Why “Know Thyself” has Never Been More Important

April 27, 2015

Young businesswoman holding a moleculeI spent last week in Orlando, Florida, attending the annual spring Facility Fusion Conference hosted by IFMA.

Today I want to share some core ideas that grew out of one of the best sessions I attended. It was part of the “WE” (Workplace Evolutionaries) track, presented by Kay Sargent. Kay is a trained architect and experienced workplace designer; she is now Director of Workplace Strategies for Lend Lease Development.

Kay’s presentation was titled “Unlocking Your Corporate DNA.” She directly confronted the incredible tendency that so many workplace designers (and senior executives) have to copy the latest and greatest workplace design being touted by Google, or Apple, or Facebook, or some other “hot” tech company or Wall Street darling of the month.

As she put it so eloquently:

If we did to the fashion industry what we have done to the workplace, we would all be walking around in a unisize red dress, male or female, whether it fit or not. But organizations are unique and by assessing a company’s DNA we can determine what type of workplace best fits the need of their workers.

In Kay’s terms, your corporate DNA is your:

“Industry + Region + Workforce Demographics + Culture + Structure + Work Styles”

Her point is simple but profound: the only organization that has exactly your DNA – your combination of those six “buckets” – is yours. Don’t try to “be like Google” because today even Google isn’t what you think it is. That organization – like every other – is growing, getting older (both as an organization and in terms of the age of its members), changing its business mix, and locating in more and more different places. The work environments Google needs today are a far cry from what Google needed five years ago (or even last year).

And the obvious corollary is that your unique workforce wants workplaces that fit its work patterns, not Google’s or anyone else’s.

Here is a quick review of each of those six DNA buckets that describe how one organization can differ from another (the examples are mine, not Kay’s, but they are inspired by her experience and advice):


Banking operates differently from high tech and from advertising and from insurance – and so on.


The Northeast has different weather patterns and urban areas and commute patterns and social habits and sports interests than the Southwest – and so on.

Workforce Demographics

We’re all familiar by now with the core differences between Boomers and Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers and Millennials and Generation Alpha. But there are also gender differences (men really ARE different from women), ethnic differences, racial differences, full-time/part-time differences, and personality types (extraverts, introverts, etc.).


Some cultures are bureaucratic, some are innovative, some are entrepreneurial; some are “nice” while some are confronting and demanding; and some are empowered, some controlled.


Some organizations are formal and hierarchical; others are informal and “flat.” In some organizations rank hath many privileges, including standard square footage for offices. In others, networks are more prominent, or communication hubs. Some organizations have distinctive functional “walls” or stovepipes; others are more free-wheeling and fluid.

Work Styles

Some organizations are addicted to meetings. Others focus more on individual contributions. Collaboration is the order of the day in many businesses, while in others teams and task forces are rare. Sometimes learning and trial-and-error are valued and expected, while in others you had better get it right before you share your idea with anyone else. In some places I’ve worked the norm is formal stand-up presentations to the higher-ups; in others it’s common to prepBuckets of paintare written reports.

Each of these DNA “buckets” contains many variables; and each combination has direct implications for workplace design – and for leadership as well.


Alvin Toffler said it best: One size misfits all.

Contact me for a free consultation about how you can talk about tomorrow in ways that create clarity and consensus about your organization’s future. And ask me about how you can join my ongoing monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” open conversation series.




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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bary Sherman April 28, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Well said and important thinking which may extend to the concept that offices within the same organization may need different workplace solutions.


David Dieckman April 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

Having an intimate knowledge of your personal work requirements can be a great asset when navigating the new organizational workplace. Many occupants of these new open-plans have not been thoroughly educated as to how to utilize this new environment. That education is a critical factor to the overall success of the solution!


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