Life Touching Design: Katrina Parsons, LSI Architects
During 10 years at LSI, the Practice has ranked best UK Employer for Workplace Wellbeing in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, been accredited Gold by Investors In People, and appeared on the Best Companies list of ‘100 Best Small Companies To Work For’ each year since 2015.
What is LSI Architects’ approach to nurturing talent?
For some time now, our approach to recruitment and development has been to ‘grow our own’. We recruit people almost exclusively, at the beginning of their careers and invest substantially in their training and development. More than half of employees who now make up our leadership team are people who initially joined the Practice as trainees.
It’s a significant challenge to attract the industry’s best talent to Norfolk, so our approach to people development is one that we believe is vital to differentiate us in the market.
A huge amount of effort goes into developing our employees, combined with significant investment. In the past 12 months, we have spent over £250,000 on training, including funding for qualifications. Our team averaged 90.5 training hours per person last year, which included attendance at regular CPDs (Continuing Professional Development).
How do you ensure people stick around?
We regularly hear from other businesses that they don’t always feel able to invest in young people because of a lack of time, and that they also fear that this investment might be wasted if a trainee then leaves the business.
It will always be the case that a business can end up investing significantly in someone who decides to move on. But we know that in order to retain talent at LSI Architects, we have to continue making it a great place to work.
Our retention rate regularly stands at less than the industry average, and there is a wide range of reasons why people want to stay.
What are some of those reasons?
Our career development strategy is centred around every employee having at least monthly one-to-ones with an assigned mentor.
This process encourages self-appraisal of performance, strengths and weaknesses, and highlights any training and development needs. It also demonstrates that we are regularly investing in a person rather than relying on just one annual performance development review. We believe this creates an environment that people want to belong to.
These one-to-ones take a balanced focus across performance and development, but also incorporate wellbeing with a Wellness Action Plan set as a Personal Development Objective, so that mentees can share with mentors how best they can be supported.
We are very proud that our efforts to embed support around mental health into life at LSI, earned us a top ranking in mental health charity Mind’s benchmark of best policy and practice, the Workplace Wellbeing Index in 2020-21.
Wellbeing is a hot topic in employee retention – why is it so important at LSI?
The construction industry, in which architectural planning and design play a massive role, has many pressures, from tight turnarounds and long hours to managing complex budgets and programmes. It is recognised that those working in the sector can often experience elevated levels of stress and anxiety.
We make great efforts to ensure our team feel fully supported with a flexible approach to building their understanding around mental health and wellbeing and their resilience.
In our experience, creating opportunities for connection is also crucial to developing a culture that makes people feel a sense of belonging and promotes wellbeing. We have a social committee that meets quarterly to arrange socials, ranging from ghost walks to mountain climbs!
What else do you do to motivate your team?
Another important thing we do is regularly communicate with our teams around business performance and strategy, and we have processes in place to ensure that employees can have their say in the future direction of the Practice as well.
We have worked hard in recent years to communicate to our teams our ‘just cause’, which is the essence of why we exist as a business, and informs the type of projects that we become involved in. It’s crucial to create a sense of purpose, belonging and shared values.
We regularly receive feedback from our people that this is of utmost importance to them because it means that projects they work on often have a very tangible social impact, for example, through improved spaces for education or healthcare. They can feel rightly proud of the impact their work is having.
Similarly, we try to provide our employees with variety in their work, so that they are regularly given new challenges and opportunities to learn and develop their skills. This also means that we are gradually able to give people more responsibility – which is essential to creating headroom for the next generation to rise through the ranks.
How important is it to encourage employee feedback?
It’s extremely important. One of the most important things we do is benchmark ourselves against other businesses by participating in several surveys related to being a good employer, which give our teams an opportunity to give their feedback.
We’ve received so much useful feedback from our teams and industry experts, which we have used to tailor our approach to developing and engaging our people.
What are the business benefits?
As a professional services company, looking after our people has to be central to our approach because all of our output comes from our employees – they are our greatest asset. We believe that people who are well and feel fulfilled are more able to develop and are much more productive.
When we speak to our clients, we’re regularly told that the reason they continue to choose us is because our people are great to work with and, because our retention rate is low, it means clients get continuity on their projects from beginning to end, and then onto the next one – a real selling point for us in an industry where staff turnover is traditionally high.