Having a strong pipeline of high-potential talent is, without a doubt, one of the most vital factors to the long-term success of any Architecture or Interior design firm. As the job market in architecture and design sectors has been heating up, we are seeing a growing war for such talent.

But the battle seems to curiously end the minute these people walk in the door. There are a lot of firms out there putting a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into recruiting high-potential employees, yet ironically, they then do very little talent management and talent development to retain these people.

I’ve mentioned here before the importance of succession planning and of developing a clear pathway to career advancement for the consistent performers. While these initiatives and their supporting programs will vary from firm to firm, the firms that do it successfully all have one thing in common: they have some kind of mentorship program in place.

The truth is that any serious firm should have a well-structured mentoring program, and there are many compelling stats to support this. For example, a few years ago tech firm Sun Microsystems created an extensive company-wide mentoring program and then tracked the career progress of approximately 1,000 employees over a 5-year period. Here’s what they found:

  • Both mentors as well as those who received mentoring were approximately 20% more likely to get a salary increase than people who did not participate in the mentoring program.
  • Over the course of the study, 25 percent of mentees experienced positive changes in salary grade compared to 5 percent for non-participants.
  • Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors.
  • The employee retention rate at Sun Microsystems was also boosted by 23 percent.

Bottom line: Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to attract, train and retain high potential talent and promote their leadership development within the firm. It is also an effective tool for shaping a firm’s culture and strengthening both employee morale and engagement.

That said, not all mentoring programs are created equal. In order to really maximise the benefits, four key factors need to be in place in some form.

1. Defined goals. Senior leadership needs to be very clear about what they want to accomplish. This means the more laser-focused and measurable those goals are the better. Some factors to consider include: appraisal scores; number of developmental milestones achieved; level of employee satisfaction, and retention rates.

2. Defined participants. Who specifically will be involved in the mentoring program and how will those people be identified? The most successful mentoring programs have established mentor and mentee profiles and assessment tools. They use these to identify both the senior leaders who have the ability and openness to mentor someone and those eager, high potential employees who will most benefit from interaction with influential colleagues.

3. Defined learning path. The learning path for each specific group of high-potential employees needs to be clearly mapped out with a set of key milestones along the way. Both high-potentials and their mentors need to be aware of the performance expected at each milestone as well as how that knowledge, skill and performance will be assessed.

4. Defined commitment. Sometimes firms find it hard to generate enough support and enthusiasm for their mentorship program. In the end, the initiative fails to maintain momentum, leaving senior leadership unsure if it has paid off in any way and fuelling cynicism among employees – especially those solid contributors who are not designated as high potentials.

Often, the problem is really one of communication. In order to generate the needed buy-in among employees at all levels of the firm, senior leadership has to make sure that the program’s intended goals and values are not only clearly identified, but explained. Everyone in the firm should know that mentoring is going on. There will be much more support and enthusiasm if employees feel that the mentoring initiative is not only good for the program’s participants, but also for the firm as a whole.

That last point is the key.

When the goals of a mentoring program involve the success and longevity of the firm as well as its employees, then it may automatically unlock a whole bunch of other benefits effecting every level of the company. Not only will high-potential talent be more likely to stay on board to become the firm’s future leaders, they’ll be in the best position to pull the whole firm up with them.