These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

January 2015


Nature or Nurture?

How did you get to where you want to be in our related businesses?

  • Do you have some sort of “natural” ability that makes you supremely suited to what we do?
  • Are you the product of some finely tuned educational processes?
  • Did you grow up in the business, surrounded by people who made their expectation clear?
  • Did people who took you under their wing mentor you?

Let’s pursue the final question.  Reader Alert: There may be more than the normal dose of opinion vs. fact here.

Role Models and Mentors

The two are not the same.

A person can be one or the other, as well as both. One can also be neither, while being the source of great business insight.

Role models can:

  • Be observed (often without their knowledge)
  • Have their work product appraised by others.
  • Measured by the success of their actions.
  • Commented on by those who report to them.

The “negative Role Model” comes in two forms:

  • The evil monster, known for the harm they do.
  • The well intentioned, but misguided, manager who falls into bad behavior.  See Good People Behaving Badly for more insight on this phenomenon.

The primary value of these people is their demonstration of what not to do for positive results.

Mentor Mentee

You can learn a lot about the “how” of business from Role Models.  The “why” component of what they do is often harder to come by, so the learning experience may be constrained.

Mentors, on the other hand, always connect more personally.  They may be:

  • Caring family members
  • Wise teachers
  • Smart hired consultants
  • Valued senior co-workers
  • Peers who have complementary skills to your own

Invariably, the mentoring relationship involves dialog – conversations that refine purpose and understanding

Colleges seem to miss out

Maybe it’s because they have the mindset of “teachers” – information and skill purveyors.  Mentoring – the personal nurturing of student development – can be hard to achieve in a traditional academic setting.  This additional element may be just too hard to come by.

In any event, the better Architecture, Construction, and Facilities programs do a credible job of the technical basics – How things can be designed, constructed, and maintained.  What is often lacking in the curriculum is training in the business aspects of what we do.  While this was recognized long ago, the solutions have not been uniformly successful.

Still not exactly mentoring, these training deficiencies are offset in the more successful ventures with:

  • Work/Study programs
  • Mandatory relevant work experience as part of the curriculum
  • Lecturers and Professors selected for their business credentials, as well as their teaching skills
  • Curriculum review committees with practicing professionals as members

Mentoring programs are not all they're cracked up to be

This is not a blanket indictment, however.  Sometimes, if for no other reason than simple serendipity, a connection forms.  I’ve been there – both mentor and mentee.

Nurturing upwardly mobile staff enhances the natural abilities of all staff.  As it is with much in business (and life), the trick is managing expectations, while seeking success.  Some keys:


  • Teach by example.  Not new, I know.  But, how often is it practiced – really?  Examples of bad behavior are rife.  Too bad.
  • Put your mentees in a position where lessons can be used.  Sure – this can be tricky.  Failure can be harmful for all, so opportunities may have to chosen with some discretion.  “Never” is not a valid option.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the person.
  • Pass out praise when it’s earned.  Silence (in this case) is NOT golden.
  • Encourage “buddies”.  If you have newcomers learning your “ropes”, it helps if they are advised who to turn to.  You can’t always be there yourself.
  • Structure a program.  Perhaps Entry Level staff is guided by Intermediates, Intermediates by Seniors, and Seniors by Consultants.  Variations are many.  Find one that works for your situation, and be flexible with expectations.
  • Evaluate results.


  • Avoid doing anything simply because you were told.  Knowing “Why” is an important component of learning.
  • Push for opportunity.  Sometimes management’s inertia needs to be overcome.  Realize, of course, that this is rarely “freely given”.  And when it is given, usually there has to be some indication that it’s warranted.  Earn the opportunities.
  • Talk people up.  Ask others about what they’re doing.  What’s it for?  What are they leaning?  What did they need to know before they could do it?
  • Check things out.  Within reason, of course.  Cruise the office and see what people are doing.  Look at your project's documents in detail.  Read whatever you have access to on your company’s internal network.  Do it on your own time – it's an investment.
  • Socialize.  Go to lunch.  Join the softball team.  Suggest a group outing.  Tweet (If that’s your thing).  You’ll find who your comrades are; and, perhaps more importantly, you'll become better incorporated into the culture and structure of the organization.  Hardly a bad thing.
Mentor Mentee

Why should you care?

Looking “top down”, there are great benefits to mentoring. Minimally,

  • Growth – if that's a goal, which is true of most for-profit organizations.
    You can only go so far if you remain the principal “doer”. To grow, you have to “enable”.  Sure, you can hire.  But given the choice, wouldn’t you want to selectively and creatively grow your own staff.  Many of the more successful organizations intentionally graze the stock of selected colleges and military organizations for young talent to groom.
  • Building for the future.
    If you read Plan to Live Forever - Part Deux, you got some thoughts about perpetuating your organization.  Even in-house service departments have to consider the consequences of aging leadership and unplanned staff departures.  A proper succession plan is an essential business practice. You need to have insiders with a “track”.
From the “bottom up”, you really have no choice if you want to move up – if for no other reason than to make more money.  Role Models or Mentors – find either or both.  “Both” is best.  “Neither” would be unwise.

Are you a Natural?

Unlikely.  Perhaps so in the arena of people skills, but rarely in the tech issues of our related businesses.  Look up and down from your position.  Are there leaders there?  Make it happen.


Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

August 2014  “Acey Trey Trey?”
June 2014  “The Seven Deadly Sins”
March 2014  “Thar She Blows!”
November 2013  “Giving Thanks”
September 2013  “Back to School?”
June 2013  “What Time is It?”
March 2013  “Acey Deucey?”
January 2013  “A Swamp Full of Alligators”
October 2012  “Plan to Live Forever, Part Deux”
July 2012  “A Midsummer Dream”
May 2012  “Are you Virtually Working?”
March 2012  “Your Huddled Masses”
January 2012  “Observing Observations”
October 2011  “I Want What I Want”
August 2011  “A Beach Read”
May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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