podcast | Jun 20, 2024 |
Donna Mondi on the search for a leadership structure that keeps her close to design

Recently, Donna Mondi reached a turning point in her design business. For years, she had fought hard to establish a career in the industry, going back to school in her late 20s with two small children at home, then launching her own firm in 2001 after a difficult experience working under another designer. Over the course of two decades, she built Donna Mondi Interior Design into a nine-person team with offices in Denver and Chicago. Her firm was making progress—so, naturally, she assumed it was time to grow.

First, she created a design director role to oversee operations in the Chicago office as she started spending more and more time in Denver. Then she hired her daughter (a designer in her own right) to oversee out-of-state projects. The idea was that Mondi would set the direction for each project, provide approval along the way, and spend more time sourcing and traveling to find new vendors. In reality, information had to pass through four levels of team members on each decision, making communication breakdowns all too common. Before long, she felt herself gravitating further and further out of the actual design loop.

“I wanted to put every resource toward [the team restructuring],” Mondi tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I hired consultants to help with leadership training. … We really tightened up everything, thinking this would help keep things consistently going the way I wanted them to go. And it still didn’t work.”

This year, she embarked on a new shift: finding her way back to the design process. The transition has required some difficult decisions when it comes to restructuring her firm’s leadership, but she’s on the road to an approach that brings her closer to her goals, to her team’s mentorship and development process, and to the nitty-gritty of the design process.

Elsewhere in the episode, the designer shares how she navigated her firm’s rebrand and why she created a client experience task force, and talks about the book that made her goals feel manageable.

Crucial insight: Mondi does her best to prepare clients for everything the design process has in store, even creating detailed “What to Expect When …” documents for each stage, from installation to photo shoots. Still, she has noticed that it’s nearly impossible to keep clients from experiencing an energy lull midway through the project—so she provides them with a pick-me-up: “I named it the ‘happiness dip gift,’” she says. “[We send it] about halfway between payment and installation.” The gesture is simple, with a playful message of self-care: peppermint tea, an eye mask that says “happy place,” or stress-reducing playdough.

Key quote: “I think my legacy will be much more about the people who really knew me: the people who worked for me or with me, or whom I worked for. That’s where your legacy is going to be—not because you are on this or that list. Because somebody is going to be on that list as soon as you’re not.”

This episode was sponsored by Room & Board. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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