Episode 55: Embracing Change to Enhance Culture with Susan Orange and Baskervill

Who is Susan Orange and the key takeaways in this episode?

Baskervill is such a great company when it comes to culture that we have the privilege of welcoming yet another of their excellent people, Susan Orange. Susan believes in the power of change within organizations to keep up to date with the millennials and the ever evolving needs of clients.

You’ll learn plenty in this interview, including:

  • What motivates Susan to create her best designs
  • The advice Susan would give to those just starting out in business
  • The connection between culture and office design
  • And much, much more

The Questions

You guys have workplace strategies that are specific, real and measurable, and I really think that from a culture standpoint hats off to you guys for doing that. The question that really seems like listeners want to know is: what motivates you the most when you’re working on a design for one of your clients? Do you draw from the workplace strategies or is it something else that motivates you?

Answer: I think it’s one and the same. I think what motivates me the most when working on a project is the conversations and simply put conversations. I’m on a personal pilgrimage to use the world ‘collaborate’ in conversations and in my vocabulary, and it’s just so important because a conversation, our conversation right now, leads to everything else in a project. It’s connecting with the people you’re working with, whom you’re working for. I like to be engaged in some kind of interaction, like you and I, you’re asking questions and I’m responding, and we start the project out that way. We ask questions of our clients about themselves and we have to get to know them in order to create the environment into which they’re going to commit financially, emotionally, physically. So we ask them questions about their set of values, their success criteria and what’s working and what’s not. What about the future? What’s going on with that? Part of the conversation is listening, which is what you’re doing right now. You’re being quiet, you’re listening to what I’m saying and we listen to what our clients are saying. We listen to who is saying it and we listen to how they are saying it, which is really important. The passion of message is all telling how people are delivering that message.

What do you think is the most common struggle you see with companies as you help them with their workplace strategies and their office designs?

Answer: Hands down, unequivocally, it’s change. People entertaining the idea of change, identifying what change needs to happen, visualizing it and imagining it is just a hands down struggle. Companies, workplaces, if you will, real estate, they turn over. They have major moves or major renovations every 10-15 years. That’s about the life of an interior or the life of a lease, in which case you’ve got the means to make changes when your lease comes up. If you happened to be in the economic climate that we’re in, if you happened to be on the back side of your 10-15 years and the economy took a dive everything kind of went on hold and so, now, 5-10 years later, things are looking up and people are making changes but you’re sitting in an environment that’s 20 years old. It’s comfortable to some people, to a lot of people. It’s familiar and the idea of changing that is difficult, like I said, to identify and visualize and certainly implement. In the meantime, while you’re sitting in your comfortable leather shoes, if you will, the world has changed and certainly technology has come such a long way. Technology is smaller, it’s smarter, it’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s more portable. It’s everywhere and it wasn’t 20 years ago. People, your clients to your staff, they’ve changed. Your staff has probably gotten younger people in as the baby boomers are retiring, and their expectations are a little bit different in how they work and where they work. So you need to match up your technology and your people with the environment you’re working in. In most cases you’re dealing with a very old environment that people are very comfortable in, so understanding that change is difficult helps with conversations that we have with clients. Also, people visualize a space as what they’re living in, which might be perimetered offices and long corridors and probably little accessability to natural light, and they see what the new environments coming out are. They see it because it’s all over the website, and essentially what’s on the site are the furthest out there of designs. We’ve all seen Google’s pictures so some people think that it’s all or nothing, and “If I’m going to change then I’m going to have to go from my wood panelled office to Google,” and they don’t understand that there’s this wide, vast space of change opportunities between where you are and where Google is. Our job is to find where you are on that continuum, and maybe it’s different for even different departments in your company but it’s definitely – change is here and change needs to happen. Where does that fit in with your culture?

Do you believe there’s a connection between culture and office design? How do you merge the two? How do you merge the culture they have versus the culture you need to get them to, that they really want, while making sure that everything flows nicely?

Answer: The millenials can have something different. You mentioned that they were coming in and they want different things and their expectation is that you’ll provide that. The reason why they can have something different is the technology allows them to do that. It’s possible to get up from your desk and move around and work around. But you can’t force a culture, you can’t make up a culture. A company can’t say “I’m Google,” and not be Google. You have to be authentic in that if you identify what your culture is – and we find out what your culture is by asking those questions that we talked about before, and it’s finding out what they value, finding out who their stakeholders are and who they want their stakeholders to be. What are their goals and success criteria? What’s an average day in the life of? What are they doing outside of the work room? Are they involved in the community? Is there something else that says about who they really are? Even companies that know they need to change culture know that they need to introduce other things, to do other things. The design can’t be a contradiction to that. Let’s talk about places that you go because the experience matches the message, which is what it’s all about. Are you living your message that you’re putting out there? Between products and services and the promise, the Apple Store is the easy picking; it’s that everybody understands what they get when they go there. It’s not only the product and service but the fact that the experience matches what the promise is.

Culture According to Susan Orange:

You have to be authentic in that you identify what your culture is – and we find out what your culture is by asking those questions that we talked about before and it’s finding out what they value, finding out who their stakeholders are and who they want their stakeholders to be. What are their goals and success criteria? What’s an average day in the life of?

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • The Bible
  • 1000 Chairs by Charlotte and Peter Fiell

What Susan Orange Wants Her Company to BE:

  • BE Inspiring
  • BE Involved
  • BE Responsible

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Susan Orange:

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