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Gensler IOptimas Award-i Winner for Managing Change

December 11, 2009
Related Topics: Training Technology, Career Development, Managing Change, Employee Career Development, Featured Article

Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning and strategic consulting firm, competes in a fiercely competitive, knowledge-based marketplace in which new opportunities arise and game-changing trends and technologies emerge at mind-boggling speed.


As recently as three or four years ago, for example, buildings that qualified for the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification as energy efficient and environmentally friendly amounted to no more than 10 percent of Gensler’s business. “Today, it’s about 75 percent,” says Gensler executive director Diane J. Hoskins. “It’s gone from something that clients thought was cool to something they require. Suddenly, you have to have a lot of architects who are trained and accredited to produce LEED-certified buildings. If you can’t do that, you don’t get the projects.”

But it’s no easy task to rapidly develop new competencies and disseminate knowledge evenly throughout a 44-year-old company that handles 3,600 projects a year and has 2,100 professional employees scattered among 32 offices around the world. That’s why Gensler and its firmwide Talent Development Studio are so impressive. Gensler rolled out the studio three years ago to improve on the decentralized, mentoring-oriented methods of developing design talent the company had long relied on.

“Historically, the architectural profession has used an apprentice model,” Hoskins says. “More seasoned architects taught the newer ones. But with the pace of change today, the seasoned architects also need to keep learning as well. And we need the learning to be broad-based, consistent across the platform for 32 offices.”

At the same time, though, Gensler wanted to retain the benefits of the decentralized, individualized apprenticeship approach—in particular, the input from working professionals that helped make the training relevant to the tasks at hand.

To that end, under director of talent development Janine Pesci, Gensler created the studio, a five-member internal organization that is independent from the rest of the HR function. The studio reports directly to the corporate board’s talent committee, but it also receives internal intelligence and advice on implementation from a network of more than 100 volunteer regional learning council members and office learning coordinators.

That approach enables Pesci and her staff to design firmwide educational offerings and development programs that meet both strategic and ground-level operational needs, and to ensure buy-in throughout the organizational hierarchy.

“The local councils have been our partners from the beginning,” Pesci says. “They’re our eyes and ears, and also our advocates. They’re the ones who let us know when there are hiccups, and help figure out what to do about them.”

In its three-year existence, the studio already has provided in-depth training to 1,000 Gensler staffers—about half the professional workforce—on state-of-the-art “green design” methods. The studio taps internal subject-matter experts and creates and distributes its offerings through a variety of platforms, ranging from live classroom instruction to self-paced online learning and podcasts. “We’ve done such a good job that our clients are asking us to teach them about LEED now,” Pesci says.

In addition, over the past year Gensler has used the studio to manage its daunting, firmwide transition to Revit, a new computer-aided design software. “Revit is quickly becoming the tool of choice in the profession, and we can’t wait five years for everybody to learn it,” Hoskins says. “We’ve committed to accomplishing that in 18 months.”

Because of the ground-level feedback that Pesci and her studio staff receive, they’ve been able to continually redesign the Revit training program on the fly. They’ve shifted seamlessly from basic competency to more advanced levels, such as teaching managers how to supervise Revit-designed projects differently.

All of this has been accomplished without significant new expenditures. “The trick has been to identify all the things that touch upon talent development, and then bring them all together,” Hoskins says. “Instead of a lot of new investment, we made better use of what we had, and got key pieces working in alignment.”

For a unique talent development initiative that positions the company for success in an evolving industry, Gensler is the winner of the 2009 Optimas Award for Managing Change.

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