Believe in what you do and inspire those around you

As part of London’s Clerkenwell Design Week 2017, Sadie Morgan, HS2 independent design panel chair, member of Lord Adonis’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), and founding director of architecture practice dRMM, was invited to talk on ‘Can architects have social impact?’

A champion of the importance of design, in conversation with Emily Booth, Executive Editor of Architectural Review, Sadie Morgan put forward the possibility that we could create a built environment where major government-run infrastructural projects end up with joy rather than headache-inducing outcomes.

Over £200bn is being spent on UK energy infrastructure; and infrastructure projects such as HS2 need to deliver on design and benefit everyone in Britain. They need to be fit for purpose and context; they need to have some local ownership. Some of the HS2 ‘temporary’ structures will be around for 17 years. They need to be thought about.

Many big organisations think that architectural design is costly; but design solves problems in an elegant way, which is something that few people can do in the built environment. This isn’t to say that architects know everything – they don’t anymore and can’t pretend they do. They need to look more to their skills and ethics to reassert what they’re good at and the value they bring to projects.

Britain needs architects

Architects can deliver infrastructure that is both beautiful and functional; they are good at thinking about multiple effects and the wider significance; they are able to provide us with a properly designed future. We need to make time to turn great expectation and design into reality because we’re designing for the needs of future generations.

Connecting people to place

If we’re to have an environment that connects people and place we need to value something that enhances lives and isn’t just about cost effectiveness. It may be difficult to monetise this value but we need to convince decision-makers to make decisions based on quality of life; we need to get them to bang this drum. If you design something properly, you get it right the first time – and that saves money.

Collectively, architects and designers need to show procurers good examples of design and explain how it adds value. It seems obvious but we’re just not saying it enough to the people who can make it a reality.


Embrace change and lead

Those in control of big projects need to better explain how people can be involved and be a part of it, not just those directly affected – the way people were involved in the 2012 Olympics. Architecture and architects need to be on the front foot; asking questions, embracing change, and leading rather than following with resigned sighs.

Values are key to motivation – what do you stand for?

Values underpin everything you do as a leader, wherever it is that you lead – whether it’s your family, your community, your team, your company, your sector or your country. Who are you a leader for?

Your core values

Your core values are what’s important to you. They are your natural motivation, they’re what you focus on and what drives your choices and decisions. That’s important stuff. And yet most of us drift along never being consciously aware of what our values are. This means that all our decisions and choices happen unconsciously, without our awareness of why we decided or chose this way. It’s scary to think that we might be asking people to follow, when we don’t even know why we’re asking them to do it!

When you set a personal or professional goal, the number one thing you need to make sure of is that it is in alignment with your values – why it is important for you to achieve it, or it is unlikely that you ever will.

Values can play tricks on you if you’re not aware of them, because some are things that you are drawn towards and others are things that you want to avoid. For example, if you have a core value of freedom and a core value of avoiding poverty, you could encounter conflict when designing your business or lifestyle. If you have a ‘pull-towards’ value of success and an ‘avoid’ value of rejection, you’re likely to encounter some difficulty and procrastination as you try to become successful without facing any rejection. Awareness of this conflict is key if you are to achieve what you want in your life.

It’s important to see how your personal values align with the values for your business or organisation, to see where there’s alignment and where some mental reconciliation is required.

Your vision

If you’re clear on your values, then your vision is like your personal or corporate North Star – a mental picture of what you want to achieve over time. It guides you and inspires you in what you do every day. You can use it to decide what you want to spend your time on or whether you should go in a different direction.

The vision is critical to any business because where individual leaders may change over time, the vision helps employees continue with what is important and helps explain alignment of resources and so on. Your vision should be expressed in as few words as possible so that it is highly memorable.

Your mission

Your mission statement clearly defines:

  • what you do
  • who you do it for
  • how you do it

This helps everyone understand why they come into work every day, what their role is and how they play a part. It is also vital for attracting, engaging and retaining talent as well as building organisational culture and increasing productivity.

Values, vision and mission may well change over time. The key is to be conscious about what has changed and how what it is changing to aligns across those three areas. My clients get clear on their values, vision and mission for themselves and for their role/area of responsibility in their organisation or business. This gives them confidence to move forward every day.

Your practice mission

 My previous post looked at crafting a vision for your practice and how it sets out your intention and why you do what you do. The vision is your ‘cause’; it’s critical for why clients choose to work with you and your practice. When you have done this the next step is to write your mission statement – your ‘effect’. Vision statements are aspirational; mission statements are what you will actually do to bring about your vision.

A mission statement is a written declaration of your business’s core purpose and focus. It will help you separate what is important from what is not, reminding your which markets you are aiming to serve and how; it gives a sense of the intended direction to the entire practice. A mission is something to be ‘accomplished’; whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment. It has a more ‘present day’ focus, rooted in the now and really describes how a company plans to achieve its objectives.

It is really a statement to employees, shareholders, and others with an interest in your work, that clearly articulates what your organisation is doing, and how it’s going to do it. It captures, in a few succinct sentences, the essence of your business’s goals and the philosophies underlying them.

Equally important, the mission statement signals what your business is all about to your customers, suppliers, and the community. It’s helpful to have a clear mission to refer back to when making decisions that will affect clients, people in your business or processes that you use.

Questions to ask:

  • What do we do and how do we do it?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What problems do we solve for our clients?
  • What markets do we serve, and what are the benefits we offer?
  • How do we make our customer’s life better?
  • What do we value or offer that is particularly important or unique (i.e., tuition reimbursement for employees, 100% guarantee for customers)?
  • What other characteristics define our company’s style, culture, and personality?

For many small businesses, this can seem like a trivial item but large organisations spend countless hours, meetings, and money considering their mission statement and its significance. Changing a company’s mission statement can be a major undertaking with numerous consultations and even external advisors being hired. For any growing business, this should underline the significance of creating an effective mission statement, particularly when it’s not part of the business model (or not possible) for the owner to personally convey the company’s mission to everyone.

The key questions to answer in a mission statement include:

  • What does the organisation do?
  • Who does the organisation service (i.e. customers)?
  • What benefit does the organization provide?

Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Who is your company: who are the key people; what do they bring?
  • What do you do?
  • What do you stand for?
  • Why do you do it?
  • Do you want to make a serious profit, or is it enough to just make a living?
  • What markets are you serving, and what benefits do you offer them?
  • What problem do you solve for your customers?
  • What kind of internal work environment do you want for your employees?
  • What are you providing?
  • What makes you different? Don’t try to include everyone – if your reach is too broad your missions statement won’t speak to ANYONE

Don’t “box” yourself in. Your mission statement should be able to withstand the changes that come up over time in your product or service offerings, or customer base. Aim for substance, not superlatives. Avoid saying how great you are, what great quality and what great service you provide.

Some inspiration

‘At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.’

‘Teknion designs products that work across boundaries. Within any architectural envelope and work culture—furniture that works wherever you work.’

‘The BMW Group is the world’s leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility.’

Sainsbury’s: ‘Our mission is to be the consumer’s first choice for food, delivering products of outstanding quality and great service at a competitive cost through working faster, simpler, and together.’

Blacks: ‘We live and breathe the outdoors, from simple walks and technical hikes, to arduous expeditions and intrepid exploration. Our aim has always been to make the outdoors as accessible as possible to everybody, ensuring that they have the right clothing and equipment for wherever their adventure takes them…’

Porsche doesn’t simply build sports cars. Porsche is more. Much more. And Porsche is different. We love to carry engineering skills to the extremes. And thereby cut exceptional paths. Our own.’

Your practice vision: attract clients you want to work with

How do you attract clients you want to work with and projects that allow you to do your best work? Few architects are prepared for running a business by the training that gives them their industry-specific skills. For many those skills are achieved by working with clients, making mistakes, and trying to evolve. In this post, the first in a series that I’m going to write, I’m going to show you some of the most crucial things you can work on to make your business a success, help you avoid some of the hidden pitfalls, and tell you about some approaches that can really make a difference to the way clients appreciate you and your work.

What is your vision for your practice? What is your intention? What do you do that is different from what other architects do? If you don’t know where you’re headed, then it’s going to be a lot harder to get there. If you’re not clear on these things, it makes it difficult for clients to choose you – because it’s not obvious what they are choosing. Your vision statement forms a key part of your marketing.

If you don’t know where you’re headed, then it’s going to be a lot harder to get there.

Management and Leadership guru Peter Drucker offered up five important questions around assessing this for your business, to give you a strategic business vision with a plan. However, you could apply it equally to your team, to your day-to-day interactions at work, or even in your home:

  1. What is your vision? (Drucker said it should fit on a T-shirt). It’s so easy to get lost and forget what you’re here to do when you get wrapped up in the minutiae of work/life; when we get stressed out – we forget what – and who- we’re there for.
  2. Who is your customer (prioritise – who is your ideal client – what sort of work would you be doing for them?)? What projects are meaningful for you? What types of project do you want to attract for your practice as an architect?
  3. What does your customer value? (What are they paying you for? Note: it may not be what you think) How does your work serve your clients? What do they want and value? This means considering not just what you consider to be valuable about what you do but responding to what the client (or your ‘ideal’ client) considers to be valuable (again, this may not be what you think). What does each of you want to get out of your relationship?
  4. What are your results? (Qualitative and quantitative measures – how are you delivering on what the client values and is paying for?)
  5. What’s the plan? (How are you going to get there? Does everyone who works with you know it and can they say it simply – ‘sing it’ Drucker said?).


The WHY not the HOW

An effective vision statement says why you do what you do, not what you do or how you do. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. It is the design for your business, the big picture for the ideal future, it defines the result you are going for; where you want to be, what success looks like. It’s like a North Star that guides you towards your long-term achievements and dreams.

Try brainstorming the answers to these questions and answering each one in six words – this isn’t as easy as it sounds! Be creative, use contractions:

  • Where do we want to be in the future?
  • Where does our excitement and motivation come from?
  • What is the long-term effect we want for customers, the industry, the economy, environment, or world?
  • What does our ultimate success look like?
  • What core values drive us forward?
  • How will people describe us in 10 years?

This is a great exercise in using powerful language and getting to the heart of your ideas. You can use a synonym finder or an app such as to help you.

Now, write your vision statement in one or two sentences. The shorter it is the more memorable it will be to you and to potential clients. Think about how it sounds when it’s said aloud. Does it sound like your business – is that the type of language you use – are you comfortable saying it? Does it sound exciting – to potential clients and to you? It should come from the heart, and must not sound trite or use buzzwords that will be out of fashion in a few months’ time. Use the present tense with aspirational, active words rather than passive words.

Don’t throw anything away; hang on to it because the next stage is to share it with friends, colleagues, family and maybe some friendly clients to get their feedback. Take their feedback on the chin because, if it doesn’t resonate with them, you need to rework it or your time will have been wasted.


Some inspiration

American Express: ‘We work hard every day to make American Express the world’s most respected service brand’

eBay: “To provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.”

Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice

WWF: We seek to save a planet, a world of life. Reconciling the needs of human beings and the needs of others that share the Earth

TED: Spreading Ideas (Two words!)

Save the Children: To inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

The Rotary Foundation: To enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty

Vai Architects: To succeed in business through our professionalism, collaborative spirit, emphasis on client service, and passion for design excellence.

Skanska: To be the world leader — the client´s first choice — in construction-related services and project development.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business: start the conversation with yourself about the business you’re trying to create. It should inspire you and those you seek to work with. It should be your guiding light; it can help you stay on track and avoid procrastination, attract clients, employees and potential collaborators. It will also help you market your business and distinguish you from other practices and businesses. It doesn’t have to be perfect – it can always be reviewed in the future – but it signals that you know what you’re about.

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How to make people want to work with you – without taking on low-margin work, undercutting on fees or giving over control

Never has there been a greater need for architects to adapt if they are to prosper

Practices undercut each other, taking on low-margin work in their desperation to cover fixed outlays, and farming out tasks involving once-prized specialist skills to cheaper markets or software programmes. Much of their work is done for free – feasibility studies for developers, designs submitted to competitions they have little chance of winning. Meanwhile an army of project managers, consultants, acoustic engineers, lighting designers are taking over as if banishing the architect to the margins of a kingdom they once ruled.

Architects’ role is key

Yet society needs architects to play a central role in finding solutions to the housing shortage, polluted cities, abandoned public space, climate change, and much more besides. Within each of these huge challenges are smaller problems that architects can help solve.

The 2015 RIBA report, Client & Architect: Developing The Essential Relationship, noted that:

Good people skills boost your reputation, helping you to win work and repeat business;
they breed trust and reduce perceived risk: people WANT you around

Good people skills and communication mean clients have to do less and worry less. Good communication involves keeping the client ahead of the game. Moreover, architects who listen and understand are better placed to challenge the brief.

A skills upgrade is vital

Yet, worryingly, the RIBA report also noted that ‘many architects lack the people skills needed for collaborative working’. Roundtable groups put together to inform the report said that clients think architects who listen and understand properly are rare. Different clients need to be listened to differently.

Architects as leaders

Architects know that they need to collaborate to succeed – they can’t afford not to. But how will they go about doing it? How will they make collaboration happen? Just as importantly, how will architects make the changes necessary to become not only more collaborative, but leaders of this effort, amidst disruptive change? Because the truth is that, by not collaborating, architects become marginalised. Not knowing how to effectively collaborate will lead to their irrelevance. In highly fragmented sectors, such as the built environment, even greater attention must be paid to good people skills.

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