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Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc.

Project Information

Programs/Services

  • Performance Environments: Change Management

Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates had been humming along for decades, content to build on its reputation as one of the world's premier architecture and design firms, especially when it comes to convention centers.

But then a trio of big changes stirred things up, creating the perfect opportunity to explore whether business as usual was the best way to flourish in the decades to come.

For starters, a growth spurt had prompted TVS to bring in nearly 100 new employees in just two years, boosting the head count in its Atlanta headquarters by some 50 percent. Meanwhile, it became clear that much of the old guard would soon be on its way out, with upwards of 30 senior people eyeing retirement.

What's more, the lease on the firm's downtown Atlanta high-rise was coming due, bringing about a rash of questions: Should we stay? Should we go? How much space do we need? And the big one: How can our space best support the changing face of our work force?

TVS answered most of those questions itself by deciding to stay put, while expanding onto a fourth floor and redoing its other three. To find the complete answer, though, it needed an outside perspective.

"Leadership turnover, greater diversity, multiple generations, new attitudes—we were wrestling with everything at once," says TVS President Roger Neuenschwander. "We absolutely needed a fresh set of eyes to help us see where we needed to go, both from an organizational and a workplace standpoint."

TVS found the independent insight it wanted by enlisting the aid of Herman Miller Services. The two organizations had worked together often, but always serving common clients—TVS designing spaces for which Herman Miller provided furniture. Here, though, TVS wanted to tap into Herman Miller's expertise in workplace services for a new client—itself.

THE IDEAL BECOMES REAL

The process began with a series of workshops. The goal? To define the firm's organizing principles, to articulate the drivers behind workplace change, and to generate ideas for how a redesigned space might serve as a catalyst for cultural renewal.

The key session was a Future Pull workshop involving a cross-section of TVS employees and facilitated by Herman Miller. Future Pull is a group brainstorming technique that encourages participants to imagine their ideal workplace—essentially pulling them into the future—and then identify what attributes make it so appealing.

"TVS wanted to capture breakthrough ideas that could be used by the design team in the planning process," says Jill Duncan, a Herman Miller workplace strategist.

And that's just what it got. The workshop culminated in a top-10 list of ideas, many of which became reality.

For instance, TVS headquarters now contains an informal gathering place called the "heart and hub." Complete with kitchen, big TV, and soft seating, it's designed to break down barriers among employees by providing an inviting place to meet or decompress.

There's also an innovation room where anything goes—and a rubber floor to prove it. The room gives TVS designers the freedom to brainstorm however they want—scribble on walls, throw stuff around, and in general forget about boundaries. "I figure I'll just get a hose and wash it down later," Mr. Neuenschwander quips.

In addition, TVS reoriented its internal studios to showcase the design process and make it easier for employees to learn from each other. For that matter, the entire space is more open and collaborative, thanks to fewer walls, more natural light, and an abundance of informal meeting areas.

ALL ABOARD

Of course, when you're redefining your organizational strategy—and overhauling your workplace to support it—employees are bound to be wary. Enter Herman Miller's change management group, which worked with TVS to ensure a smooth transition.

"Change is always a bit scary," says Tracy Brower, who heads up Herman Miller's change management group. "The question is whether you're just going to let it happen and hope for the best or manage it in a way that creates excitement and boosts morale."

TVS chose the latter. Herman Miller's change management pros helped articulate key messages and identify stakeholders, figuring out what information needed to be conveyed and who needed to hear it. Next came the "how"—the crafting of a detailed communications plan for spreading the word.

The centerpiece of Herman Miller's work involved development of a theme and graphic identity that anchored all change communications. The chosen theme—"Stirred, not shaken"—is a playful turn on James Bond's signature line, a way to reassure employees that while TVS was stirring things up from a cultural standpoint, it wasn't shaking them to the core.

As for the companion graphic, it evokes Bond's self-assurance by showing a rakish silhouette guarding the Atlanta skyline—but wielding an architect's triangle instead of a gun.

Herman Miller helped TVS roll out the theme at an employee meeting complete with Bond soundtrack and Bond trivia contest. Each employee even scored a martini glass etched with the TVS logo.

A SURVEY FOR EVERYONE

To further understand which aspects of its workplace should be retained—and which should be reconsidered—TVS enlisted Herman Miller's metrics team to survey the entire Atlanta organization by means of a workplace evaluation study.

The electronically administered survey asked employees to rate a potpourri of current and prospective workplace features. The primary purpose? To give TVS designers another layer of insight that would help them make informed decisions about which features to include in the new space.

"TVS space planners analyzed the results to glean ideas," says Bettye Russell, a Herman Miller workplace strategist. "But the survey also played another role: By giving all employees a voice, it helped make everyone more receptive to change."

And that, as it turns out, was critical. As an employee-owned firm, TVS was especially attuned to the importance of giving everyone input.

"Our employees are all owners, so they expect to be heard," Mr. Neuenschwander says. "It's precisely because employees played such a big role in the process that the changes we've made are working out so well."

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