Monthly Archives: May 2015

Complexity as an Advantage in Workplace Strategy

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We investigate how businesses can recognize the significance of the science behind complexity and use it to create the customized environments that are essential for today’s work.


workplace complexity as a business advantageTension between the realities of work and current workplace strategies is taking a toll on business. With increasing work complexity at odds with a decade’s old approach toward efficiently simplifying business operations, managers struggle to get the most out their people. Lacking the dynamic environment necessary to complete more collaborative work, frustrated workers disengage. As a result, creativity suffers and innovation slows to a snail’s pace.

The challenges businesses face can no longer be solved with a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace strategy. Letting go of the fear of complexity is an essential first step. By recognizing the significance of the science of complexity, businesses can create more customized environments that are essential for today’s work and embrace the vision for future work behaviors.

The Science of Complexity

The traditional approach to business is to break down a body of work into component parts and apply specific expertise to solving the problem. Typically this is accomplished in a hierarchical fashion with managers setting objectives and employees delivering results. Business prefers order. “By definition, chaos is the enemy of organization. We’ve sat in meetings where a lack of defined processes has led to interminable wasted hours and negligible results….We tend to confront chaos as if it were an unruly beast—something to be contained as much as possible,” says Ori Brafman in his book, The Chaos Imperative: How Change and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness and Success. On the other hand, people appreciate diversity and purpose. In an environment that demands more collaborative efforts, the modern worker requires less structure and more autonomy, self-determination and the opportunity to develop strong relationships with co-workers in order to excel. Disconnect between what business prefers and what workers need is creating tension in the workplace. This is where an understanding of complexity science, or the scientific study of complex systems, can add value.

Complexity science addresses the system as a whole—not broken down into components. Adopting this holistic approach to creative value allows a business to transform a static work culture environment into a dynamic, idea rich culture.

Five inherent ideas form the basis for understanding the concept of complexity:

  1. Dynamic. Always active and changing. The opposite of static environments where equilibrium exists.
  2. Self-organizing. Order is derived from disorder. The opposite of planned organization where order is defined.
  3. Revelatory. Revealing something over time through a series of events. The opposite of the establishment from the past, where conclusions have been solidified, frozen.
  4. Creative. Creating systems based on a complex array of connections where one engagement onto the system calls into play other divergent areas of the system to create results. The opposite of hierarchical where interaction is prescribed.
  5. Adaptive. Changeable to fit another purpose. Opposite of fixed, where the system has achieved equilibrium.

To more fully understand the benefits of complexity, look no further than nature. A prime example is the spider’s web. When a bug is caught in one part, the vibrations resound through the structure, allowing the spider to locate the prey quickly.

Complexity impacts business in much the same way by affecting human behaviors. This creates emergent results, often referred to as breakthrough ideation. “A little bit of chaos, encouraged but confined within borders, can be highly beneficial to an organization’s overall health,” says Brafman.

Consider the following scenario: Office workers arrive at work and discover that their place of business has been transformed overnight. Open spaces and mobile cabinets have replaced offices and personal desks. Initially, as the reality of the situation sits in, personalities come into play and emotions run high. Some people may feel the need to find their old managers and reestablish the status quo, while others may quit and go home. But eventually, underlying systems will start to form in the chaotic environment. Overtime, relationships between workers change, sparking fresh ideas that lead to new innovations.

Complexity as an Advantage

By turning deficient thinking into creative thinking, businesses can embrace and take advantage of the benefits of complexity in a variety of ways. Some of these include:

  • Implement structural changes. Dramatically alter a space as a catalyst to setting new expectations and behaviors. For example, remove office doors and give people choices as to where they sit.
  • Create an environment that requires adaptation in order to function well for the work parameters. Invite divergence. Excite creative thinking. Display ideas.
  • Design areas for noise. Quiet can be as loud as noisy distraction. In designing space create areas that allow for buzz in addition to quieter areas for more focused work.
  • Eliminate meetings when possible. Too often meetings interfere with the organization of people coming together to create solutions to business problems. Meetings are becoming the bane of results.
  • Think creatively. Don’t begin with the end in mind. Instead, identify a challenge or opportunity and start developing meaningful and deep-seated questions to facilitate an understanding of the nature of the complex problem.
  • Fight against the instinct for predictability. Expand diversity, for it sustains itself regardless of the environment. Complexity creates moments of ambiguity, but value will emerge out of it.
  • Think Boolean rather than Euclidean. Create a work environment that is responsive to the evolution of complex systems. Avoid the traditional hierarchical system based on chain of command.
  • Allow for complexity from the workplace. Recognize that even the best work environment may not work for every business. Be open and encourage additionally activities, which overtime may provide a better model. Rethink space as dynamic and adaptable, not static.
Out of the Comfort Zone

When business is stuck in the comfort zone of setting and achieving goals, complexity in the workplace can appear to be a disadvantage. Yet, the true value of the workplace is not in its simplicity but in its ability to adapt. When every change and challenge is seen as an opportunity to succeed, complexity becomes a propellant instead of a fear that constantly slams on the breaks. Workplace strategies that accept and encourage complexity create environments that welcome emergent behaviors, which lead to unexpected results.

This article originally appeared in Work Design Magazine; republished with permission.

Photo by Michael Robinson.

The End of the Age of Management

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THE OFFICE - Pictured: Steve Carell as Michael Scott - NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

Western business practices were in a state of flux when management guru Peter Drucker defined the “management by objectives” formula (MBO) in his book The Practice of Management. MBO provided an alternative approach to a tightly regimented egalitarian work model of post-World War II. The difference was management based upon motivation, periodic progress review and employee reward systems.

While MBO was the gold standard for workplace management, times are changing. With profound influences such as increased complexity of work, access to information, and immediate and constant interconnectivity, work has entered a new state of human behaviors that surpass the regimentation of Drucker’s management principles. Shared visions, performance improvement, qualitatively measured results and strategic communication, have become the new workplace reality. Yet, deep-seated management practices may hold many companies back, perhaps signifying the end of the age of management.

Challenging an Established Approach

At the time when Drucker introduced his management principles (1954), the majority of western work was being performed under the industrial ideals of production, process, and hierarchy. Managers served as the single authority; company commitment and employee loyalty went hand in hand; and work ended when the whistle blew. MBO was a change and encouraged those in charge to set clear objectives and directives that would lead to improved evaluations and rewards.

Today ‘s ingrained management practices can also be attributed to western education. The setting consisted of sitting at desks, arranged in rows and listening to a teacher disseminates information on a variety of subjects. Business management ideals are strikingly similar, with managers assuming the teacher role, workstations aligned like school desks, and projects prioritized based upon a subjective level of importance.

Management consultant W. Edwards Deming provides insights for management change. In his book, Out of the Crisis, he details contemporary behaviors of management practices in his “Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management.” In his context, there are three precepts that deserve consideration in replacing today’s standard, backward management practices. They are:

  • Key Principle 8. “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the ” Managed pressure for results is often the greatest barrier to innovation.
  • Key Principle 2. “Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.” Management speaks the language of efficiency: time, money and widgets (quantity of product). Leadership speaks the language of effectiveness: quality, engagement and purpose.
  • Key Principle “Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.” A shared vision builds teams that problem-solve together.
Changing for the Better

To rely exclusively on outdated ideas and process that fail to meet the needs of the current worker is a misguided approach. Tim is passing, people at work are suffering, and business is losing value. Evolving workplace behaviors demand a paradigm shift in management practices. Examining alternative approaches is a step in the right direction. For instance, the United States Marine Corps adheres to the principle that everyone is a leader and leadership can happen anywhere. Every Marine is taught fundamental leadership behaviors.
Equally important is creating an atmosphere that embraces transformational change. Start by incorporating these ideals:

  • Motivation Maturity: Hire people who are smarter than you and then strive for planned obsolescence of your current position This enables executives and managers to concentrate on more important business needs and personal growth. Re-frame work to expect motivation maturity.
  • Creative Productivity: Expand your focus beyond the tactica Move through tactical roadblocks, systems and procedures by harnessing creative integrity, diversity of experience, and the unique strengths of the team.
  • Shared Direction Making: Tap into the collective ambition and varied experiences of employees. When everyone shares in the responsibility of achieving results, it builds community and engagement, which increases retention.
The End of the Age of Management

Work is clearly at a crossroads. As such, it is foolhardy to expect to move forward by re lying solely on management principles popularized more than a half a century ago. Yet some level of supervision will always be required. Then again, what work will look like in the future is anyone’s guess. Daniel H. Pink, author of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us envisions the future of work this way, “Create autonomy: Mature people require the power of self-governance with an ability to act separately from the status quo. Create mastery: Intrinsically motivated people produced results. Create purpose: Creative people share in the values, systems and direction of business.”

Eliminating outdated management practices and beliefs are essential to future success. Creating a workplace environment that enables workers to thrive and deliver exceptional results remains the t rue objective. Accomplishing this goal requires establishing new business behaviors, principles, and workplace design.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Strategize Magazine; republished with permission.

Photo: Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office; NBC Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

Facility Condition Assessments in Higher Education

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Although the Great Recession ended several years ago, the mantra of doing more with less remains today. This thought process applies to architecture and facilities maintenance as well, whether a new building or rehabilitation project is under consideration. Both require significant investment and resources. A detailed facility condition assessment (FCA), at the beginning of a project, can help make a project more physically and financially efficient through informed decision-making.



People need safe, enduring places to work, learn, eat, shop, and play. As buildings age, however, facility executives face major hurdles. Crumbling infrastructure has become a national problem. The near- and long-term solutions require that facility management professionals learn to plan and execute cost-effective maintenance and preservation strategies proactively. The challenge: In the public sector, funding that would prevent further decline dwindles as public dollars earmarked for institutional facilities continue to be reduced. In the private sector, companies seek lower maintenance and repair costs, while still enhancing workspaces for their employees.

Fortunately, today’s facility professionals have sophisticated tools at their disposal to maintain their buildings and to provide stakeholders—workers, students, managers, investors, and taxpayers—with a viable, prioritized plan to repair or rebuild, rethink, or renegotiate their spaces.

A starting point is to conduct a detailed facility condition assessment (FCA), using software that collects and handles massive amounts of relevant data. The FCA is a study, typically conducted by an architect- or engineer-led team, to determine and document the existing physical conditions of all major systems that comprise a facility, or campus of facilities. The term FCA existed as early as 1980, but the full expression of the real-time benefit was not realized until computer assisted data collecting devices (laptops and tablets) made the FCA more useful. As facility management professionals strategically analyze and interpret this information, they will be able to create a viable planning document to make informed forecasting decisions without breaking their operational budgets. Facility management software has been available for decades; however, recent enhancements enable facility executives to extract more useful planning documents from these powerful tools. One key area of improvement is at the data capture phase: Electronic tablets are used to collect facility condition metrics efficiently and deliver the volume of data to one processing location, which saves time and reduces human input errors.

facility condition assessments scorecardThe FCA “scorecard” (example pictured right) structures the data collection and includes a rating and a priority for virtually any aspect of a facility’s infrastructure that the team identifies as important to document. This includes, but is not limited to, structural, plumbing, electrical, exterior envelope, interior spaces, mechanical, lighting, etc. By loading the rating and severity of the problems into a tablet, and confirming the observations with existing conditions photos, the collection phase takes on a consistent structure that gives confidence to the software’s output.

The FCA scorecard information provides a baseline of existing building information, coupled with a documentation of space use, departmental assignment, and space utilization to enable the generation of a facilities optimization plan (FOP). The FOP identifies opportunities and makes recommendations for how to optimize space usage, which may include reassignment of existing spaces across campus.

FOP outputs yield:

  • accurate facilities drawings (to have a reliable base of information)
  • identification of departments (to know who lives, works, or resides where)
  • an assessment of space utilization (to understand how often spaces or rooms are scheduled or used).

Based on the output from the FOP, the facility professional and his or her partners analyze the data and create space optimization recommendations. It is important to keep in mind that the final deliverable—a solid plan—takes time and thought. The goal is to return an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) to satisfy stakeholders and to prioritize, phase, and implement proposed recommendations over the timeline defined in the FCA.
There are several robust facility management software programs to choose from in the marketplace: ARCHIBUS, IBM’s Tririga, and Manhattan Software are but a few. Each is different, and part of the challenge is to choose the best one for the facility’s distinct needs. The value these programs provide comes from bringing in other data not available on a CAD drawing or with a spreadsheet (e.g., variable school registration data, workspace sizes, etc.). A fully developed software program will incorporate and help make decisions, but the facility manager, the consulting team, and other stakeholders will drive the metrics they need to gather and update.

Though there are clear advantages of using facility management software, the programs carry a hefty price tag. Furthermore, building data at many sites are outdated or just plain wrong. This reality increases the cost to incorporate software into a planning agenda. Even if the program cost is a surmountable challenge, there may be insufficient money, time, resources, or general support to begin proper data gathering. If the software is purchased and even if the data is collected, the expense will be wasted if there is no commitment to timely updates after the software is in place. The GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) phenomenon in the later phases of plan implementation will render the data outdated and the plan unworkable.

Case Study: Sinclair Community College

Located in Dayton, OH, Sinclair Community College (SCC), pictured top right, is the oldest continually operating community college in the U.S. (opened in 1872), and the campus presents an example of how technology helped inform the 2013 master plan for the college. The complexity of the project, which includes 21 buildings on 65 acres and totals 1.9 million square feet of academic and administrative space, shows how facility management software can help transform a static, complicated master plan into a holistic, actionable roadmap with priorities, timelines, and budgets.

By leveraging the physical and academic resources of the campus to align with the college’s mission and long range goals, SCC director of facilities, Woody Woodruff, currently has a clear set of priorities to not only maximize facilities spending but also to do a better job of aligning student and faculty needs with available spaces.

The project was not without challenges at the outset. There was a lack of confidence in the existing building documentation, a lack of SCC staff to manage and oversee the project, and a need to sort, prioritize, fund, and correct deficiencies.

Woodruff’s department carefully coordinated with the data gathering team of architects and engineers hired to ensure consistency in assessing building conditions and repair priorities (e.g., “Is that really a ‘1,’ or should it be a ‘2’ priority?”). The number of data points for facilities of that age and size was staggering, and Woodruff agrees that without using the software to crunch the data into meaning, the planning task would have been nearly impossible.

The college and its stakeholders benefitted from this process in several ways. By managing the data capturing activities, everyone involved could be confident in the data’s accuracy and consistency. Handling of big data granularity that included interior and exterior measurements, utilities, and other items overlaid with usage by building, by floor, and room number yielded a clear, targeted, actionable plan that helped SCC as it sought public and private funding. Examples of prioritized projects included, but are not limited to, exterior concrete walkways, building envelope restorations, and phased replacement of roof systems, based upon their age and estimated useful life expectancy.

The FCA input that was used delivered seamlessly into the facility management software, allowing Woodruff and other stakeholders to budget and plan for replacements and deferred maintenance in facilities. This not only applies to planning 20 or 30 years into the future, but also for the near-term increments.

Informed Decisions

Facility professionals who do not use current technology for planning and operational purposes, particularly for numerous facilities and larger campuses, are shooting in the dark. To rely on old technology is not an option as building systems have become increasingly complex. Facility management software invites the industry to be proactive. Without gathering data in real time and without having a plan for the future, facility professionals are often plugging leaks as they occur instead of proactively preventing costly breaches well ahead of time.

The software isn’t a magic wand. In conjunction with technology, it is important to commit to keeping data accurate and current. Public and private management teams have to fund not only the initial purchase but also the ongoing data collection requirements. To ensure success, it is important for facility executives to maintain a competent staff or engage a knowledgeable consulting team to support this critical initiative. These projects are not accomplished overnight, and the data must be housed somewhere. Industry consulting teams trained in facility management software help see the plan through and encourage sustainable strategies to protect and maintain aging infrastructure.

Tom Sens, AIA, LEED AP is an architect and higher education client leader, and Brad Johnson is the technology services market leader, for BHDP Architecture. Headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, the firm designs environments that affect the key behaviors necessary to achieve strategic results for clients.

To learn more about BHDP’s expertise in creating facility condition assessments for your campus, contact Tom at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 issue off Facility Executive. Published with permission.