What can you do if you hire a staff member who disrupts your practice? And can someone who took early retirement establish themselves as a consultant? Matthew Turner advises
New employee has really nasty character
I am the sole director of a practice with a small staff, but I realise I made a huge mistake when I selected my most recently recruited employee. They have great skills on paper, but have turned out to have a really nasty character. I get the feeling they are quite manipulative as in the course of a few months they have infected the office with a negative and lazy work ethic. An unprofessional atmosphere has developed, and I am finding it increasingly hard to get the others - who were previously fine to work with - to do what I need. It has even got to the point where I feel I should sack everyone and have a fresh start.
Character clashes in a small office can be extremely debilitating
This does sound a difficult situation, and I get the feeling it is causing you quite a degree of stress. Character clashes in a small office can be extremely debilitating; there is nothing worse than a rancorous work place, and it is even harder when you feel you had an effective team previously.
The idea of laying everyone off sounds quite drastic. You would have to go about this very carefully if you were to seriously consider it. It may be an option; you call the shots. It is your practice after all, not theirs.
A less nuclear option, but perhaps more painful, is to try and manage this person. It sounds as if you could be quite direct with them, and it might be worth a really robust conversation; hopefully that could help you isolate their actions from your other, more workable employees.
However, if this person is as Machiavellian as they appear from your description, they might really kick up all sorts of accusations and problems with the other employees that could cause you big-time headaches. So perhaps the best route would be to go straight to the root cause and serve them notice.
With all of this, remember to keep records of conversations, and act within the law. Ultimately you should not feel victimised or timorous - it is your gig, and you have the greater good of your office resting on your shoulders, so protecting that should be your priority.
I’ve retired, but I want to return to architecture
A couple of years ago, aged 61, I resigned my directorship of the company I had worked at for many years, effectively retiring. Since then I have had a great time doing all the other things I had planned, and the relief of giving up full-time work has been great. However, in this time I have grown to realise that I would like to stay close to the world of architecture. I don’t want to go back to my former practice, but I have no idea how to go about getting consultancy work. I had thought I could be a client adviser, as I feel I can pass on a lot about what goes wrong when clients commission projects.
You are very lucky to have retired so young, but equally I can quite understand your desire to keep your hand in; it sounds like the world of full-time work was the thing you looked forward to escaping, rather than losing all professional contact. The wisdom you can pass on could be very valuable.
What I don’t quite understand is what is holding you back from putting yourself about as available? That is ultimately going to be the way to get this kind of work coming to you.
Presumably you must have built up good contacts in your sector over the years, and know who would be likely to require your consultancy. If it is difficult to make the case for paying for your skills, then it may well be that you need offer some pro-bono work to get started. Or if you are worried about your profile, then you can hustle at conferences focused on your sector, or be active as a commentator on the subject through LinkedIn. I guess what I am saying is that you will need to stick your neck out a bit. Bear in mind you will only need to successfully pick up a modest amount of work to fulfil your aim of keeping connected.
However, it also makes sense to clarify your motivation. Many architects in your position might want to promote themselves as client design advisers. You need to bear in mind who might want your input, because unless the clients you are targeting want your advice, and you can demonstrate your worth to them, then your desire to contribute might be more about telling the client what they ‘should’ do, rather than solving their problems. I am not saying this is wrong, but it is good to be conscious of this difference. Perhaps your interests lie more in the sphere of being an agitator or campaigner rather than a paid consultant.
AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org