Whether you’re an individual joining a consultancy, or a consultancy joining a conglomerate, those first few weeks set the agenda for the duration of that relationship.
While there is no data to back it up, the general feeling in the design industry is that traditionally it hasn’t looked after new recruits as well as it might.
This is ironic, given that most design projects involve a degree of internal communication.
But just because design groups are small, doesn’t mean those first few weeks are any less important. In fact, in many ways small consultancies have to nurture new recruits even more, says Enterprise IG director John Mathers.
“Small groups often ignore this issue [nurturing newcomers] at their peril. It might seem more friendly because they all sit in the same room, but people still need to be given a platform from which to give criticism and get advice,” says Mathers, who is spearheading a new Enterprise IG human resources initiative. This includes recruitment, training and staff retention.
“When people join a consultancy they are worried about two things – what is my job on a day-to-day basis, and what is my role within the group? The first is easy to deal with, but the second is much more difficult,” adds Mathers.
“When we launched as Enterprise [formerly known as Sampson Tyrrell] we decided we needed to practice what we preach about living the brand. We developed a programme to give new recruits an understanding of the group, setting out our values and goals and how to achieve them,” says Mathers.
Under the new scheme new recruits are given a booklet outlining the Enterprise IG brand and introduced to the key people they will be working with.
Most importantly, they join a multidisciplinary team of between eight and 20 people.
The individual works with the team leader to appraise his or her performance, set objectives and establish training needs.
An Enterprise IG employee says: “The induction process was really good, but it fell down afterwards. It is important to follow up the induction with continued training and discussion.”
Mathers says the programme’s latest incarnation aims to increase the interaction between the individual and the organisation that occurs once the new recruit has settled in.
Landor Associates is also in the early stages of a global human resources programme, Embark, to nurture and retain staff. This was set up after an internal audit revealed the consultancy operated a “sink or swim” culture.
“The research showed we didn’t do a good job at looking after our newcomers, that we basically threw them in a pool and they had to learn to swim. They found it particularly difficult to find out information about the consultancy,” says Landor Associates Europe human resources director Pascale Anderson Mair.
Meanwhile, Deborah Fitzgerald, Landor head of communications, acknowledges the group’s culture has led to a number of resignations in the past.
“To help people find out about us, we have developed our website to include more information and created a brochure which tells you all you need to know in eight chapters, to be done over eight weeks,” continues Mair.
The brochure and website have both been created to appeal to designers.
New recruits are also assigned a mentor for the first eight weeks, although the relationship ceases after that period, says Mair.
But she adds that the programme is only in its early stages and will later look to address the issue of staff development further.
It is too early to assess how successful the programme has been. However, one new designer, who was typically worried about his role within the consultancy, is going through the process now and describes it as “very helpful”.
While Enterprise IG and Landor have clearly made a good start to the process of nurturing their staff, The Partners seems to have it cracked.
New recruits at the consultancy receive a letter from managing partner Aziz Cami, welcoming them to the consultancy and giving them a breakdown of their first day.
They are also given a brochure about the consultancy and introduced to the relevant people.
Each new recruit is assigned a mentor for the duration of their stay at the consultancy, with whom two appraisal meetings are held twice a year to set personal goals and objectives.
“The employee sessions are very good because staff can genuinely discuss and debate issues about their development and the company’s. It’s a very caring, sharing environment,” says an employee of The Partners.
This glowing report is the end result of 18 months’ reform.
“Until the new programme, staff were unclear about responsibilities, priorities, who their colleagues were and where in the building they were based. I don’t think anyone left because of this shortcoming, but it definitely put more pressure on them, unnecessarily, and so their performance would have suffered as a result,” says The Partners partner James Beveridge.
The group has recently appointed a dedicated staff member, Tracey Butterworth – to concentrate solely on recruitment, induction and staff development. She joined the group from a similar role at the Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra.
Beveridge, himself actively involved in human resources, says Butterworth is working to link recruitment with training and career development.
“It’s all about finding the right people for the consultancy and giving them the right message about us from the start. We need to attract the best people , who we think we can work with and then ensure we both get the most out of each other,” says Beveridge.
On the macro scale, consultancies require the same attention as individuals when they enter into a new relationship.
Elmwood has recently formed an alliance with Internet service provider Planet On-line with a view to further integration.
“We have different skill sets, but we are both hungry to learn about new media and so we have arranged a series of knowledge swaps. We also want to use events to ensure we are both singing from the same hymn sheet,” says Elmwood managing director Jonathan Sands, who is aware of the similarities between one group linking with another and an individual joining a new group.
Back on the micro scale, Elmwood has just completed Talktime week, where every individual in the group is given the opportunity to talk about themselves to the person of their choice and hear their colleagues’ anonymously expressed views about them.
Sands does not believe in the kind of prescriptive nurturing implied by a consultancy “bible”, preferring each employee to carve out their own niche. However, he acknowledges that the employee can only carve out that niche with guidance from above.
Landor Associates’ internal audit findings
Key areas for development:
1 Orientation and on-the-job training
2 Maintenance training – presentations, new technology
3 Development training – to prepare staff for future roles at the group
The Landor orientation brochure breaks the process into eight sections:
1 Finding your way around
2 What we believe
3 Where you fit in
4 How things work
5 Where we are
6. Solving clients’ problems
7 What we do
8 Keeping your wits – time and stress management