Nurture at work

We’ve all seen personal development suffer as working under pressure becomes a way of life. It doesn’t have to be like that

KSR Architects is based in Camden with about 30 architects, interior designers and administration staff. Working under constant pressure, we realised that individual growth within our practice was not being nurtured and decided that a change was needed. We wanted to devise a way of encouraging people to develop existing or new skills within a supportive environment to ensure a maturing and content workforce. 

KSR now operates a two-tier mentoring system; one for senior members of staff who are mentored by a partner, and one for other members of staff who are in turn mentored by the senior staff. Everyone in the office is included, professional and non-professional staff alike. For the business, the core purpose is to retain staff by providing someone to support them throughout their career.

Senior staff

Senior staff select from the partner pool a mentor to support them and provide advice on all career matters.

In conjunction with the mentor, the mentee first creates a personal professional development plan. This is developed, reviewed and reported against throughout the year, and provides a platform for structured development of professional skills. It encourages senior staff to attempt various business, design, technical and management tasks. 

Everyone involved is encouraged to form awareness of, for example, fee bidding, concept design, client pitches and technical innovations, as well as contributing to the management processes of the office. This expansion of expertise can be a refreshing change to someone who may be confined to the running of a project or who principally gets involved in concept design stage, providing a framework for people to grow and demonstrate new skills to the partners.

Expansion of expertise can be a refreshing change to someone who may be confined to the running of a project or who principally gets involved in concept design stage, providing a framework for people to grow and demonstrate new skills to the partners

It is intended to keep bureaucracy to a minimum and for mentees to record their attempts and triumphs on a spreadsheet which is used in discussions with their mentor. It leads to the mentor sitting alongside the mentee at their annual review to offer support and focus.

General staff

As part of their own professional development plan, each senior person has one or more junior members of staff to mentor and nurture themselves. This is a positive experience for mentor and mentee alike.

At this level the system is intended to provide a structure for people to progress their professional skills; encourage them to contribute towards the smooth running of the office, its work and its social life; and to  encourage people to develop an interest or expertise in the office and to set targets. It also aims to nurture a sense of team spirit in the office and retain staff by giving them a clear path through the office hierarchy.

The mentoring structure is kept loose to enable it to work for all staff, and kept light to avoid it being an administrative burden. Relationships are kept under review by HR and partners, with both the mentors and mentees being asked to comment on progress. However, each pairing is encouraged to develop its own agenda and relationship.

Mentors and mentees meet regularly, typically every 1 to 2 months. Two formal reviews per year are conducted with a partner, one of which is the annual review where the mentor sits in on at least part of the discussion. 

Mentees are encouraged to create their own development plan in discussion with their mentor. This is divided into three headings: office, project and social; each heading is addressed within the plan. Headings are open to interpretation, depending on the seniority of the person and their role within the practice. So under the heading ‘Office’, the year-out student may get involved with 3D printing, an architect may research green roofs and the receptionist take control of the office library. Furthermore, each person is encouraged to develop an area where they can become the office expert or ‘go to’ person to help them feel valued. By having general discussions at director meetings, mentors see how to encourage mentees to develop thoughts of their own to develop a skill and broaden their overall professional development towards progressing in the practice. 

More to come

It is intended to keep the two mentoring systems under review and allow them to develop in response to comments. The scheme is evolving to include, for example, special support for members of staff who are ill or on extended leave, to ensure that communications are kept open and that everyone feels that there is someone who is looking after their interests. The initiative will continue to be monitored but has been generally well received and appreciated by staff. 

Your route to mentoring

The profession is ever more involved in retaining talent for a diverse and progressive workforce.  As part of its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, the RIBA is developing an online mentoring hub. This will bring together the diverse range of existing mentoring activities operating throughout the country, both through Fluid mentoring and the regional student mentoring scheme, as well as offering a package of useful resources. 

The mentoring hub will include advice on setting up and running both formal and informal mentoring schemes in practices. Guidance will include case studies with reflections from mentors and mentees to build up a valuable repository of mentoring experience and develop best practice.

Mentoring, already so popular and successful in architectural education, can benefit all architects in practice throughout their professional lives. 

Virginia Newman is practice director at KSR Architects and is RIBA ambassador for equality, diversity and inclusion