In-house Issues: Laying the foundation for your in-house

Ever watch those how-to house shows where the contractor makes it look like building a home is a cakewalk with all the joints fitting just right, the pipes and wires popping perfectly into place and where the builders are either sexy babes named after a season or buff hunks from Argentina? Ever notice that they almost never spend any airtime on laying the foundation – the dirtiest, least glamorous and most mundane of steps in the raising of a structure? It should only be that way in real life; especially when it comes to building a successful sustainable in-house department  – but it’s not. And the step that they pay the least attention to on those magical construction shows, building the foundation, is the one an in-house team should spend the most time on but rarely do.

Most corporate design teams start as a reactionary afterthought to a company’s core business and grow, or rather are retrofitted into the corporate structure, with that ad hoc mindset in place. The results? – No documented processes and procedures, no policies, no position descriptions, no staffing structure, no mission, no vision meaning most groups are saddled with overtaxed staff, poor morale and a preordained inability to meet expectations –in other words they’re set up for failure. What that means is that you have to go back, deconstruct and then rebuild. Doing all this backtracking while you’re still servicing your clients is akin to building an airplane while it’s already in flight.

As daunting as this prospect is, it’s even worse to stick your head in the sand and pretend all those fires you’re putting out are unavoidable and just the nature of the corporate beast. The reality is that, while there is much you can’t change in your working environment, you can make fundamental process and structural improvements that will address well over half of your worst challenges.

There are resources out there to help you in this gargantuan undertaking. InSource is holding a multi-regional roundtable on in-house structural models this month. There’s the In-HOWse conference in Denver in early June, a workshop on creating and executing a multidimensional in-house business plan being hosted by AIGANY, numerous design business books and for those with deeper pockets and supportive management, there are consultants such as Cohen-Miller Consulting to fast-track you to best business practices heaven.

Whatever route for support you choose – do it. As with most worthwhile journeys the first step will be the hardest but the end result will be well worth it.