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9 Ways to Mentor Interior Designers and Why Mentorship is Important to Our Industry

business of interior design interior design leadership leading interior designers Aug 23, 2021

I have a couple quick questions, were you just born a great interior designer? Probably not. Did you have someone mentor you? Along your career path, you have most like been influenced both good and bad by other designers. The truth is that designers aren’t just born brilliant, nor can design schools teach designers everything to be successful as a designer, which is why it is so important to mentor emerging designers.

Whether running a design studio or just interacting with emerging professionals at networking events, we must help upcoming designers. As a seasonal designer, you have a lot to share. Unfortunately, we often hold our knowledge close in many creative fields in fear that we will lose control or lose business. The truth is, by not sharing knowledge, you are losing valuable employees, dedicated designers and stifling our industry.

Interior Designers Have Options

Recently, I talked with a recruiter specializing in the architecture and interior design industry in Denver. We discussed the current market, which is rebounding at a rapid pace, but many design firms are struggling to find or keep qualified candidates. There are opportunities and more money available today in Denver than previously. He told me that most designers won’t stay in a position for more than 3 to 4 years. The sad thing is that they shouldn’t. People need to grow professionally, or they get bored. Here is the thing, it is your responsibility to take the time, get to know your designers, and help them reach their professional goals.

In this industry, we have a significant challenge with employee development or lack thereof. So often, we are so eager for a working body that we sit them in a chair, give them a project, and hope they never leave. That is a real problem because we aren’t helping them grow their career. It isn’t a good situation for you, nor is it a good situation for them. The fact is that employees that aren’t challenged and don’t see growth opportunities won’t be with a firm for long. Employee turnover hurts your firm and the service you provide your clients.

Mentoring Interior Designers Improves Engagement

As an industry, we need to do better. According to research, employee engagement across the US is around 30%. What does this mean to your design business? It means that 70% of your staff don’t feel engaged, and when the opportunity arises, they may very well leave your firm. With our crazy market, your employees have a significant opportunity to find new jobs and higher wages.

Check out: “Leadership: How to Actively Encourage Employees’ Professional Development

Rather than expecting our designers to find their opportunities for professional growth, why don’t we help them? We need to provide training and professional development opportunities beyond CEU accredited courses. For example, I am still confused about how hearing this year’s paint colors are worthy of any credit. No offense, I love the colors, but really, did I learn something that makes me better at my job? Did you?

9 Ways to Mentor Interior Designers

1) Professional training and development plans

Employees need guidance. They don’t know what you know, and in many cases, they don’t even know that they don’t know. As a studio leader, you should work with each employee to outline specific growth goals and training suggestions/options to help them expand their knowledge.

Check Out “Professional Development: A Closer Look at Developing Emerging Professionals

2) Better leaders

Professional development starts with better leadership. Just because someone is good at their job doesn’t mean they will be a good leader. Leadership is a developed skill. Good leaders are not born; instead, they earn the title. Your studio leaders need training and support to grow into their roles as well. Helping your team develop leadership skills is on you as well as them. Suggest local conferences, educational seminars, or even books that could help develop these skills.

Check Out “10 Ways an Interior Designer can Improve their Leadership Skills

3) Rethink Lunch and Learns

I have sat through so many “lunch and learns,” thinking about how I could scratch my eyeballs out so that I didn’t have to sit there any longer. If it weren’t for the free lunch, many of us wouldn’t go to these increasingly tedious lunch hours.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Rethink your lunch and learn by ensuring that guest speakers share practical and educational knowledge with your team. Don’t just say yes to any vendor that calls. Choose vendors or experts that have something valuable beyond the CEU and lunch.

Also, consider creating mini-educational seminars by picking topics and having roundtable-style discussions where everyone shares their ideas and knowledge. Tap someone on the team to share research and a topic during a lunch and learn style meeting. Position these meetings as an opportunity to share knowledge across your firm. You can also invite guest speakers to join us at lunch and share their knowledge on an important topic.

4) Establish Mentor Programs within Your Organization

Do you remember the brother-sister programs in many college dorms, not sure they do it anymore? Then, it was where an upperclassman was partnered with a freshman to show them the ropes. There is no reason why this same philosophy can’t work in your firm.

When someone is new to the firm, partner them with someone that can help show them the ropes. Try to pair people based on experience, personality, work characteristics, and personal interest. Tap different people in the organization for partnerships. This will give the new employee an ally to ask questions. Cultivate the initial relationship by paying for them to go to lunch together.

5) Encourage In-Person Collaboration

As much as email is handy, it also sucks. The tone of an email often causes misinterpretation of the message. Encourage your team to take the time to communicate in person. This will help build a stronger relationship among team members. It also removes any opportunity for miscommunication. Sitting down and walking through a project or a set of drawings can help identify and resolve problems quickly.

6) Constant Encouragement and Feedback

Employees need constant encouragement and feedback. I speak on this topic in greater length in “The Biggest Secret to Employee Engagement is Consistent Feedback.”

Check Out: “The Biggest Secret to Employee Engagement is Consistent Feedback

7) Stop Requiring Loyalty and Start Being Loyal

We need to stop thinking our employees should be loyal and start being loyal to them. Loyalty is a two-way street. There are no longer days when people are overly loyal to their company because employees know that there are many opportunities.  If you want loyal employees, then you need to go back to being loyal to them. Building loyalty can start with mentoring interior designers in your firm. 

8) Remove Barriers

Removing barriers can constitute many things. It can include barriers set by the internal process or system you have in place or lack of a process. People want to do a good job, but it can feel very unrealistic and discouraging to many employees when the system is broken. Taking a deeper dive into your systems and improving processes that are broken will help employees thrive.

Another barrier is unrealistic expectations. Overworking employees is a thing of the past. If your employees are feeling overwhelmed by timelines, then that is on you for not setting realistic timelines with your clients.

Employees want to succeed; we all do. Unfortunately, the truth is sometimes, as business owners, we stack the cards so that no matter how hard they work, they can’t succeed. Removing barriers, setting realistic expectations, and encouraging them to step away for education are crucial to the longevity of employees.

9) Set an Example

Continuing education starts with you. As a leader, we are often reluctant to share our weaknesses. We don’t want our teams to lose faith in our ability to lead. However, we all have things to work on, and showing your authentic and vulnerable side can win over many employees. When employees see you constantly striving to learn and expand your skills, it motivates those around you. It is okay not to know everything, and no one expects that of you. Don’t forget to develop a professional growth plan for yourself. 

In today’s ever-competitive market, the design community must do better. We need to do better. We should be taking action to help our employees develop a career that they can be proud of. Again, employees want to do a good job and enjoy what they do. If you want to stop the revolving door of employees, then take these steps to heart and start implementing programs that will help your employees thrive. 

When we share our knowledge, we take notice of talent, and we encourage that talent; we are building a stronger design community. It makes your firm stronger. It enables us to meet your clients’ needs better, and ultimately, it helps you make more money. Let’s face it, although you may love what you do, we all need to make money.

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