A Promise of Essential Transformation
Seldom in my experience has the profession faced so many challenges. Perhaps as a consequence of a desperate economy, the value of design is increasingly marginalized as evidenced by the plethora of unfunded design competitions, unreasonable contract conditions, poor procurement practices, and the abundance of public agency RFP’s based on price. Without question, desperate times produce poor business practices that frustrate the profession and negatively impact the design and delivery of the nation’s built environment. Unfortunately, even as economies improve, poor practices seldom go away. Instead, they become institutionalized as the new normal.
On the other hand, we cannot blame everything on the economy. The decline in licensing and the increasing migration of new architectural graduates to other professions were serious concerns long before the media highlighted the high unemployment of architects, the low earnings of emerging professionals, and the length of time necessary for licensure. Regrettably, we failed to appreciate the seriousness, the complexity, and the immediacy of these challenges. That is until the December 2012 National AIA Board of Directors’ meeting, when board members received a candid report from consultants that framed both challenges facing the profession and several organizational disconnects that needed to be addressed if the AIA wished to remain relevant to the profession. While the consultant’ s findings and recommendations were not entirely a surprise, they stressed the need for the organization to act immediately, act strategically, and perhaps most importantly, be wide-ranging and courageous in constructing an agenda for transformational change; no longer would tweaking and rearranging the deck chairs suffice.
Over the last year, the AIA’s Repositioning Initiative has focused on “rebooting the organization.” Retooling the culture of any organization is a challenge; however, the problem is much harder when the organization is 157 years old, nurtures a culture largely dependent on incremental planning and budgeting, and resources member services over a wide variety of interests, priorities, and opinions. Yet, the Institute appears to be rising to the challenge to shake off old ways and embark on a new course of action. Repositioning activities to date include task force and committee work on improving operational and infrastructure alignment, changes in governance processes that enable nimble and timely decision-making, and strategic development of external messages designed to enhance the public/client appreciation of architects, architecture, and design.
The Repositioning Initiative has captured the enthusiasm of the leadership and the members, but impatience with the process is growing. However, it took AIA a long time to get in this position and it’s going to take a while to effectively reorganize. Besides, repositioning is an attitude, not a one-time effort. To be effective, repositioning dictates organizational behavior that responds to member priorities that if aggressively and wholeheartedly pursued will result in consequential change. To that end, we need to be particularly careful that our impatience does not tempt us to confine our efforts to easy wins. Instead, we should remain focused on real substantive change: change that materially influences the environment in which architects provide professional services; change that improves the member/value equation; and change that enhances the prosperity of the profession while advancing the human condition.
Yes, change of this magnitude is scary. In the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein,
“…the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly ever occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult….”
Although the road the AIA has embarked on won’t be easy, the case for change is obvious and compelling. The time to act is now.
What are your thoughts and suggestions? The next several posts will be devoted to the subject of transformational change, including some suggested focus areas. I look forward to hearing from you.
For more information regarding the AIA’s repositioning initiative, click here.