Focus on design : by empowering your support staff says Robert Bird, Practice Manager at Stanton Williams...
Within any project or business structure there exists a hierarchy. Support roles, perhaps by their description, tend to be perceived further down this structure, with core design roles that exist within architecture practices, placed firmly above. Elevating support roles to a similar level to the core roles has its challenges, however it is an important step in getting the best from support staff; after all support staff enable those in core design roles to focus on their specialism, what they have trained to be good at. It makes perfect sense to similarly value another specialist – the support specialist!
Essential to getting the best from support staff is to empower the individual to take responsibility for their role and contribution. This requires openness and clarity of the roles, ensuring all staff understand what the support roles are and how they contribute to the overall task or project or business objective, affirming that the support tasks are equally as important to their success as the design ones. This sends a message of respect, fosters a collaborative working relationship, enables support staff to be proud of what they do, strive to ensure they live up to the value ascribed to their role and ultimately aim to do better.
Listening and communicating with support staff is vital. Good support staff know what is needed to do the job well. Exceptional support staff know how to communicate and articulate it. Valuing this and ensuring you give support staff the same amount of attention as you would a designer or project architect pays in getting the task done most efficiently. Describing what is required and giving the right input allows individuals to take ownership and determine what effort is required to meet or exceed the objective. Giving feedback on accomplishments and where there is room for improvement is key to ongoing development and encourages the individual to go that bit further in the future.
Part of the team
Practical and cultural elements play an important part in building positive relationships with support staff and help realise the characteristics described above. Proactively locating support team members within or at the centre of where the internal design team sits reinforces their inclusion as pivotal members of the team and helps to reduce perceptions of hierarchy, as well as reaping the benefits of them being in the loop by over-hearing what is going on.
Fostering a holistic approach to inclusivity of all staff and ensuring all non-job related events and activities – whatever the focus, be it design, social or learning - are open to everyone, including support staff promotes this inclusivity. It can be incredibly rewarding for support staff to have the opportunity to visit site or completed projects, or take part in events where clients are present. It allows individuals to have a greater degree of pride and engagement in the work they do.
Valuing support staff on the same terms as everyone else in the business must extend to pay if it is to have any integrity. As with all staff, benchmarking salaries across the industry is important in establishing fair pay levels and an open dialogue in salary reviews gives the opportunity for support staff to put their case forward for promotion or highlight when a salary increase or reward is merited.
Principally getting the best from support staff is about being able to communicate the value of their contribution to success of the task, project and business as a whole and basing this value on equality with other specialisms the firm employs. It is an attitude that states all staff have a role to play and a contribution to make, whatever their specialism. Key to the success is demonstrating this attitude through engagement and applying a fair an equal approach to reward. It can take time and effort to develop skills and behaviours to manage support staff well, however an acknowledgement of good work or a thank you goes a long way to making staff feel valued and proud of what they have done.