Shaun Killa reveals Dubai house Killa Design's recruitment strategy
PEOPLE POWER: Design leader opens up on how his culturally inclusive team balances work and play for business success
Marcus Taylor, managing partner at Taylor Sterling Associates, talks to Shaun Killa of architectural design house Killa Design about his efforts to build a culturally inclusive and slightly quirky workforce.
Did you grow your company’s culture organically?
When we started up Killa Design, we wanted to hire people with design passion and not people who have become design-complacent. Right from the start, we have made a point of ensuring that the people we hire are courageous and aspire to be great architects, across a broad range of nationalities to create a powerful, culturally inclusive, and dynamic workforce.
Before we get to the interview stage with candidates, we look to see if they have had some longevity with a good design-orientated company, an eye for design, and if they are a little bit quirky or off-key. These are our people, people with attitude who want to achieve and are willing to challenge us and the norm.
Design companies have had to wait five or six months to be compensated from the time they begin work on a project, due to deliverable-based milestones compared to monthly serviced-based payments.
As an employer, our office has no ceilings and we encourage our staff members to become anything they want to become. We maintain a flat structure. Whether you have two years of experience or 25 years, if you’ve got great ideas, we want to hear them. We look further than the work a candidate can produce and ask ourselves: ‘Is this guy alive?’, ‘Is he living for every day?’, ‘What architects does he respect?’ and finally, ‘What sport does he play?’
We believe that it is exceedingly important that one has a good life outside of work. This creates a stronger bond within the office because if several of us enjoy cycling or kitesurfing, it won’t be a nationality-based clique but rather a group of friends who enjoy partaking in the same activities.
What are some of the practices you maintain to encourage staff inclusion across the board?
We organise a town hall at least once a month where we bring everyone, from all departments, operating at all levels, together. Here, we go through everything from birthdays to weddings and babies. We go through our current and new projects so the entire company knows what is going on.
We usually have each project team present their work to the rest of the company and this also gives the younger guys an opportunity to share their experiences and take advice from the more senior members. We have worked to create an open environment where everybody can speak and be heard without feeling pressured or scared they might say the wrong thing.
What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome since setting up?
From a recruitment point of view, we haven’t faced many difficulties. There have been a few people we have taken on in the past that have not worked out, but we have managed that. Everyone here works hard, but they also play hard.
We’re not an office where people just work hard all the time, including at night and on weekends. That’s just not our culture. Through the culture we have built, we encourage people to go home and have their weekends. If there are deadlines and we all have to sacrifice a few hours over the weekend or after work, then we will, but creating a comfortable office culture creates happy employees.
Outside of recruitment, ensuring sufficient cash flow proved challenging when we first started the company and we invested heavily from our own pockets during this period.
The nature of this industry is that you do the work required, submit the deliverable, go through a few changes and then wait two or three months to be compensated. Design companies have had to wait five or six months to be compensated from the time they begin work on a project, due to deliverable-based milestones compared to monthly serviced-based payments. As a company, you’ve got to be able to finance that while ensuring all your employees are still being paid every month.
We were very fortunate that our business did well in the first few years and we were able to pay our investments back. We were very lucky to have won all the right projects at the right time.
We’re not an office where people just work hard all the time, including at night and on weekends. That’s just not our culture. Through the culture we have built, we encourage people to go home and have their weekends.
What impact does your corporate culture have on the product you deliver?
People love working in our office because it’s like a university. People are constantly learning and pushing themselves and collaborating to better one another. I believe that this is truly unique and you don’t necessarily find this in many other offices. Our office has grown to become more than just a place of work to our staff members.
It is a now a place where people can achieve great things, invest in themselves, and be rewarded for it. This has contributed to a phenomenal team that is strong and able.
Plus, this sort of functionality gives us the freedom to focus on our core business practice and what we do best. It has allowed us to serve our clients to the best of our ability, achieving their satisfaction, and not stopping until we have done so.