talent and creativity matter, and you should pay. You should pay for better talent and creativity, you should value it.
cA: Arthur Gensler saw that early, right? And then he went and got an MBA and he pursued, how do you create something bigger, you know, a top firm - in terms of size, certainly. But understanding those perspectives are so important. Larry?
LL: You know, that whole topic of the lowest common denominator, and filling in the cells on the spreadsheet and all that. Even that, I mean, if it's literally that, and only that, we don't always do that well. It's a roll of the dice. But even in that process, there are relationships. And we may get a leg up. The procurement guy may not know us, or the supply chain people may not know us, but somebody has got a relationship with somebody who's in a decision-making role. We're going to do a lot better in that kind of situation. So we're always looking for that, but it is a relationship business and it's not only with your clients, but with your people too.
And you know, you get to work with smart people: as clients, as colleagues, and that's what keeps you coming back to work every day. For all of a sudden, you look up. Some decades have gone by, right, Lauri? (Laughing)
I will say when you're on the, let's say, the back end of all of that - speaking for a friend - you get philosophical about it. You know, there is the challenge of new work... but I get the most jazzed about working with friends and colleagues and clients who are friends - and may not be colleagues - it's an awesome business.
I always go back to the other thing about our work, particularly, is that everybody deserves a good place to work, everybody. And we have such an incredible opportunity to impact people who, obviously, are working right now, but we talk on very large projects about - we're sitting down talking about this project today, we're going to get it started. And the people who are first going to work here are eighth graders today. And you think about that, it's kind of sobering. So what do I know about what eighth graders want? And so that's a big challenge-
LGL: Particularly what they want 10 years from now.
LGL: What's the world going to be like in 10 years?
LL: And so we have projects, they need the last, I dunno, the shortest ones need to last 5 years, or a 10-year lease or a campus project for ExxonMobil: 50 years was their goal. 50 years, I don't want to do the math for me personally, but let me just say, (Laughing) I don't know. I don't know what 50 years from now is going to look like. So it's a super challenge.
cA: It's an interesting point. I have a good friend who wrote a book about generations and demographics and like how next gen doesn't make any sense or baby boomer - it's really about decades and what that decade experienced that was pivotal to how they view the world. So how do you go in, talking about the eighth graders? How are you making assumptions? Are you going, "Okay, they lived through a pandemic. So as a result, they must be sensitive to this." Or, "Because of this, they must be sensitive to...?"
LL: I think there's some of that. To me, the other piece is - and I think we're moving to this in terms of what our solutions are - how do you, how do you develop flexible solutions that can evolve over time? And I will say one of the things about our business - and we've laughed about this from time to time - working in Houston, we worked for energy companies, super cyclical business. One year oil is a hundred dollars a barrel. The next year oil is negative 10, or whatever it was a couple of years ago. It's crazy. I don't even understand what that is.
But that has a direct impact. When Houston's down PDR, you might think, could have a down year, but for us, it's all change. And change - workplaces getting smaller,, workplaces getting bigger, workplaces consolidating, I bought a new company - those are all opportunities for us and at a super fundamental level, opportunities to help people have the very best work experience that they can. And that's the fundamental foundation of what we do.
cA: But that's part of your brand, isn't it?
cA: It's the focus of, we can't really say occupant as much as behavior within the space, and...
LL: To me, the pandemic has just amplified - we talked about this two years ago, these are not new ideas. And it's just the last two years have amplified - it's more important than ever. We're all stuck in our house. We're separated from each other, but I still get up at eight and I log on and I start to do work, whatever that is.
It's like more important than ever that people connect and have the ability to do their very best and feel good about what they're doing.
LGL: Another thing is we are... what we do - maybe what we do for sure, maybe why we do it - but we're basically futurists. We are hired to plan and design for the future, in some cases, the very far future.
And so to me by definition that makes us optimists. Because if you are a futurist, you must be optimistic, right? Because you're planning for good things to happen. So the past, for us, back to your generational comment, the past for us, is really just a launchpad. It is context, setting, and it's perspective, and in some cases, baggage or inertia, but it's really just a launch pad to go forward.
And since most of what we do is create new, we create something new or we renew something that exists so that it's prepared to accommodate the future. Future use, future behaviors, future technology, know, just...
cA: There's the stuff that human beings are just gonna go back to, a comfort zone that they have reference to. The other side, we're expecting monumental change. If we were talking a year ago, we would probably say, schools are going to function entirely differently, and education is going to be different. And, you know, healthcare is now going to be incorporated in every building and who would ever go to a restaurant or bar that didn't have the right stuff in their bathrooms.
cA: And here we are. And it's not real. (Laughing) None of it's really changed.
LGL: Should be! And some I think will. Change is hard on human beings. We don't like it very much. We do like that gravitational force of the past and the comfort and what I know. Really hard on middle managers right now, this new world we're talking about launching into, the middle layer - individuals are gonna figure it out and figure out where they're going to be on the spectrum of resist or embrace. And executives are going to be figuring it out. And if they want their businesses to thrive, they're going to be pushing forward. But that middle group, that's going to get pressure from execs to do it this way now, and pressure from the individual employees that are like, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not sure." Or you don't understand because you haven't done the work in so long.
They're getting squeezed and they are in high pain, right now. And they're the ones resisting change because they have no idea what it means, or they just don't they're 5 or 10 years from retiring and they just don't want to have to deal at the end of their career with all this learning new stuff or being different or working harder than they were working in 2019.
So that's a real challenge and a real opportunity. It's a real opportunity to level up, you know?
cA: Absolutely. When we had purchased Commercial Architecture and then relaunch it as commARCH, we saw that the big opportunity for us - which thankfully we've been successful in - is early-to-mid career architects, owners, and developers, because we saw that the ones who are more experienced are a little more set in their ways and they're protecting their domain. And they're drinking buddies with certain people. With the other group, they really could care less about traditional media, the way it was, or anything else. What they want is, how do I make a brand for myself?
cA: How do I evolve? How do I go into a meeting and have credibility?
LGL: Yeah, I think that's true. And I think in this industry, unfortunately, it's exacerbated. Maybe it's the same in every industry, but there's so much inertia in the old school way of doing architecture, engineering, construction, you know, that embracing the new ideas and thinking about it differently... it's like a personal attack on the value preposition of a licensed professional. That's how it's taken.
LL: I've always thought there's lots of irony in that because, I agree with Lauri, we are futurists. We are optimists. We're looking ahead out farther than sometimes is comfortable. But there's big parts of our industry that are locked into the old ways of doing things. And it always seems to me like we're woefully behind. I think just the whole process of building out office space or building a building, you know, it's so custom and bespoke and done by hand. It's crazy. Why is that? Very few other things are done that way. And I think part of it is, we do get locked into, "Well, this is always how it's been done."
I always laugh. And this is another line I use and perhaps too often, but I've often thought, when you go to work, everybody's about the same age. That's kinda my mental view of the world. And every once in a while, I'm reminded - we're talking about music or a book I read - you're reminded no, everybody's not the same age but I always kind, kinda think that.
And, you know, and you try to learn from everybody. A mentor is not just a person older and wiser than you. You can learn from people right out of school and you need to.
LL: Otherwise you have zero perspective on what eighth graders need.
cA: Yeah. A little kid, you can learn the secret of life from, right?
LL: Totally, totally.
cA: And that's part of the joy of what you're doing as a career, is that every day you're growing too. You have reference points from the past, but you're doing the new.
So when we talk about the futurist part, I think I've been observing in projects, especially lately, is the experience. And everyone's talking about experiences, so don't attack me yet... (Laughing)
LL: We might agree with you, but keep going. (Laughing)
cA: The idea people were home and they put all this money in. Home Depot and Lowe's and everybody was packed because they were building a fortress where they had every comfort they needed, how to get them out of the house to go to a movie theater. You can't be the same experience.
LGL: Yeah, no.
cA: Otherwise I'll just - or this or that. And I think we're really in tune now with, if you have my time, I left my place. This better feel a certain way.
LGL: I totally agree. I have believed for a long time that human beings accept bad experiences as the norm and acceptable. I think about no sense of place in a track neighborhood, you know, brand new developed track neighborhood where there's no sense of entry. There's no sense of experience. There's no freaking trees, you know.
LL: That's not your neighborhood, is it, Dean?
cA: It was. (Laughing)
LL: We don't want to hurt anybody's feelings here. (Laughing) This is not a personal thing.
cA: I'm not a big suburbs advocate, but... (Laughing)
LGL: I use that example because the way - I'm not against suburban development, it's the way they are developed. It is not with the human experience in mind. It is not first and foremost, what is it gonna feel to drive in? What is it going to feel to approach the home? What does it feel like to be in the home? What do I see from inside looking out? It has nothing to do with it. It has to do with how many little spots can I chop up? How much money can I make? The humans aren't even part of the equation.
The last couple of decades in that space, though, builders and developers that thought about how do I make a community feel? How do I have gardens? How do I think ahead of time how the kids are going to play? Where the garage is behind, how there's this front porch, cause everybody - they really thrived. You know, they weren't hit like the other ones.
Yes. So I think what this whole pandemic has accelerated or highlighted for human beings is, where the value of our time and our money and what we're willing to put at risk to be out in the world, better be a darn good experience. It better be better than I can create for myself. And so I'm not just going to go out to eat at a restaurant because I need food. I'm going to choose the best experience, the best quality and the people I want to support. How I want to engage with my community and be supportive of my community. And we're going to vote now with our time and our dollars based on experience, that'll be higher on our criteria chart, now, having just been through this.
cA: It's so interesting too, staying on this experience, let's talk through - is that the restaurant industry has been so hit, as we all know, for labor.
cA: You go to two different restaurants dealing with the same problem. One, when you immediately walk in, they might have a sign up saying, look, we're understaffed today. And here's the deal. Please bear with us. We're going to make the best food, we're going to do all these things, but just coming in the store, please understand we value you.
And another one who says we can't let anyone know what's going on behind the scenes.
LGL: It's just going to be terrible out there. We're just going to let it be bad.
cA: What you discover, how horrible this is. So you immediately have this loyalty to one. Yeah. And you feel like a victim of the other: I'm never going back. But that could be a school. It could be going to the doctor's office.
LGL: Yeah, it's everything. Now I think it's palpable. And I think we notice it now. It happened to us before. Good experience, bad experience, friendly server, unfriendly server. It happened before, and we were just kind of like, "Eh." Now, I think it's palpable. I think you can feel immediately, is this a good experience? Is this one I want to repeat? Or am I out. Yeah, not doing that again.
cA: It fits the workforce part that you were talking about, too, is that whoever's coming into the office with an office that's less filled, right? How are you greeting them and showing them respect?
LGL: I think this is our biggest challenge. Because the transition back into some normalcy of using our workplaces is prolonged, most days it still feels like Saturday on in the office. We have such a lack of human energy. In a conversation with a designer yesterday, one of our partners asked like, "Will I see you in the office?" And she was like, "Nobody's there. Why would I?" Basically, why would I come, nobody's there. And so we got to fix that human energy problem.
We've got to create a reason, again, that experience I've just described. If I show up at the office and nobody's there and it's quiet and it's kind of creepy and I don't get any energy or vibe from it. What's the point? Just stay home.
cA: We were so focused on certain things and it's still part of our psyche. I go to the office and that shows I'm a good employee. I do these certain things. If I'm working from the house, I make sure, you know I'm engaged. I do these different things. Are you seeing clients talking about, forget all that, all we want to talk about is productivity.
LL: What's interesting about that - short answer: yes, absolutely. That's what they're talking about. And we have so many clients right now who are asking, "Well, what do we do? What's next?" I'm sure we do have some projects - I know we do, actually - it's all empty floors of a building and they're going to put in new beautiful office interiors, awesome projects, but we have a lot of clients who are asking, "We don't even know what to do. Do we need all this space? Are we doing the right thing?" People coming back, people staying home two days a week, three days a week, no days a week, five days a week.
And you get into these kind of existential questions, "What is your work? What do you do? What do you really do and what do you value and how do you measure productivity?" We start almost every engagement with those kinds of questions. And there's a bit of navel-gazing to it, but at the same time, it is about the experience. If I had an hour commute and I had to go find long pants and shoes and socks and then drive for an hour, and then it's like Saturday afternoon when I get there, I'm not going back.
The Washington Post had an article. I just passed it around yesterday or whatever, just because it resonated with me. And the guy complained, "I go in, I go to my office, I shut the door and I'm on Zoom calls all day long. I could have been at home to do that." And is this surprising to people? So the idea - and again, I go back to two years ago, we knew this already that the place had to have a vibe to it. Why do people go work at a hotel coffee shop, which is what I did yesterday morning with my son. We didn't even talk to each other, sat in this cool hip space and did our email, it was awesome. There were people buzzing around and people had masks on but it was cool. To have a vibe, why is that, to feel like you're part of something bigger and when you're working by yourself, it's super hard to feel that way.
That's why, all the way back to your original question from when we talked in the summer about mentoring, how do you connect with people? We at PDR, we have people who have started their professional career in the middle of a panic. I have no idea how they think about PDR or if it's possible they could think about PDR in the same way that Laurie and I think about PDR. So super challenging. How do you feel like you're part of it? How do you make it so that it's a urban vibe and it's a place I want to go to?
cA: I guess this is a perfect segue into what we normally would start with, which is, "What is PDR and how come the two of you are involved with it? What's going on?"
LGL: You want me to answer, or you want to take it, Larry?
LL: Go ahead, you know - PDR was founded in 1977. Is that what you're looking for? (Laughing)
cA: A Sex Pistols Reference to 1977 would be good too. (Laughing)
LGL: So I describe us as a - we are a multi-disciplinary design and consulting firm, and what we've done is we've integrated three traditional practice areas: design, consulting, and brand, so that we can bring holistic strategies and solutions to our clients. And we leverage our deep expertise in workplace to create places and experiences of all kinds that humans love. So they can be their happiest, healthiest, be their best, do their best, whatever that is.
cA: It's really the three different areas that you use as, like, these are things that we bring. If I'm a corporation, how do I trust you with my brand? Who are you bringing into the dialogue that knows so well about brand versus me going to a marketing agency, ad agency something else in the traditional space?
LGL: Our approach to brand - our goal with brand - is we want to connect humans to your brand. And so you either have a brand or you're trying to create a brand. Most of our clients have one and they're trying to amplify it and make sure the human beings in their constituency - internal, external - feel a strong connection, and that we're helping them make that connection, whether it's in physical place or in writing or in logo making or in naming the thing or describing your business so that it connects to humans.
So we're different from a traditional agency in that our goal is not the best mark or the best tagline or... our goal is whatever it is about you resonates with the humans you care about. And we tried to create an entire ecosystem around that. So we do it - our core workplace design work, its intention is to connect people to your brand.
cA: I'll throw out something, and then a couple of examples. So do they recognize how important that is? Because... like green building. It blows my mind, every religious building isn't green. Like, if any building should be, shouldn't it be that? And then you'll drive down the highway and there's this rickety building that houses a remodeling studio, where you can go and (Inaudible) you know? I mean, it's more common where there's the disconnect.
LGL: So I think the pandemic, to Larry's point, has accelerated and highlighted - between that and gen Z's life experience - purpose is now kind of at the top of the list of criteria of deciding, who to engage with, who to work for, who do I align myself with? So aligning with that purpose. So people now turn down jobs or turn down money because they don't agree with the values of the company or they don't buy their product. I'm not going to buy those jeans because I don't agree with the values of that company. So now more than ever brands - organizations - need to be explicit about what their brand stands for.
And so I think that's heightened. What do you stand for?
cA: It has to be in the physical structure. Otherwise there's a disconnect.
LGL: Yes. Which I think is one of the, one of the reasons we still believe the office has a key purpose in an organization's future in their business model. It doesn't have the same purpose, perhaps, it had in 2019, you know, a warehouse for all the bodies that make up your organization. That's probably not the right purpose anymore. But that physical connection to brand, and as Larry said, we are basically pack animals, right? We are, we need tribes. We don't really like to be alone. We can't survive alone. We need some alone time, but we can't survive by ourselves.
So feeling like you're part of a group of people, a community of people, that are aligned and working towards some make the world better goal - that's the other thing - we're not just going to be, you know, this whole idea of productivity and what is work. I think that's going to get a whole scrutiny, a whole assessment around what matters. What is it that we do that matters? And we only want to do things that matter - who wants to do things that don't matter, right?
We've come from long decades of lot of jobs that are tasks that don't really matter. And it's something we're going to struggle with as a society, because you've got to be skilled in things that matter. And if you aren't - or educated, right - you're going to have to learn something, you're going to have to change.
So I do think the physical, whether it's the workplace or the hotel you go to, or the restaurant you go to: generic is not going to cut it. Like you want to feel when you hit the curb or the door, what this place stands for, and feel good about it. Feel connected to it.
LL: Be connected. I was going to say the little earlier story about the two different restaurants that's right there, at the crux of that whole discussion, that I connect with one because they're upfront about what their issue is, where the other one, I may not have that same connection.
I use the example of, most of the people that were talking to as clients or colleagues, they went to college someplace. And while you were in school, the team won a championship or somebody won a Nobel prize. You weren't on the football team and you weren't winning a Nobel prize - you couldn't even describe what they won the prize in, but you're still super proud of that. Again, decades later, my team is number seven in the country. I'm not a football player. Never have been, but you take great pride in it and you feel that sense of belonging.
LGL: So here's something. I just was talking to the Dean of the School of Architecture at U of H, the chancellor right now was concerned because the football team is not doing as well as its reputation. And what she said was, when the football team is winning, enrollment goes up. When the football team is losing, enrollment goes down. And so that's exactly what Larry just said, like connecting to a - you want to connect, you want to be part of a winning brand, right?
You want to be part of a brand that is recognized as important in the world. You don't want to be part of a brand that's not. Its performance too - the brand needs to be a performing brand. It can't just be physical, wonderful, beautiful, here we are.
LGL: You also have to have the proof, the evidence that you are making a difference. You are positive, you are high performing. And I do think this whole idea of productivity is going to get some scrutiny around, what does that mean?
cA: It should only be starting with that. If it's education, office, retail, anything. What allows for the best productivity as the start of the conversation, where we're so used to, "We're growing, we're going to need 30 more cubes. Where are we going to put people?"
LGL: I think where we start with that question, is: what is the work. And do you understand it as a leader in your organization? Do you really understand the work today? How people do it, what they think they need to do it, what they think is important about it. And have you thought about how it's changing in the future? Cause we actually - again, we're planning for the future, not today. So how is it changing or how does it need to change?
And one of the things that Larry and I were just talking about this a couple of days ago. One of the things that's happened to us here is we, we tend to think about work in terms of the task list that's on my list or the meetings I have to attend today, or, you know, I got to get some stuff done. And that is a pretty small subset of what work really is. If you think about where's the, I'm growing relationships and knitting to my community, where's the personal growing as a human being? Where's the professional growing? Where's the career growth? Where's the, how am I helping the business grow? So where is innovation and creativity? Where are those conversations in - today's back-to-back, I literally have hour-by-hour, back-to-back Zoom calls. So my brain is going to be dead by 6:00 PM.
LL: Not every day is a great day, okay. (Laughing)
cA: I'm hoping your brain won't be dead over the next 5-10 minutes too. (All laughing) But you were hitting on earlier about leadership, middle management, and the past structure. The leader beforehand was, "Okay, these are the primary tasks that needed to be done. These are these types of things..."
A leader now is, "Okay. How do I assist you in being the most productive?"
LGL: Yeah. And also heading towards results and outcomes. Not, did you check off the task list? It's like, why am I doing the task? That may be super important, but it's probably cause I'm driving for some result or some outcome. So what is that? What's the end game?
And then I think the future is, work with your people to help let them inform how best to get there. Let's stop telling people how to get there and let's let their talent and creativity tell us how best to get to that end game, and where and when they need to do it, do whatever it is they need to do to get there.
cA: In order to achieve that, that requires an individual not to feel threatened or in the wrong environment.
LGL: For sure.
cA: Right. Because you can't, what's the thing... I can't remember exactly, but the intent there is, you know, you can't create, if you're worried about eating.
LGL: Maslow's Hierarchy.
cA: If these things aren't there... so That's one of the areas why consulting is so important to your practice as well, isn't it?
LGL: We want to make sure the foundations are solid so that we can build on top of them. And the way we talk about that with leaders is when you're declaring, you're about to declare some new thing, right now, employees are super anxious. They want to know what's my fate. What's going to happen to me? Are you going to make me come to the office? Do I get to choose? Do I have to wear real clothes? All these things that are changing. So, before you declare, be clear on your intentions. Why are you declaring whatever it is you're declaring, why? People need to know why.
So, about to building a strong foundation. Then they need to have some level of trust. And they need to understand the context, that you want them to now make better decisions, right? So what are your intentions? Set this new context? Not like before, this is the new world, now. Do you have the foundation you need to make better decisions and choices and good judgment so that we can talk about what we can now do together to accelerate and move the business forward.
But you can't have that conversation if you haven't declared what the new foundation is based on.
cA: So one of the magic - or maybe the secret sauce, besides the people that're making this happen - is that you get - if I'm a client working with you, you're gonna help me thoroughly understand that DNA before the flower blooms, if you would. Which is great, and that's long-term and fits the futurist and all those elements - when so many times, when you're in a competition for business, it's, "Just show me the flower."
LGL: You know, we have a philosophy about that...
cA: I like how you're like, "Should I say this out loud?" (Laughing)
LGL: Design competitions are a really bad idea. Because design should not be arbitrary. We don't believe it should be arbitrary. It should be based on the DNA that I'm trying to help flourish. And if I don't know what that is, I'm designing some arbitrary artifact to show you that I'm a good designer, what is the point of that?
I have a portfolio of great design work, that is evidence that we can design and solve any design problem. So design competition, unless you have given me a complete brief of exactly what you need this thing to do for your business, I'm not - I'm making it up. So what is the point? That's why I said they're a bad idea and they really... if you want to test how I'm going to solve your problem, then hire me to meet with you, to understand your problem and give you some initial ideas. Hire me for - hire my talent to help you see - hire three of us.
Hire three of us for a nominal amount and let's do something that matters in terms of helping you see how I would work with you, how I would try to understand you, how I would try to solve your problem. But just a blind design competition? What is the point?
LL: You know, a solution without understanding what the what the problem really is, is really not a solution. So...
LGL: It also tells me, the buyer thinks that the design is the thing.
LGL: The answer is what they need, and that is not what they need. They do need an answer, they need the right answer for them. (Laughing)
cA: They want to show everybody that we have the most beautiful offices and that we have free lunches and we do this and that. But what you're doing is getting into, okay, what do you want to accomplish? Who are you? What are you about? And then let that office be an expression and a facilitator for that.
LL: I used to say we had - PDR was half architects, half interior designers, and it's so not that anymore. We really bring the whole spectrum of business consulting, the brand part of things, the design part of things. Now, I believe we're in the change management business. Organizations come to us because they want to change in some fashion.
And certainly one tool - and we know it's a pretty effective one - is to be in new space. But that's not the only one. And we have a lot of clients that - that new space is not the ultimate goal but they do need to make changes. And that's where we have found a sweet spot.
LGL: I think, because change management requires new behaviors, usually. The best, the fastest way to accelerate a behavior is to change a routine or change the physical so that the behavior will follow, catalyze that new behavior. I can tell you to do something differently in an old environment, but that - back to what you said earlier, Dean, the habit, the going back to my comfort zone, it's going to be a whole lot harder if you don't catalyze it. And depending on the degree of change you're trying to achieve with something drastic. No, we mean do differently, here. This is - we're going to show you how much we mean it's going to be different in the future.
And that's probably something we don't talk about enough or help our clients understand is the power of changing an environment to get the mindset change and the behavior change that you're after from your human beings, it's a real catalyst and accelerator.
LL: We talked about that with a client we're going to meet with this afternoon and they were amazed and admittedly - self-admittedly - that Teams could be as effective as -which is their Microsoft format for video, they don't use Zoom, they use Teams - it could be that effective to find oil and gas. And they were kind of blown away with it. And they said we never had meetings where people were on video or people weren't in the room. And suddenly we were thrust into this new way of doing things that we had to do. And we're pretty good at it, to be quite honest, he was pretty proud of himself.
Now they're struggling with, you know, we know how to do work when we're in the office. We know how to do work when we're all at home, surprisingly so. What we're challenged with now is this in-between: some people are going to be in the office and some people are not going to be, at home. And how do you make, again, the experience, back to that word? How is that equal and effective and productive for everybody involved in it? And that's a super interesting challenge for us.
LGL: Hybrid's the new buzzword.
cA: For everything, too. Even medical. And we all like that for medical, because now I don't have to sit in a doctor's office for two and a half hours waiting. I have a scheduled Zoom call, if you need me, I'll be there.
LGL: Right. For sure.
cA: So we're all getting - I don't think we'll ever go back to the old model with most things. To Larry's point a little while ago, and as we're wrapping up. This conversation did originally start off about, about mentoring.
But, as I got to know both of you, going to mentoring was like, I guess, going to provide me the outcome, the flower. I became more intrigued with, "What is your process? What is your thinking about today?" Because your process and everything in the environment - and I know you do a number of things that we could have hit on - but your environment already is mentoring people, and already recognizing people that I want you to be you. I want you to grow to your potential. I want to challenge you. I want you to be as passionate as I am.
LL: I think about now PDR is like... how do we sustain PDR? We really were founded in 1977. So we're, you know, 40-some odd years old. And Lauri and Larry were not there in 1977, I can assure you.
And how do you set the framework for the next 40 years? That's the kind of things we talk about all the time, and we've actually. Reorganize the company, in a sense, to be explicit about developing people's careers and helping them on that path and going so far as to say, as a senior leader, your highest value, certainly - maybe not highest, and it's kind of slippery - but certainly a very high value to what you do is finding the person who will replace you. And if people below you in a organizational matrix or hierarchy or org chart or whatever, if those people are not being promoted, then why would you be promoted? And make that connection that clear to people.
cA: And if we can reserve that, if I could invite you again to another time where we'll do a roundtable and we'll talk about, and exchange some ideas.
cA: Thank you. Because again, that's what brought us together initially: to think about how you create a thriving practice today that is future-proof and is doing those things, I think became even more important. Thank you for spending time with us.
LL: Loved it.
LGL: Thank you, it was fun!
cA: It's always good to see you.
LL: Stay in touch. Thanks, Dean.
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