Many people in the A/E industry will tell you their firm is a “family,” and they mean it. But Sarah Broughton and John Rowland might have a unique perspective on the idea.
The husband-and-wife team started their architecture and design firm as young professionals 17 years ago and have nurtured it since then using their own set of values.
“This is our legacy. We want it to thrive, because it’s a reflection of the vision and the business philosophy we’ve cultivated from the start,” Broughton says. “We’re passionate about our work, and it shows. There’s an energy you feel when you walk in the door. Clients talk about it all the time. We never want to be complacent about that.”
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From studios in Aspen and Denver, CO, Rowland+Broughton produces custom residential, interior design, commercial, hospitality, urban design, and master planning. The firm has been selected to the PSMJ Circle of Excellence for nine of the past 12 years.
They say they do it by listening to each client’s design goals, connecting with interested stakeholders throughout the project, conducting historical and community research, applying new technological solutions, and testing creative materials and applications.
“We’re a design firm. Our job is to produce beautiful work that attracts great talent and great clients,” Broughton says. “But it’s also a business, right? So as managers, it’s our job to make sure the people doing the work have our full support. From our finance director who’s a CPA, to our HR director, to the marketing and business development teams, it’s all about nurturing the work.
“What’s that expression—you hire for attitude and teach for skill? We look for people with the traits we value, like gratitude and empathy.” She and Rowland worried about maintaining that culture through the pandemic. How do you keep it going in the new, remote workspace? For Broughton, it always comes back to communication.
The firm still holds staff meetings, virtually, every Monday (“One week it’s for inspiration—maybe a video or a dialog —and the next week it’s a project review”). But, ironically, management decided that the best way to get through the pandemic was to meet less often, not more: “We made a conscious decision to stop stressing about the numbers, and just put our heads down and do the work,” Broughton says. “It’s a way to maintain some sanity and some balance.
“We felt like we were over-analyzing everything. So we made it simple: how much great work can we get done in 40 hours a week? And we found that we could do better work in less time. All it takes is good communication from everyone on the team. To me, the most important thing you can do is keep it transparent.”
And how do you keep up morale in the new normal? “I think it’s the power of positivity,” Broughton says. “As managers, we have to be in that mindset. You show up every day with a positive attitude. That’s what leaders do.”