Monday, February 1, 2010

Taking Initiative: doing what needs to be done

We often hear about how companies like it when employees take initiative--it shows drive and motivation, and it provides value and makes employees valuable, etc. Thing is, I'm not sure if "taking initiative" is ever really defined for working folks in general and new, young professionals in particular. defines it like so:

–noun introductory act or step; leading action: to take the initiative in making friends.
2.readiness and ability in initiating action; enterprise: to lack initiative.'s personal, responsible decision: to act on one's own initiative.

These three definitions are all part of taking initiative at work; they are the three components to making a positive change in a workplace or even in your personal life. Ultimately, I boil taking initiative down to this:

Seeing what needs to be done, and then doing it.

Seeing what needs to be done is harder than it sounds. Because they know so little about the architectural workplace right out of school, interns spend the first couple of years just learning the ropes about what you're supposed to do and what the result should be. There's so much to learn that often interns don't even know what question to ask, other than "Hunh?" But after a couple of years (and sometimes, depending on the observation and the firm, even sooner), interns will see things that just aren't working and/or don't make sense. Being on the outside of management has its advantages; because you're not in the fray, you'll watch your managers go through the same panicked rush every time they're getting a proposal out the door, or you'll see them stagger in after a long out-of-town trip to a client, and you'll think that there's got to be a better way.

Perhaps there is a better way, but do a little research first. Ask how your firm does what it does--put together proposals, conduct user group meetings, print check sets and final document sets, etc. Knowing how it's done now can inform your thought process and help you come up with ideas on how to improve something. For example, one intern I know used to get frustrated because his manager was frequently out of the office at out-of-town client and user group meetings. The intern asked his manager if he could attend any of these, and the manager said unfortunately not--the budget was pretty tight, and it could barely afford one person traveling, let alone two. So the intern proposed to his manager that the team conduct online user group meetings for every other meeting. They could either print and overnight some drawings to the clients, and they could look at them and discuss them over Skype, or they could use some online meeting system like GoToMeeting or GoToMyPC and mark up a PDF of the plans while they talked with the client. The intern's manager didn't take his suggestion, but another team in the office did, and they loved the virtual meeting format. It saved them time and money; not only did they not have to travel to the meeting three states away, but as soon as a virtual meeting with one department was finished, the manager could email an intern to say, "The redlined PDF from this meeting is saved in this place on the server, so you can get started making those changes in the plans and elevations."

In the next couple of posts, we'll talk about some case studies of taking initiative. In the meantime, if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to have answered, feel free to let me know in the comments or via email from the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Lulu,

    For young professionals or architectural interns, what is going on inside architecture firms right now as far as hiring is concerned? I've read articles that said firms are not posting jobs now since they are afraid of receiving hundreds of resumes per opening. I've also read articles that firms can't hire and that unemployment for the architectural profession is 40%-60%. Do you recommend that we keep sending resumes to firms now or wait a few months or change professions?