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Three Keys to Gathering Ideas from the Lab for a Renovation

How to gather ideas about a lab renovation from staff

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Lab renovations can be both exciting and exhausting times for the lab manager. While it’s exciting to get the lab space reconfigured, it can be exhausting to gather all of the input from lab staff and navigate the discussions about the best way to achieve the lab’s space goals. Lab managers can greatly benefit from creating ways for all staff to safely contribute to idea events. Although science benefits from rigorous discussion around experiments and data, many take their ideas personally and lack the ability to engage in intellectual debate without hurt feelings. Here are three things lab managers can do to improve their ability to obtain the ideas needed from lab staff to optimize a lab renovation:

#1 – Gather ideas broadly

Even when the discussion of a lab renovation is opened, many staff might be reluctant, uninterested, or afraid to share their ideas. The lab manager can take specific actions to encourage everyone to contribute ideas. A few ways to improve this process include not judging ideas at the gathering stage, allowing anonymous submission, talking to staff individually or in small groups, and praising people for suggesting new options. By making the submission process more fun, more inclusive, and less judgmental, lab managers will receive more and better ideas to feed into the renovation process. 

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#2 – Clarify needs

Engaging with staff to understand what the lab needs from its space and differentiate that from the many wants is very important. In general, needs solve problems, while wants makes things easier. Lab renovations will be

bounded by a construction budget that typically will be sufficient for the needs, but not large enough for all of the wants. It is often useful to build a perimeter of the clear needs for the lab and then position ideas either within the need perimeter, or outside of it. As the ideas to deliver the needs are organized, more focus can be applied to them. Some wants can be added to the mix, depending on the size of the budget.

#3 – Engage in healthy debate

Healthy debate is useful in any workplace, but it’s especially important in science-driven labs. Healthy debate is a process of considering the options and using a data-driven process to differentiate, rank, and order them. One key skill to drive more healthy debate is having a win/win approach to negotiation. Lab managers can identify what each side in a debate needs and look for solutions that provide those needs while excluding the wants. One way to drive healthy debate around a lab renovation is to seek solutions that deliver the best outcome for the lab, rather than outcomes that favor individuals. Another key aspect of healthy debate is that the discussions are focused on the ideas and options, not on the people. There must be respect shown to every individual, even as anyone’s ideas are dissected. This is especially true for the lab manager’s ideas.