FOCUS: How a Parking Lot Helps the AIACC Balance Entrepreneurial Spirit and Existing Efforts

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FOCUS. It’s considered by many experts to be one of the biggest challenges of leadership.

As an organization of architects and architect allies—creative souls all—the AIACC has no shortage of great ideas and visionary thinkers upon which to draw.  No surprise there. After all, to be successful as an architect requires looking past what is toward what could be—and then communicating that vision in a compelling way.  This pattern is behind the design success of the best in places and spaces everywhere, and it’s certainly a foundation to the high esteem in which architects are held by the public at large.  It also attracts new talent to our teams, inspires our civic leaders and our clients, and it pushes design considerations onto a table that might otherwise be limited to basic proformas and little more.

But as in all human endeavors, there is a yin to this yang—a need for a duality to form a balancing force.  When we FOCUS, we set aside the thrill of the latest great idea in order to keep attention on the great idea that is already a work in progress.  The three pillars of our Strategic Plan defines our FOCUS: Resources, Influence, and The Future.

But as business people, we know that one cannot take the mantra “plan the work and work the plan” too far, since the variables that define success are themselves constantly shifting.  We don’t want to be so FOCUSED that we set a course and then weld the rudder into a fixed position. We want our AIA to be nimble, flexible, adaptive and even entrepreneurial – responding to opportunities in a spry and agile fashion.

How do we take this conundrum of competing forces:  A constant flow of great ideas and the desire to be responsive to opportunities; and balance it with the need to have real budgets and clear resource allocations with work plans set in advance?  What processes do we use to balance this duality to optimize outcome for our membership?

Among the tools that AIACC brings to bear on this challenge is the Program-Based Budgeting that our own Executive Vice President, Paul W. Welch, Jr.  Hon.  AIA, implemented years ago.  This foundation was improved further with last year’s refinements to this enlightened but surprisingly rare approach to budgeting.  We now have a smoother path to sort out in the inevitable gaps between limited resources and big appetites for action in setting budgets.  We also have a perfect alignment between our operating plan, our budget and our strategic plan in terminology and accounting.  With more than 100 programs in play at any given time, this framework allows for a steady hand, while also accommodating bumps in the road as well as when new opportunities arise.

I’m particularly proud of another innovation put into place last year: our Focus Framework, which is a rigorous and consistent tool we now use to evaluate all the great ideas and opportunities that bubble up as the year unfolds.   (Kudos to Chief Financial Officer, Suzanne Stalder-Mansur, Hon. AIACC, for heavy lifting on this).  As we become more nimble and entrepreneurial, it seems that we have increasing potential to leverage our resources and influence with partnerships in events, and strategic alliances in initiatives and programs, all to better serve our diverse membership.  Just a few of the recent examples of new efforts launched mid-cycle include the Heath Care Forum (special thanks to Chief Operating Officer Nicki Dennis Stephens, Hon. AIACC), our 2016 Conference planning (kudos to Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Britt Lindberg, AIA and Zig Rubel AIA), and the recent addition of the AIA Leadership Institute to our game plan (kudos to Vice President of the Academy of Emerging Professionals, Ben Kasdan, AIA).

Another tool that was put into place with our new strategic plan: The AIACC Parking Lot.  This is a virtual spot for the great ideas which bubble up from our brainstorming, from our active and creative members, from our allies; for which we simply don’t have available attention bandwidth or resources.   It’s also a spot where we can shift an item or two when we have a new, compelling opportunity that consensus says we must act on.  Since our planning “parking lot” is virtual, it didn’t require “paving a patch of paradise” to create it – just a recognition that in a sea of excellent ideas, we can’t do everything; but we do need to keep an eye out for great opportunities that boost value for our diverse membership.  Nimble, responsive, entrepreneurial meets organized implementation of a strategic plan: That’s part of the conversation which takes place in our new virtual parking lot.

FOCUS. The AIACC knows how to maintain focus, and when called for, shift it as well.  That’s the nimble and responsive AIA our members have asked for!

Thoughts?  Drop me a line:


Michael Malinowski, AIA

Michael F. Malinowski has been providing adaptive historic re-use, urban infill, residential including affordable housing, and commercial revitalization design solutions for 40 years as principal of Applied Architecture, Sacramento CA. A number of his projects have been ‘city shaping’ and widely recognized, including the Warehouse Artist Lofts 2015, Sacramento historic adaptive mixed use) Galt Place (2011, urban infill wood podium design); Globe Mill (2008, Sacramento, rebirth of an abandoned mill and silo complex) and Hotel Stockton (2006, Stockton, historic adaptive reuse). Michael has also worked with over 1500 families in shaping sustainable, functional and inspiring living environments.

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