Article by: Neil Ginty, WDA

The San Francisco Business Times’ Best Places to Work list did not feature any architecture firms in 2019. It did, however, feature several general contractors.

To help architects appreciate what’s involved in building a People-Based Practice, we hosted a panel discussion at AIASF with three of those contractors, including Jon-Michael Johnson, Founder & CFO of Principal Builders (#2, Small Companies), Fran O’Sullivan, Vice President & CFO of Dome Construction (#28, Midsize Companies), and Steve Lawler, Director, Architecture of BCCI Construction Co. (#9, Large Companies).

Additionally, we can proudly say that our own efforts in this space have been recognized and there will, happily, be at least one architecture firm on the 2020 list!


Better work performance and improved staff retention

The panelists spoke about the importance of connecting with people and examining how employees are treated so that they, in turn, take the right attitude into a project. “Unhappiness in the office is often taken into the job-site and outside relationships, which is not something you want to have happen,” Jon-Michael Johnson of Principal Builders said.

There was agreement between all panelists that enabling the growth of individuals would, in turn, promote the growth of the whole organization. Ensuring people feel part of something was also considered crucial, especially when trying to retain employees in a competitive job market.


Key Takeaways

Invest in People and their Passions

  • Establish a personal connection; take the time to help somebody or learn what their passion is, have them focus on it and share it with the office, be it cycling, photography or even whiskey
  • Recruit with the company culture in mind, and don’t be afraid to let go of talented people if they don’t embody the firm’s values

Promote an Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • Give people freedom to fail so that they can grow from it
  • Show them a future, a place where they want to be and a path to it

Be Transparent

  • Get people to connect to the firm’s mission through open communication about company goals and performance
  • Possess humility as a leader

Don’t be afraid to bring in outside help

  • Identify the “connectors” in your company; the people with an affinity for establishing connections between people, and work with them to nurture relationships

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

  • Create a culture of opportunity by empowering people so that they can then leverage their learned experience
  • Be aware of how microaggressions can build on each other, leading to a negative cultural shift. Act swiftly by addressing and de-escalating them.
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