Architecture firm Gensler designed what will be the world’s second-tallest building in Shanghai. The San Francisco-based firm also has designed a stand-out program to develop a global mindset among its 3,900 employees.
Launched in 2012, the initiative involves linking up employees across borders as virtual teammates, sending individuals and groups to work in different countries for up to six months and bringing interns from emerging markets to the United States to work with Gensler veterans and develop a pipeline of talent in their home countries.
Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler, said the program’s roots lie in serving the company’s clientele of global heavy hitters, such as Barclays, Coca-Cola Co. and Facebook Inc. Gensler Exchange, as the program is dubbed, has expanded the perspectives of workers throughout its 45 offices in 15 countries, Hoskins said. And a key has been the firm’s willingness to physically send people from their home country to places including Bangkok, Costa Rica and Shanghai.
“It allows us to more quickly grow individuals than just the experience of working in their own office,” Hoskins said. “There’s nothing like being there.”
Over the past five years, Gensler has opened 14 new locations. Nine are outside of the United States. The company’s international work includes a joint effort to design a new terminal at South Korea’s busiest airport as well as the Shanghai Tower, a 2,073-foot twisting skyscraper slated to be completed next year.
To meet its growing global needs, Gensler turned to Janine Pesci, head of what Gensler calls its “talent development studio.” The studio functions as a cross between a corporate learning function and a client services operation — programs to develop Gensler architects and other employees are driven primarily by client needs. In keeping with that spirit, Pesci and her team arranged for cross-border collaboration in the Exchange to be based on the demands of customer projects. “This isn’t training time off-line,” Hoskins said. “It is talent development with the customer in mind. That is the key.”
Among the features of the program is the Knowledge Exchange. Mentors, primarily from U.S. offices, work closely with leaders in offices in emerging markets. Consider Gensler’s San Jose, Costa Rica, office now has 100 employees. The group has come up to speed because of the help of mentors from 20 other Gensler offices, Hoskins said.
The exchange program wouldn’t work in an organization that lacked an entrepreneurial, sharing culture, Hoskins said. Leaders have to be willing to let their top people travel elsewhere to help the organization as a whole. “This is about, when one wins, we all win,” Hoskins said.
For designing a cross-border professional development program that serves both employees and clients, Gensler is the gold Optimas Award winner for Global Outlook.