Extract from the original article “Nurture at Work: How do you set up mentoring in your practice?”, which can be found on the RIBA Journal here.

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 has introduced a way of encouraging people to develop existing or new skills within a supportive office environment to nurture individual growth, and ensure a maturing and content workforce.

We now operate 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 our office is included, professional and non-professional staff alike.

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 develops, reviews and reports against a personal Professional Development Plan throughout the year, which provides a platform for structured development of professional skills. This 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.

It is intended to keep bureaucracy to a minimum and for mentees to record their attempts and triumphs for further discussions with their mentor.

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 and transparent 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 mentoring pairing is encouraged to develop its own agenda and relationship.

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 a go to person to champion their specific skills and instil a strong sense of self-worth. 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

We will 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 so far has been well received and appreciated by staff.