Mentoring case study – SJB

Bronwyn Lee , 13 September 2022

SJB has implemented two mentoring programs to cater for different preferences and needs – a less formal program called SJBuddies and the more formal SJB Mentoring.

Why did you set up a mentoring program?

We implemented two mentoring programs following a survey to understand the type of mentoring needs across the practice – a ‘less-formal’ mentoring program, known as SJBuddies, and a ‘more-formal’ mentoring program, SJB Mentoring.

Our mentoring programs are set up to provide an additional means of connection and/or career development outside of formal performance reviews. We appreciate that the formal review process may not always be the most conducive environment for every individual, and wanted to offer a safe and trusting environment for growth to occur.

We also saw this as an opportunity to translate the research and strategies from our continuing work with the Champions of Change, and begin to put these actions into practice.

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

Currently 48 individuals are involved in SJB Mentoring for this cycle, either as a mentee, mentor or both.

How does your mentoring program work?

SJB Mentoring is a mentee-led program, providing agency to those seeking guidance in their careers. This starts from the initial selection process, continuing through to the structure of the mentoring program itself. Mentees are given the opportunity to nominate their own mentor, guided by preferences ranging from business and client management, down to more technical skills such as design or compliance.

The mentee is responsible for setting the direction, location and agenda of each meeting, with a focus on goal setting. The aim is to scaffold individuals as they work towards these goals, identify obstacles and problem-solve. The mentor takes on a less active, listening role, asking questions and offering constructive advice that prompts mentees to think critically about their approaches and decisions.

SJBuddies is compulsory and sees individuals randomly paired with two other individuals – one as a guide, the other as a guidee. Pairs are encouraged to catch up fortnightly, sharing experiences, workshopping issues and reflecting on lessons learnt over their career.

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

Our program hopes to provide an environment for mentees to talk freely and confidentially, without the concerns of repercussions in the workplace. This aims to take individuals from a zone of comfort to growth, as they are offered a safe space for reflection and self-improvement. Ultimately we hope that mentees will walk away with a greater sense of self-confidence, self-awareness and self-reliance; and for mentors, exposure to new perspectives, opportunities and experiences.

From a practice perspective, mentoring may help to support and foster the talent identification process, as well as improve overall quality within the studio by facilitating trust.

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

We recognise that it may be challenging to know how to set realistic goals and start productive conversations. To guide individuals in the formal program, we produced a Mentoring Handbook that provides an optional structure for mentoring sessions, including a framework for goal setting (the SMART method) and reflection questions for each session.

Maintaining momentum with SJBuddies has been challenging, especially after the implementation of SJB Mentoring. We take the approach that it will suit some and not others. We still feel that the offering is important, as it gives people choice and an avenue to workshop their day with an understanding colleague.

To help refine the program for future cycles, we have also committed to distributing a survey for program feedback, and for SJB Mentoring, a mid-program check-in for candid discussion about what has or hasn’t been beneficial.

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

Take the time. Take the time to listen to the needs of your practice from all perspectives – the most beneficial way forward may not always come from the loudest voices in the room, or those with the most experience.