NextShift – Building a Sustainable Practice

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The beginning of October marks the 1st anniversary of Next Architecture in its current iteration – a remarkable, challenging and emotional year. Last year I remarked that I hoped that in 12 months we could say that we never expected Next to be what it is today. I am happy to say that this is true and thus I would like to share what has, in part, made Next different and what has allowed Next to remain true to its DNA. This month, I am going to chat about NextShift – what we are doing to make Next sustainable, how we are going to grow the firm, and how we are planning succession.

My most treasured mentor (there has been a few) was an architect’s architect called John Vallance Stevenson. He taught me little about design but huge amounts about the business of architecture. One of his earliest comments to me was that was as soon as I became a partner, I should immediately begin the process of finding my replacement. I would suggest that our current lack of succession planning in the industry is a direct result of not having a plan in place to begin with and ultimately leaving it until it is too late. Architects are just not that good at future-proofing their firms – the product of this failure often results in deviation from some very applicable and relevant core values once held by the firm and its principals. Any principal/partner in any firm should be asking who will succeed me? How am I mentoring them? Further, by developing a robust mentoring mandate the benefits do not just extend to the firm, they benefit the industry.

NextShift is about being a teaching studio that offers our colleagues the opportunity to learn the craft of architecture from a business vantage point while honing their design skills. In part NextShift involves us making sure that, at any one time, there are two distinct but interdependent layers of succession. I would suggest that having each layer 15+/- years apart in age is essential. At Next we have started to mentor two layers of succession with the goal that as each layer reaches their early to mid 40’s they should begin the process of working with the next layer, by the time they hit their mid 60’s they should already have two layers they are working with, with the next layer working with another layer, and so on, so on.

Having a group of 2 – 3 people in each layer is essential because regardless of the potential role of a principal, building a firm is more about creating solid leadership and confidence in decision making than ascending the corporate ladder. This means that each project we undertake must include a framework for developing the skills of being a minder, finder and grinder. These three characteristics are essential to a successful practice and everyone should exhibit strengths in each facet. Excellence in all is not essential, but being strong in at least two is essential and that is what we focus on in this facet of NextShift.

Until next time,

Allan Partridge