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Gensler Launches Design Strategist Development (DSD) Program 

Image © Gensler

Three years ago, the leadership of Gensler’s Consulting practice gathered in a conference room in Washington, D.C. to discuss the issues and challenges facing our clients. Our goal was to develop strategies to help them solve pressing problems: how to deal with the recruiting wars, how to adapt in times of economic uncertainty, how to handle increasingly rapid changes in the competitive landscape and operations.

Being a consultancy within an architecture and design firm means that we get asked to address client problems at the intersection of people, operations and process, finance, technology, and, of course, space. These issues can range from small issues such as determining the best way to reinvigorate a cafeteria to full strategies developed around the composition of a client’s real estate portfolio for the next 10 or 15 years. The variety of our work comes from the unique emphasis that each client and each project brings to that mix of issues.

What we realized is that the best way to support our client’s diverse challenges is to have a diverse, well-trained strategist community networked across the globe. We realized that our work is all about our people. Our work is unique and so our talent must be unique. And immersive design strategy is one of the most direct ways that we bring our talent to bear on client’s challenges.

While Design Strategy as a curriculum has been growing, there aren’t many institutions applying Design Strategy to the problems that we see plaguing our clients. Many programs focus on product or service design. Far fewer focus on the range of issues surrounding place and space and their interaction with the other dimensions of successful organizations. These programs only produce a limited number of graduates each year.

So we decided to start the Design Strategist Development (“DSD”) program with the aim of developing top-notch consulting talent internally. Gensler’s DSD program creates a compelling vision of a group of Gensler-trained design strategists fanning out across the globe. These Design Analysts will have a common understanding of the processes and tools critical to solving the problems our clients face. They will be deeply committed to the principles of design and to design culture at large. They will be exposed to the “softer” skills so deeply required for success as a consultant and as a designer. They will have a community of practice, extending from peers to principals.

At its heart, the program has five key goals:

  • To have a foundation based on a rigorous curriculum, broadly based on design strategy and specifically tailored to Gensler.
  • To develop a talent pipeline expanding our reach and capabilities in all Gensler regions, including supporting DSD candidates to move to different regions and offices after the end of their two year formal program.
  • To create a pool of available rotating staff who have a common vocabulary and knowledge of Gensler and Gensler Consulting.
  • To improve the quality of our work through the rigorous training and a great standardization of our process, services, and tools.
  • To extend our industry leadership in design, consulting, and talent development.

And the training portion of the program is based on three key fundamental approaches:

  • Developing business acumen – including a deep understanding of Gensler and the industry’s business drivers, professionalism, and the management of our projects.
  • Building technical skills – extensive training in design strategy and the tools and practices that we use in consulting and in design.
  • Creating leaders– training the consulting professionals of the future in the “softer skills” that we understand are critical to our success as designers and consultants, including: empathy, emotional intelligence, ability to listen, facilitate, and present

Our clients expect our strategists to have extensive and direct experience in the project types that they bring to us. We understand that experience is best gained on-the-job and providing that type of experience is a fundamental aspect of the program. The coaching and mentoring portions give each DSD Analyst a chance to get direct feedback from clients. This allows them to refine their skills immediately and receive the support that they need. Increasingly, our global clients are asking for greater consistency in the services we provide, the tools we use, and the processes we apply. To create this consistency, we realized that we had to develop a standard curriculum, shared across the entire firm and developed collectively.

Looking forward, we know that the pace of change facing our clients will continue to accelerate. Old and new competitors will disrupt markets, increasing the competition for talent and projects. As consultants and advisors to our clients, we need to be agile in our design responses. Whether it’s resizing a headquarters, helping to create a new brand or product, or simply in facilitating innovation, we need to create design solutions specifically tailored to the our clients’ needs.

The DSD program will help Gensler incite a culture of innovation and develop incredibly talented designers capable of responding to complex problems in an appropriate and timely manner. While we believe in the power of design to improve the world, it is incumbent that we train our staff to understand the context in which our designs are created and to build the interpersonal and leadership skills so that we can fully articulate the value of each and every design. That heightened level of communication will be imperative as we continue to apply design solutions within an increasingly complex and ever-changing business climate.

Kevin brings 20 years of diverse experience to the leadership of Gensler’s Los Angeles Consulting Studio, with specific expertise in organizational development and management training. Kevin is passionate about helping clients successfully adapt to changes in their organization’s culture, practices and business strategies through careful development of change management and communications programs. Contact him at kevin_rosenstein@gensler.com.

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