CHANGE, from page 7
changed the mandatory “sell” year for our three current shareholders to age 62 – so that we would be working to help earn profits and clients to assure a smooth transition. We have laid out a five-year transition timeframe. We have quarterly retreats with the new shareholders, exploring various topics. We are currently engaged in an eight- week management training course, taught by an outside consultant, to build communication and management skills within this group. We have established business development targets for each new shareholder and evaluate them on an annual basis as part of our annual review. We are working to help everyone understand the roles they will grow into over time. I believe the greatest pitfall to avoid is ignoring performance issues, just because they are new owners. We have been clear and concise about expectations, and each new owner understands performance is tied to financial success. TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate. NL: Our firm has been around for 40 years, and we are now evolving our third-generation of owners. So, change has been a discussion for at least the past 15 years. We refer to my generation as ICON 2.0 and our rising shareholders as ICON 3.0. The firm has evolved from an urban design and planning practice, to a multi-family architecture practice, and now have sectors focused on learning environments and renewing buildings. Change is always in the air here. TZL: How do you handle a long-term principal who is resting on his or her laurels? What effect does a low- performing, entitled principal or department head have on firm morale? NL: Everyone is different, and we have worked with senior principals to step back from the firm with dignity. Having established performance metrics, that are clear to all, we have allowed senior principals to reduce their time in the office to meet the workload that they bring in. TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced? NL: We work with an outside accounting firm to value the firm each year. This is a process that we set up 10 years ago and consists of averaging value based upon five different and commonly accepted valuation strategies. The share value is derived from this, and allows us to buy/sell shares as we transition the firm to a new generation of leaders. TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s? NL: ICON has named a principal in his 30s, although he has been with ICON before he even graduated from architecture school. Principals achieve that position due to many factors – but in this case, he was an integral link to several important, repeat clients. And, of course, he is meeting all his targets!
ICON staff partipated in the ICYCLE spin-a-thon event, which raises money to end homelessness in Boston.
TZL: What happens to the firm if you leave tomorrow?
NL: My job right now is to step back and let the next generation lead forward. While I hope they would miss me, I’m positive that they would carry on developing this practice. I fully expect the firm to change and evolve even before I am gone. The new generation needs to follow its passion. TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around? NL: My partner and I sit with each and every employee for an annual review. At the review, we ask staff how we can help them succeed – noting that we cannot script their plan, they need to. When staff can tell us succinctly what they want to do, we make our best efforts to keep them engaged and help them move forward. This could mean pulling them onto another team where they can learn a desired skill, or sending them out for training for a specific topic, or keeping them first in line for the next project type that they want to explore. Our senior staff are very good at helping engaged junior staff grow into new positions by letting them shadow the work that they do. TZL: Diversity and inclusion is lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue? NL: ICON is a women-owned firm and is SOMBDA certified. Our staff is over 50 percent women, and we actively seek to diversify our staff, recruiting minorities and persons of color at a percentage similar to that of the profession. We often take on interns, work with them during their training, and stay in contact as they finish their schooling with the intent that we want them to return to ICON as they start their professional career. We encourage all staff to get involved with great organizations outside the office to give back – and we financially support these efforts. We also pay for our staff to get registered as architects, and encourage study groups within the office to support our staff as they make their way through a multi- year registration process.
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THE ZWEIG LETTER AUGUST 31, 2020, ISSUE 1359
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