The Leader Magazine

SEP 2017

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ThE lEadER SEPTEMBER 2017 59 industries from the United States, Britain, Europe and Asia. My team at Cornell and representatives from the companies jointly determined what to study. The fi rst (example) concerns workplace strategies for managing uncertainty. The project was with a major bank in the Netherlands, one which prided itself on the quality of its buildings. The bank was expanding and needed more space quickly, and managing costs was critical. Appropriate space was not available in the central business district (CBD), where the headquarters was located. They found space in an area outside the CBD, but it was owned by the city and (the city) did not want to sell it. They were willing to have something built there, but nothing could be permanent. The eventual solution was novel, and risky. The bank contracted with a construction company that made porta-cabins, the kind you typically fi nd around construction sites and on school grounds. They could be constructed and erected quickly, and could be removed if necessary. The problem is that, generally, these are seen as ugly and poor quality; in other words, unacceptable. Working together, the bank and construction company modifi ed the design of the factory-built porta-cabins so they could be assembled into what looked like a mid-rise building, but one actually comprised of over 700 individual units. They went up quickly, and were built and designed to be disassembled should the city decide it wanted the land for other purposes. The construction company agreed to buy back the units should that happen. The project was completed in less than six months at a signifi cant cost savings compared to conventional construction or leasing. The question – a really important one for the bank – was whether their employees would be able to work effectively in this new building, and whether they would accept it as a worthy workplace, given the bank's reputation for housing its staff in quality facilities. In less than a two-week period my Cornell team collected data on-site. We used surveys, because in this case quantitative data about satisfaction levels was wanted. We also interviewed a small but representative number of employees to gain insight on what they thought about the facility, how they used it, and how it affected their ability to work. We also observed how the space was used over the course of the two weeks we were on site. We found, to our surprise, that employees considered the new building just a satellite HQ. Very few had any idea about how it had been constructed. It looked and felt to them like any other corporate offi ce. … The study took less than a month to conduct, including collecting and analyzing the data and writing the report. One other quick example. Our early work focused on what I came to call "integrated workplace strategies." I coined that term because as we started studying, fi rst at IBM in London and then with the Shimizu Corporation in Tokyo, the early forms of hoteling or non-territorial offi ces, offi ces in which employees had no assigned offi ce or workstation, we found that you couldn't understand critical success factors if you examined physical design, information technology, work processes, and management policies and practices in isolation. But in practice, we found that many companies did just that. They focused on the information technology or the design, with less or little attention to the role of management, including change management. Working with a variety of companies, we used surveys, direct observation including utilization studies, and interviews and focus groups to explore how these different factors interacted. The data most companies were collecting was real estate data: total amount of space per employee; square footage per employee, ratio of workstations per employee. Basically, effi ciency data to demonstrate cost savings. Our studies complemented these ways of knowing. Our data, typically collected in a week or two onsite, showed that hoteling could work, but only if all the components were in place. And even then, the biggest roadblock wasn't physical design or technology or staff resistance, as important as these were; it was managers' attitudes and, particularly, their concern that if they couldn't see their staff, they wouldn't work as hard or much as they would were they located in the offi ce. There was no evidence that was the case. Interviewer: Frank, thanks so much. Is there anything else you want to add? FB: My thinking around data and evidence is really rather simple. It's better to make decisions that are informed by some form of data than guessing or just assuming you know what's going on. But this can and should take many forms. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to tell the story of what is going on in a situation in a dynamic manner, with a systems focus, in a way that increases the likelihood that lessons learned and insights gained can be fed forward into the next project. Interviewer, to Michael Joroff: Michael, Frank talked primarily about the nature of evidence and data that can be collected to make more-informed CRE decisions, and the importance of a practice-based rather than academic-based approach. Although you have had a long career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you consider yourself a practitioner, not an academic. What guidelines about "knowing" do you talk about when you and your clients have to make a decision? MJ: There are actually two that are always foremost. One goes back to the early days of my career when I worked as consultant at Arthur D. Little, the fi rst U.S. global management-science consulting fi rm. This is to make sure we were asking the right question. Some of the world's leading organizations came to us for advice with a problem to solve or an opportunity to exploit. The senior consulting partners at the fi rm helped me to understand that what the client brought to us was really only the symptoms of a problem; they did not understand the causes of the challenge. For example, I was part of a group that often did hospital planning and the typical request was, "We are overcrowded; we cannot accommodate all the potential patients. How can you help us determine how to expand our facilities?" They had a perceived problem and the beginning of a solution, and they wanted our help to think through that problem within their framework and how to design a solution. But as we probed, we discovered that the problem as they defi ned it was inappropriately confl ated with the capacity of the facility and overcrowding. In fact, the problem of overcrowding had more to do with scheduling procedures, competing priorities for beds among specialists on the staff, and the politics of allocation, inappropriate triaging, and even the fact that the hospital isolated itself from what other nearby service resources could do. It took on too much when other hospitals could provide equal, if not better, service and had adequate space. What I learned from experiences like this was to slow down the client's immediate drive for a solution and to get at the underlying issues, which I refer to as framing the opportunity or the problem. To get a beginning understanding, it is necessary to probe data. In this case, about occupancy, admissions scheduling, resource availability and allocation, and the attitudes of

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