Walk first, run second

“The test fit will change?!” squeaked Bob, pen poised over his notepad. “Why?!” I had a bit of an ‘er…’ moment before replying “Well, it’s, um, just a test fit” trying hard to not infer anything negative, like surprise. “We have yet to engage with the business.”

It turns out that Bob was used to using the test fit to define his final proposal, fixing very early on what he would be delivering. The old process ran with this and simply absorbed any issues that arose.

So what is/is not a test fit?

  • A test fit makes sure the building you like will actually fit the needs and requirements of the business and local compliance.
  • That’s it.

To explain, let’s roll back the process a bit…

  • Your organisation will have standards and target metrics.
  • You will have a space budget, or space calculator, containing those standards, the space they require and other essential add-ons like team storage, circulation, etc*
  • On preferred buildings, the space budget is planned into the space, using your standards and initial visioning sessions as a guide to create the test fit.

Test fits will not show the final construction layout of the ‘executive suite’, where leadership have to agree a layout that supports their new ‘unassigned desk’ status. There are many revisions yet to come on this area alone, particularly in countries where hierarchy is culturally important.

Test fits may not have the shower/ping-pong table/bike racks that all your end users are pushing for – and which you are able to supply.

Test fits don’t take into account the looming occupation study outcome, how that data might impact the business case and your standards.

Test fits don’t know if the budget approval will include costs for HVAC changes, or if the landlord/compliance will let you move fire curtains, or if negotiations with the business mean more desks and less construction, or the other way around.

Test fits identify the road you will be travelling on. They do not show the destination, the story arc, the curves in the road or all the characters you will meet.

‘Wait!’ cried Bilbo, running after the somewhat end-game fixated dwarves, ‘I have the concept design plans!’

 


* Because you want to avoid mis-calculating the space needed and end up seeking a space based on NUA instead of NIA. (RICS download for terminology buster)

 

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It’s not about us…it’s about them

We design great spaces….for people. Design without end-user input is easy but will it create a space that people actively want to use?

Visioning sessions reveal desires. After a few years of leading them you can predict the requests, the wish list items are achievable. But what about when the request is viable but is disruptive to the status quo?

It’s very easy to say no and to simply repeat what has been done before. It’s less work. A cookie-cutter model is a quicker, simpler project to deliver. We don’t have to figure out a solution or negotiate with other people’s work streams or agendas. road-less-traveled

The get out clause of  “It’s not standard” can be translated as “It’s nothing to do with me, Guv’nor, I am just the delivery agent, I don’t make the decisions.”  The risk here is that this gives a message that the decision has already been made; it fosters the question ‘why bothering consulting with people?’

Or we could say ‘yes’, or at the least “We’ll consider it”. So when end users ask for low hanging fruit such as….:

  • To be part of the furniture selection process for their office
  • A choice of designs for spaces they are going to work in
  • To have a vote on colours they will be surrounded by
  • To influence the graphics/artwork choices they will have to live with…

….we can start talking to the team and figure out what the right answer is.

We can say “No”. We can say “That’s not how we do things.” or “We only give you X choice.” Or we can work out how to say “Yes” and be able to deliver a responsive workplace that people feel is theirs.

Workplace design isn’t about us, it’s about them. Let’s take the risk and make it happen.

 

 

Turn the Beef Around

An example of how a change in workplace strategy benefits people, place and budget and can be quite different to people’s perceptions.

A long time ago in a galaxy campus far, far away….we broke the mould.

In a rather traditional company I had managed to influence a director to take a calculated risk and adopt agile working. Not long after moving day,  a letter was published in the internal newsletter:Picture6

I notice Team X has got a new office that is different from everyone else’s. As the company goals include cost reduction and our values include equality for all staff, please can you explain the costs, how this office compares to the rest on campus and  what consultation took place? *

These are some  everyday misunderstandings about what is needed to adopt a new workplace strategy.  Designing a different type of workplace does not have to be expensive, time-consuming, or unfair.

  • Costs can be mitigated by clever design and by getting your collaboration groove on with other workstreams.
  • Programmes can incorporate engagement requirements  (yes, they can). You might need to support hard-core construction PMs through a learning curve.
  • Quality can be maintained, you’re going to have some criticals that must be achieved, but the rest, as they say, is gravy.

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*This is paraphrased verbiage of an actual though rather more challenging letter. The response covered the below:

  • The Director took active ownership of leading the change and achieved Board-level buy-in.
  • The staff engagement model was thorough, well framed and end-to-end.
  • The project cost 15% less than a traditional project.
  • The SqM PP met the campus standard.
  • The space was future-proofed for the next three years while maintaining standard quality for existing staff.
  • Homeworkers chose to come into the office just to enjoy using the space.

A year later:

  • Reduction of churn requests from 50 per year, down to two.
  • The annual staff survey saw an 11% increase in workplace satisfaction.
  • The project was the gateway to changing workplace strategy at an organisational level.

 

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Regarding Headcount…

This article shares why identifying headcount is not as straightforward as it seems and how a good workplace strategy requires repeated investigation.

Headcount forecasts require approval before they can be considered viable, however formal headcount requests can be refused. Often, the realities of headcount do not reflect the official line. So when is headcount, not headcount?

1. Contractors, InternsStealth growth

These can be overlooked (or excluded) in headcount forecasting as they can be linked to projected CapEx projects or have approved OpEx budgets re-calibrated during the year to create headcount not considered in, or possibly struck from, the annual round up.

2. Remote Staff

Usually included in headcount, though excluded from real estate calculations. Why provide additional SqM for staff that are never in, right? Not if they need to/chose to come into the office on a frequent basis. Even remote staff need human contact some times.

3. When approval for 1x headcount in Country A might be switched to 2x headcount in Country B. Or not. They are not quite sure.

Fortunately I have found this to have minimal impact. If necessary, your strategy should allow for flexibility in this area.

4. Project Duration

When projects can span 18 months or more, you need to re-visit headcount, preferably every six months to ensure the strategy and project remains fit for purpose. It is easy to draw a line under the headcount at the start of the project and then move in to a space operating at or near capacity. This is not strategic. It does require a project process to be flexible, responsive and open to change.

All this impacts your workplace strategy. If you follow the Finance approved headcount without question, the headcount is likely to be incorrect. The outcome of this assumption is  that the space you create will reach its peak sooner than your strategy intended, with associated knock-on to cost, effectiveness, wellbeing and business impact.

 

Do’s and Don’ts of the Framework of Influence

Some additional tips about how to ensure your engagement structure works.

It’s easy to make mistakes when adopting an engagement model. The following tips build on this Framework of Influence (FoI) article.

Always:

  • Remember that engagement is leadership, and that it is the role of the leader to ‘take employee engagement […] to a cultural pillar that improves performance‘(1).
  • Stay honest, credible, professional, ethical, transparent.

    gallup state of worksplace 2017 - leaders changeto millennials, not wait for them to become boomers

    Source (1)

  • Deliver the ‘Why’. Why there are changes; why their suggestion was not taken up. When you engage, engage fully even if it’s a challenging conversation,
  • Work at that relationship. Bob may be hard work – but he also may be marked as talent, or at the very least his leaving would cause downtime/cost for the business. If he feels engaged, he’s one of the 37% of people actively keeping an eye out for opportunities. If he’s not engaged, then he’s one of the 56% looking, and if he’s actively disengaged he’s one of the 73% actively looking – and most likely being a toxic employee while he’s at it. (1) And in my experience, sometimes the actively disengaged are very comfortable where they are…

Avoid:

  • Encouraging people to believe they have influence if you are not really going to allow any. Engaging will build trust, leading people down a path will result in loss of trust and disillusionment. It’s hard to come back from that.
  • Opening the conversation if the decision has already been made. Any existing decisions should be outlined in your FoI from the start.
  • steelcase - moderate engagement quote

    Source: Steelcase Global Workplace Report_Boosting Employee Engagement

    Moving the goalposts. If there is a big change (ie: the business changes direction) you must be very clear of ‘why’ changes are happening.  Help people understand and you bring them on the journey.

  • Avoiding the ‘Why’. Ever. No, people may not like what they hear, but they deserve a well-reasoned, professionally constructed and delivered explanation.
  • Avoiding follow-up requests to the ‘Why’. Sometimes, people will have more questions and this is OK. We are all wired differently. Some people need more support than others to adjust – but adjust they will.

 

(1) Gallup Report, State of the Workplace 2017

The Engagement Fulcrum

Workplace has been traditionally a ‘tell’ environment. If you are not familiar with engagement-led models, how do you lead change when a ‘tell’ is not an option?

When working with people who are new to engagement models, the common themes tend to be based around all of some of the below:

  1. We’ll never deliver on time/on budget
  2. I don’t have time/am too experienced/other to have to learn new stuff
  3. I may mess this up and look stupid
  4. Engaging with Bob is going to be a whole world of pain I could do without

So let’s just stick with the ‘tell’, it’ll be easier to maintain control on all of the above.

Control and Engagement, not easy bedfellows. It’s like a seesaw. The more control applied to one end has an equal and opposite effect on the other end. The skill is managing how the control is applied so the other end reacts the way you want it to. Oh, plus emotions, that ever-present ingredient.

Seesaw Example:

  • High control = low engagement = end users get what they are given.
    seesaw underdog status - leahy

    How not to view the process…..!           (Source unknown)

    • Emotion: Impacts trust, loyalty, well being, employee satisfaction.
  • Low control = High engagement = end users expect to get what they want.
    • Emotion: Confusion, frustration; and I’ll be taking bets on ‘high dudgeon’ if things get really bad.

Find a balance. If you wish to engage, and I recommend you do, try this:

Always

  • Get your ducks in a row first. Be detailed and thorough when setting up your Framework of Influence.
  • Carry out mind-mapping, categorise the output, group into common themes. Use front-line knowledge and proven experience to help you do this. Also get these people to support you with a dry run, or soft landing if they are also part of the change. Incorporate feedback.
  • Maintain credibility with your end users and mind the 5P’s**

    influence, kinnarps gensler future of work

    (Source: Kinnarps-Gensler ‘The Future of Work March 2017)

  • Choose your attitude. Assume the best, prepare for the worst.
  • Prepare to be challenged; some cultures will engage most obediently, others will engage with hearty debate or eye-watering ‘black & white’ directness. None of which is wrong, except for offensiveness. Accept that different cultures have different methods, including their definition of ‘offensive’.
  • Be prepared to politely and firmly direct people back to the framework model. If asking for a swimming pool is out of scope, do not support conversations about how great it would be to have one.
  • Acknowledge if you need to hire someone to do the engagement for you. They will have tried and tested tools which work, and work well; do you really want to reinvent the wheel? After all, it was a long, bumpy journey between rolling over logs and using an inflatable tyre.
  • Remember: if you are leading the change, or asking people to change, you must adopt and embody those changes. People will look to you. Walk your talk if you want the change to both land well and be sustainable.

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*Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance….but you knew that already, right?

 

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More Than Meets the Eye

A short piece on when people are more than their CV, how a simple engagement direction has made some people very proud, and how going the extra mile benefits the project.

At one interview the curveball questions at the wrap-up was: ‘Does your sewing machine have a name?’

We’re all long enough in the tooth to understand that the dreaded ‘Hobbies and Interests’ section of the CV gives people a glimpse behind the professional mask, though when was the last time you actually used those hobbies at work? Or asked your employees to share those skills…and they actually agreed to give up their free time?

So this comes back to two of my favourite subjects: 1) engagement and 2) delivering a quality space on time and on budget.

Engagement:

These images were taken by employees. Their roles had nothing to do with photography, graphics or artwork.  I run a photography competition on live projects. The competition is only open to end users at the affected site; the short list is created with Brand influence before being shared across the site for peer-voting. The winning image is installed with the staff member’s name embedded in the image for all to see.

Their skills, their office, their pride and recognition. No matter how many projects we roll this out on, it’s a humbling and uplifting experience.

 

Delivering on Budget

I object to paying 70 Euro for a single, simple cushion. There, I said it. So when the budget is (once again) directed towards infrastructure and the FF&E budget is cut, there is only so much I am willing to sacrifice. The cuts need to still provide an effective, appropriate solution from Day 1.  In my view, one does not simply walk into Mordor install bleacher seats without something soft to sit on.

Which is how I found myself sewing 22 identical cushions, all with inset zips (without a zip foot on the sewing machine) for a project. Would I do it again? Ask me in a few months. It gave me a whole new respect for professional machinists.

milan cushions

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