Dialog’s management strategy can be found in its employee handbook or long-term plan, but the most obvious place is in its name. Dialogue is so critical to the architectural engineering design firm’s DNA that once a year, the company hosts a national initiative called Aspire Dialog, where the company’s best projects are put on display to be critiqued by outside experts.
Not many companies are brave enough to have their work dissected so freely, especially when the critics are their clients, but according to chair Jim Anderson, it’s all part of their plan to get better and better. “Being open to debating our designs and having that vulnerability has really pushed us forward,” he says. “It’s one of the most positive things we’ve done.”
The firm has amassed a portfolio of diverse projects, from a waste drop-off station in Edmonton to a mixed-use concourse in Memphis, Tenn. Most recently, it won a contract for the Calgary Cancer Centre, a $1.4-billion design-build collaboration to be completed in 2023.
The company currently has five studios spread across three time zones—Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and San Francisco—which is why a silo mentality needs to be avoided at all costs.
To keep employees across all disciplines and districts engaged, Dialog runs a research competition called the Iris Prize once a year. Employees, in groups or individually, can pitch passion projects that align with the company’s purpose for the chance to win $7,500 for travel and expenses, plus two weeks of paid leave to pursue their research.
The participation rate has soared since the prize’s inception in 2005, a sign that employees are still motivated and connected to the company’s vision. “It also allows us to listen to them talk about their individual aspirations and ideas,” says Anderson. “People are most happy when they’re developing.”