HLB Lighting Design is the largest independent architectural lighting design firm in North America. HLB, which was founded in 1968 by a pioneer in the lighting industry; Jules Horton, is an acronym for the last names of his three successors; Barbara Horton, Stephen Lees and Teal Brogden. While the firm’s original office was in New York City, the firm has since expanded with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, Denver, and Austin. They also employ other remote workers who are deployed across the country and internationally.
HLB has always been proud to have a forward-thinking and inclusive culture; what they call “HLB One,” which is based on the value pillars of: Leadership, Artistry, Legacy, Integrity, Balance, and Curiosity. The team saw an opportunity to expand a deeper knowledge among employees about how HLB generates revenue and creates balance to help reduce financial risks and preserve valuable resources in economic downturns, and ultimately to provide employees with true work-life harmony.
When HLB hired their new CFO, Beth Nilsen, in 2017, she shared her knowledge of The Great Game of Business® (GGOB)—after which the team recognized that The Game would be an ideal enhancement to their HLB One culture. They kicked off their GGOB journey with the help of their coach, Anne-Claire Broughton, in October 2019.
Prior to GGOB, HLB’s offices around the country really functioned in silos. Even within each office there were smaller teams that tended to only work together and use their own methods and tools. But as a large, spread-out firm implementing GGOB nation-wide, HLB was forced to find ways to coordinate work virtually and ensure strong consistency of quality. Employees across the country started communicating and collaborating on initiatives as well as project work—sharing skills, knowledge, ideas, and available time. Having that infrastructure in place was the real silver lining for HLB when they had to close all of their offices during the pandemic and work 100% virtually. While it was a difficult couple of years financially for HLB, business began to boom again in 2021 and continues today, where HLB’s backlog of work is now at an all-time high. “GGOB opened the door for everyone to feel they have a voice,” says Nilsen. “Anyone can bring an idea to the table, voice a concern publicly without fear of reprisal, and have the freedom to coordinate solutions.”
“Thanks to GGOB and open-book management, we were informed of the financial status at all times during the worst of the pandemic. We could see that we had concerns, but no one had to worry about going bankrupt or losing our jobs. Culturally we have also learned how to forecast as much as we can. In the past we used to be reactionary. Now we have the tools and the mindset to see and plan for things ahead of time.”
~ Clifton Manahan, Senior Associate
Pain Points and Opportunities
Even though the pandemic shut down the brick-and-mortar offices for two years, HLB was slammed when most of the projects that were deferred came back online at the same time. The constraint for HLB, like many firms, is having enough skilled talent to keep up with all the demand. “There are not many lighting designers in the world,” says Nilsen. “It’s a narrow niche, and our team is the cream of the crop.” Adding to the challenge of staffing up is that while the team has considered hiring more junior or entry-level people they could train up, their senior designers are too busy to make the time to train correctly—especially in a hybrid or virtual work environment where people might be spread around the country.
“Playing The Game is helping us keep people with the company. Everyone can see what we’re doing every week and how we’re tracking toward our quarterly bonuses. There’s an openness that really drives sharing. It really helps create that feeling of ownership in the company.”
~ Adam Levine, Associate
In 2021 HLB played a MiniGame called “Clue HLB Edition,” which focused on teamwork, community, and health. The scoreboard was based on the famous board game Clue. Teams could make progress based on things like learning interesting facts about each other, solving puzzles together, and the total number of steps they took. The game helped reinforce community (especially between our multiple offices across the country and 100% remote working), teamwork in solving puzzles, and health in walking or regular physical activity.
One of the goals Nilsen has for the coming year is to build on their financial literacy training now that HLB has a solid understanding of profit and loss terminology, by building on the concept that even an individual project can be seen as an income statement. “It will create even more direct line of sight for everyone to understand the revenues and direct costs associated with the projects they are working on,” she says. “We can then prioritize our project work better and help people make better decisions on individual projects. It can also help us with standardization and automation, which can help free up our designers’ time to focus on the real fun; delivering creative and quality designs.”
“GGOB has helped us develop incredible habits and we are actively working to support a second generation of our internal champions (we call them Fuego) of next generation leaders.”
~ Teal Brogdon, President and Sr. Principal