Mentoring case study – Bates Smart

16 August 2022

Bates Smart outlines the reasons for setting up their mentoring program, which is part of a broader Career Planning Framework and includes approximately 280 participants.

Why did you set up a mentoring program?

We identified several issues or opportunities within the studio that led to the implementation of a mentoring program. These included:

  • Senior staff within our leadership group whose expertise was not being leveraged as much as it could
  • A cohort of senior staff who were seeking more opportunities for leadership, greater involvement in the studio, and perhaps felt their expertise may not have been as valued as it could be/should be
  • A stretched Director and Practice Manager Group who were struggling to get to every employee in the studio and spend the time with each individual to nurture their careers
  • A lot of eager junior and mid-level staff seeking support and growth – the more recent graduates all expect a high level of engagement from the studio in their career growth
  • Senior staff seeking advice on how to push forward or pivot in their careers, feeling like they may have reached a limit

How many people have been mentored since the commencement of the program?

At Bates Smart, the Mentoring Program is mandatory within both our Sydney and Melbourne Studios, so we have approximately 280 participants.

How does your mentoring program work?

This commenced with the implementation of a broader Career Planning Framework that includes:

  1. Goals: Every employee completes their Goals in our HRIS System.
  2. Mentorship Training: We undertook mentorship training for all staff, using an external consultant. This was a two-hour session undertaken in small groups, so we had to arrange around 12 sessions over two studios.
  3. Mentor Guide Document: We created a Mentor Guide in consultation with the external expert, which was issued to all staff to use as the basis for their Mentoring.
  4. Nomination Options: We gave people an opportunity to nominate mentors / mentees or state what they wanted to get from this pairing based on their goals.
  5. Pairing of Mentee/Mentor: Practice management reviewed and paired everyone – they were given an opportunity to disagree with the choice and to change their pairing immediately or in the future if their situation changes.
  6. Introduction meeting: The responsibility lies with the mentee who is to arrange the meetings, reach out to their mentor, and make the most of the time they have. The goals completed ideally formed the basis of their discussions.
  7. Ongoing Check-ins: These are driven by the mentee. We suggested minimum quarterly check-ins, although we have left this up to individuals to decide.
  8. Peer Reviews: We facilitate Peer Reviews at project milestones and encourage employees to discuss their peer feedback with their mentor.
  9. Evaluation of program: So far it has been operating for one year and we are just about to ask staff for their feedback on how it is going via an Employee Engagement Survey.

What are the benefits of the program for individuals and for the practice?

For practice:

  • We now have more staff coming to speak to us either about their own career plans or advocating for their mentees, which is great. I think the mentoring program has put a focus on career planning for all.
  • Employees now seem more able to articulate their goals to their project leaders or practice management when coming onto a project, which is largely due to ‘coaching’ or encouragement from their mentors.
  • The program enables senior team members to demonstrate their leadership skills, feel more engaged and valued for their expertise.
  • It leverages the expertise you have in the studio, enabling knowledge sharing.
  • It adds a layer of support for employees that management (Directors / Practice Management) may not be able to provide due to time constraints. It alleviates some time for management.

For individuals:

  • They have a clear and available platform for career guidance.
  • There are possible connections with someone they may not otherwise have access to or would have otherwise engaged with. This increases networks within the practice.
  • The program creates confidential relationships within the workplace to discuss workplace/career challenges or opportunities outside of project work.
  • It provides an opportunity to give back and share expertise, increasing satisfaction.
  • It allows individuals to gain respect and recognition within the practice by having more reach or exposure.
  • If on a career break, it’s a good way to stay in touch with the business.

What are the challenges of the program and how have you addressed these?

  • People not feeling they are paired well. We have given everyone the opportunity to change at any time but I’m not sure how comfortable people may feel to do this. We will find out the success rate in due course but it’s not always perfect.
  • People not meeting regularly. We remind everyone but I can appreciate everyone is busy. We have made it clear that supporting the mentoring program does form part of our evaluation for promotion to incentivise, but it’s unknown how effective this is.
  • There were suggestions we provide a coffee allowance to encourage people to meet but we haven’t proceeded with this.
  • There is ongoing administration needed to pair new staff or make adjustments in the program when people leave, which is difficult to stay on top of.

What advice would you share with another practice about to set up their own mentoring program?

  • Get external training. Great architects and designers are not always great mentors, and training helped set the program off in the right direction and gave it more of a professional or official status.
  • Provide a framework and suggestions for discussion. Even if everyone doesn’t stick to it, for those who may be a little awkward or don’t know where to start, having some structure is a great help to get things going.
  • Mass attendance. We used to have a voluntary program, but with limited success. I’m not sure whether making it mandatory is the answer, but having a lot of people utilising the mentoring program is helpful. It makes it part of the culture, gives the program momentum, makes it immediately part of people’s roles or monthly tasks, and employees talk about it together, which keeps it in everyone’s minds.

It would be great to answer these questions after we get our staff survey and we may have a more comprehensive idea of the challenges and how we are tracking. It’s early days!

If you missed our Stepping Up session on Mentoring, you can watch the video recording at a time that suits you. For more information on mentoring, see our other Mentoring case studies, Mentoring Resources, What is Mentoring & Why Does it Matter?, and How to Create a Mentoring Program.

Photos: Gavin Green