How to build a strong corporate culture at your design firm
A fabulous portfolio and stellar marketing might help you land that dream design job, but it won’t guarantee you retain it. We don’t discuss it much in the industry, but interior designers are frequently fired from jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the design or talent of the designer. If they didn’t like your style, clients wouldn’t have hired you in the first place. When a designer and client part ways, it’s more often than not due to unmet expectations about communication, the budget, deadlines or other operational factors.
What is your firm known for in terms of processes and operations? If you don’t have answers at the ready, it’s time to work on defining yourself in those terms. This will provide the foundation for your firm’s corporate culture, which will serve many purposes. One of the most important: consistent assertiveness in decision-making. This is the key to scaling. Whether your goal is to move your firm up market or expand your brand into ancillary offerings like product design, you must turn inward and look at the culture being cultivated within your company.
How do you build a corporate culture for your design business? Here are some questions and issues to consider:
Values and boundaries
Does your firm prioritize work-life balance? If so, does it walk the walk by offering things like paid leave? How much does your firm value diversity or sustainability? How do you put those values into practice?
Having company values laid out when hiring helps to attract the right talent and can help you to avoid situations in which an associate designer you hire is more focused on leaving to start another firm — and leaving you to start the hiring process over again. You can’t build a design business if you’re continually rebuilding your team.
Are you a “the client is always right” company? What does that mean in practice? During what hours do you answer phones and respond to emails? What are the expectations for employees in this regard?
Do you provide regular updates and feedback to employees? And do encourage open dialogue and feedback in return? If you address issues proactively and openly as they arise, you can use them as opportunities to reinforce your firm’s values.
Collaboration is related to internal communication, but it’s deserving of its own point. How much crossover is there between the tasks delegated to your employees? Generally, design firms that actively seek opportunities for employees to work together on projects and initiatives have higher retention rates, greater staff satisfaction and improved output.
Organizations should invest in employee development and provide opportunities for growth and learning. This can help employees feel valued and engaged, and can contribute to a positive, supportive company culture.
By defining your values, leading by example, encouraging collaboration, investing in employee development, celebrating successes and addressing issues proactively, your design firm can create a positive, healthy culture that promotes engagement and productivity. And that’s a great way to keep c+lients and earn new ones.
Courtney Porter is a designer, author, host and media director. She specializes in seamlessly bringing interior designers, architects, furniture manufacturers and showrooms’ physical products and services into the digital world. She is co-author of “Green Interior Design: The Guide to Sustainable High Style” with Lori Dennis. Porter also is a host and producer of design shows. You may have caught her on “Behind the Bar,” interviewing your favorite celebrity designers or sharing her favorite decor finds on the live sales network Lit Live.