Perspectives: Mind the Gap

By Valerie Thompson

This post is the first in a series exploring topics discussed during Perspectives 2015, PDR’s workplace strategy leader to leader forum. 

As a leader, you see your business changing and recognize that the workplace needs to adapt with the business, but it’s often hard to imagine how you’ll get your leadership team to agree on a solution for the future.  How can some organizations make such a large change to their workplace when you’re feeling resistance to even the smallest change in your own company? What does it take to move an organization from idea to innovation?

As, an example, ExxonMobil moved from a largely legacy real estate portfolio of traditional closed offices to a vibrant, collaborative campus. 

How’d they do it? Mind the gap (the synthesis gap that is).

The term “synthesis gap” comes from the little known book, Space Planning Basics by Mark Karlen. 

No amount of data collection, benchmarking, and programming will tell you the exact workplace solution for the future.  The synthesis gap is the space between analysis (data collection, benchmarking and programming) and synthesis (defining the solutions).  You can narrow the gap, but not completely eliminate it.  I like to think of it as an educated “leap of faith.”  The more thorough the analysis, the smaller the leap to synthesis.  The less analysis and the bigger the change you’re trying to achieve, the bigger the leap.

How did ExxonMobil do it?  PDR collaborated with ExxonMobil’s Business Advisory Council to develop new workplace solutions based on the fundamental examination of work. They spent three years doing extensive benchmarking, piloting, prototyping and learning.

Change takes time and it’s not about more than simply checking off a list of activities.  The leadership team needs time to absorb and process the new information and ways of thinking.  In our experience, the greater the change you wish to achieve, the more time you need to dedicate up front.

PDR developed the workplace strategy and design for Hourigan’s new headquarters in Richmond, VA.

PDR developed the workplace strategy and design for Hourigan’s new headquarters in Richmond, VA.

Even seasoned professionals can forget to mind the gap.

“We considered ourselves an informed customer for PDR because this is our world, we’re out building it. And yet, the discovery and alignment process helped us realize you don’t know what you don’t know.  We needed to slow down to avoid racing to an incomplete solution.  There aren’t shortcuts to consensus building and excitement creation without bypassing valuable information to unleash the potential of your people.” 

Mark Hourigan, CEO Hourigan Construction.


Workplace projects are often constrained by time-sensitive limitations like lease expirations, rapidly growing teams, or significant organizational restructures.

How do you deal with this in your organization? Start now!

Develop a workplace strategy before the clock is ticking on a project.  We’re talking to clients about workplace strategy whose lease doesn’t expire for five years. You don’t need to have an impending office design project to build a workplace strategy. A valuable place to start is by exploring how other companies are solving their business challenges through workplace. Build a business case to develop your workplace strategy outside of the project cycle.

PDR would love to help you start the process!

Perspectives is a workplace strategy leader to leader forum to spark a valuable exchange of ideas about the future of workplace strategy.  Perspectives 2016 is targeted for late August or early September 2016. The focus is Collegiate to Corporate: Workplace Insights from Learning Environments and how we enable the next generation problem solvers.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic or Perspectives please contact Valerie.

Valerie Thompson
Valerie Thompson is a Workplace Strategist with PDR since 2005.  Her passion lies in the intersection of business, psychology, and design.  She leads organizations to redefine their workplace as a strategic tool that can impact their bottom line and their employees’ well-being.