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Flexpertise in Action by Janet Pogue & Darris James

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 Flexpertise in Action with Janet Pogue & Darris James

Documented by: Sue Borchardt

Genlser is a is an American design and architecture firm headquartered in San Francisco that has a large number of practice areas they work in and so need to monitor progress in many fields from hospitality to health care. They took on the question what does it mean to be a success at Gensler? They have come up with a developmental model for talent development that spans the early stages of career when people are more generalists (skills exploring), all the way through to expert (skills sharing) at the emeritis stage of career. Between career beginning and ending are stages of refining, narrowing, leading, and defining skills. They have worked to come up with a four part definition of success that holds for all stages of career development: Connect, Learn, Lead & Deliver.

A flexpert is very broad AND deep. How do we develop that as individuals and as a firm?

It looks like a T. Integrators as the top of the T and experts as the vertical leg.

Are flexperts born or created? Yes!

Gensler has several programs for developing flexpertise:

  • Gensler Super Meetings are means for initiating creative collisions. Gensler University are targeted at “High Potentials” – it’s a year-long self- discovery for global leaders.
  • Global Exchange is more about building connections, skills exchange, knowledge exchange.
  • gPrograms: g-connect, design academy, and emerge (client relationships program).
  • DSD program: [Design strategist development program]. DSD is a two-year program for teams to codify the knowledge that exists within the organization. One way they figured out what to codify they imagined what if you were the only person in the Bangalore branch? What would you need to know?

Janet and Darris then turned to the group and asked,

“How are you developing flexpertise in others?”

  • ETS is in a similar place deciding what to codify and in also developing an internal program that supports their people in developing mastery.
  • Cigna built on Rob Cross’s work on networks to help their 4000 leaders find the right experts within the organization who might be able to help. They are also building on the work of David Rock to develop a program that speeds the development of trusting relationships.

“Do you tell those who you identify for flexpertise development what you’re doing?”

  • At the CIA, they are everybody: we need to add breadth to the depth across the board even though we don’t use the word flexpert.
  • One member shared their “simple rule” about this, which is to be as transparent as possible (so yes, cause they know it on some level even if you don’t tell them).

Gensler has been exploring what they call “Design Synergy”. How do we get synergy between all of our design focus areas? They used to think of a three-legged stool (borrowed from quality circles): desin, management, technical. They are rethinking this as seven design synergy behaviors: –

  1. embrace the integrators, (the folks who synthesize, are curious, connect the dots, takes smart risks, generates creative solutions, can speak multiple “work languages”… )
  2. catalyze the bright spots,
  3. take smart risks and fail faster,
  4. promote your inspirational leader,
  5. new types of teaming,
  6. start smart,
  7. change the yardstick

They had a Design Synergy Retreat and had Bootcamps (at lunch!). Ninety percent of the D.C. office attended these lunch-time bootcamps to brainstorm how they could experiment with any of the seven design synergy behaviors. They then worked to spread the results across the firm. They are now trying to reinforce Design Synergy through research and innovation awards.

They turned to the group and asked: “How are you building a Flexpertise Culture?”

The conversation revealed that Gensler, as a firm, has an infrastructure that is very flexpert since people don’t get hired into “jobs”. Rather people have roles that are often multiple and are often changing often.

At Ketchum they do a yearly “camp” for culture transfer and to spread and DO their four principles. The key element here being, make sure leadership is exhibiting flexpert behaviors.



Harvard Graduate School of Education