Healthcare facilities are about as complex a building type as you can get, making a career in the healthcare planning and design field far from a cakewalk. And market conditions are only complicating matters. Hospitals and health systems are responding to the financial realities of reform (and remaining unknowns tied to the Affordable Care Act), implementing measures to support population health, and trying to figure out what to do with an aging building stock—each priority shaping expectations for new building projects and, more importantly, the project team members delivering them.

Healthcare A/E/C firms are responding to the new climate that’s been created, one where shorter schedules are the norm, collaboration is key, and expertise is a must. Healthcare Design asked healthcare design leaders to shed light on the business side of the industry today—specifically, what challenges are top of mind, from talent acquisition to streamlining project delivery to answering evolving client expectations.

In this special report, we profile not just those challenges identified, but the drivers behind them and the solutions being implemented. Here, Hank Adams, global director, health, for HDR, discusses his firm’s efforts to tackle talent acquisition.

Name: Hank Adams
Title: Global Director, Health
Firm: HDR (Dallas)
Number of employees: 1,700 (in the architecture practice)
Healthcare revenue in 2016: $208.3 million


Business challenge: Talent acquisition
Attracting and nurturing creative talent is something we consider to be a paramount issue and critical to the success of our health design practice. New clients hire us because our professionals have the experience, knowledge, and talent to help them achieve a successful outcome. Clients retain us for repeat work because of the strong relationships they have with our individual employees and because those employees demonstrate valuable insight and creativity.

The challenge is two-fold: maintaining and nurturing our core talent (and wisdom) on the one hand and, on the other, infusing our practice with new ideas and perspectives to ensure that it constantly evolves and advances. That means hiring new architects and designers at all career stages as well as adding skill sets atypical in a design firm, such as those brought to the table by industrial engineers, social scientists, clinicians, and data analysts—roles that expand the definition of design.

As an employee-owned firm, we have an added layer of complexity in that employee engagement is essential to a successful model of ownership. That means we must create and propagate our firm’s culture and values both internally and externally to achieve employee buy-in and establish our next generation of leaders.

What’s behind it
The healthcare design market is highly competitive, and all the design firms compete against each other to attain the best and the brightest talent. That means we need to be compelling narrators of our own “story” and able to clearly articulate the benefits of our culture versus another firm’s. We’re also competing for talent with other industries that have recognized the value of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which are abundant in the design industry. In recent economic downturns, many experienced designers have moved on to other creative industries.

Additionally, generational forces are at play. On average, 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will retire in the next five to 10 years as baby boomers stop working. While Gen Xers are assuming leadership roles, this generation is much smaller than the previous one. The millennial generation coming up on its heels is nearly twice as big (80 million versus 46 million), so the raw numbers alone mean millennials will get leadership opportunities much earlier in their careers than previous generations—and they need to be prepared for that rapid advancement.

The solution
As part of our 2012 Strategic Plan, HDR created a Talent Management Initiative, a plan to enable recruitment and career growth and development for all staff at all career stages. A few of the programs and strategies include:

BOOST. Each year, 12 protégés are selected to participate in the six-month BOOST program, which pairs millennial employees with a strong mentor to focus on building fundamentals for leadership success, increasing an understanding of HDR’s business culture, and forging relationships with senior leaders and employees throughout the company.

Associate level recognition. The associate level recognition program rewards junior-level employees who embody high standards of personal and professional conduct and show extraordinary potential.

Fellowship program. Two fellowship initiatives support the development of future leaders in our practice areas. Professional fellowships are awarded to individuals or small teams to develop creative solutions for issues facing the firm’s clients and the profession. Additionally, an intern research fellowship provides a scholarship of $10,000 for coursework taken to advance related research in a field of study that’s applicable to the services provided to our clients.

Opportunities to give back. The HDR Foundation provides grants to nonprofit organizations that align with our expertise in education, healthcare, and healthy communities. It’s employee-funded, with matching contributions by the firm. Additionally, our Design 4 Others program provides pro bono architecture and engineering services for projects in underserviced communities to address global health issues.

Young Professional Group (YPG). This group supports the development of our younger, less experienced staff. Under the YPG umbrella, young professionals connect through peer-to-peer and peer-to-management networking and regional summits, and on a company-wide basis via a quarterly newsletter and global events.

Words of wisdom
I’m passionate about elevating design talent and believe the future of our healthcare design industry is reliant on our overall success. Firm leadership, from all size design firms, must be proactive and intentional about their talent strategy, as it directly impacts the transition of firm leadership over time. It requires a focus on clearly defining a firm’s culture and values, while investing in employee initiatives to expand career opportunities and build equity. We have the opportunity and obligation to advance the legacy of design and its impact on healthcare delivery.