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On becoming a mentee

Warren Hutchinson, Founder, ELSE

“My first exposure to the Twenty/Twenty programme was as a mentee. I think ELSE was about five or six years old at the time, and I felt I could do with some external advice and input to help us gear up for our next phase. 

The opportunity to learn from someone vastly more experienced at running a design business was too good to pass up, and our conversations gave me both practical advice and reassurance that was invaluable in the coming years.” 

The experience 

“I’d say Twenty/Twenty is unquestionably valuable and eye-opening. Speaking to someone with deep expertise and experience, who has been through it all, provides incredible context. The impartial, non-judgemental optics of the mentor/mentee relationship offers a unique lens on thoughts, ideas and challenges. You simply can’t have these conversations with colleagues.” 

The impact

“The training you receive both as a mentee and mentor is invaluable. You will carry that coaching, better-listening mindset into all your future work. Mentoring helped me navigate some particular business challenges at a time when I didn’t have many answers to them. It helped me dispel imposter syndrome somewhat and gave me practical advice on running a business. Personally, I got so much out of it that many others from ELSE have since benefited from mentoring, and a couple of us have also become mentors.” 

On becoming a mentor

“The experience was formative and I realised, that I too, had experience worth sharing. Which I presume is a typical story of giving something back. 

It’s been fascinating to see how two people with the appropriate intent and platform for discussion can move things in a positive direction. I’ve also learned that all I can bring is my experience and an ear. As a mentor, I’m not under pressure for answers; I’m here to listen, help probe and reframe questions. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and, as such, will continue to remain involved.”

DBA Twenty/Twenty pairs rising industry leaders with established design pioneers for a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship. Why not think about what development you need right now, or what insight you can give back to the design industry.

Find out more and sign up today >

Image credits: 

Vince Fleming | Unsplash

Warren Hutchinson, ELSE

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Main Content

As we come to that crunch part of the year where design leaders look to review how their businesses and teams have performed, at the same time as they plan for the next 12 months, I have noticed a few common threads in the conversations I have been having with members as they find themselves caught between post-covid optimism and impending recession wariness.

Staff pay

This is on the minds of agency leaders across the board. At one end of the spectrum, there are concerns about staff expectations during high levels of inflation. At the other end, the issue is how to reward staff and help them with the cost of living increases, but in the best way possible for the team and the business. In both instances, members are looking for context – what are other agencies doing?

Pleasingly, I have spoken to a number of agencies who have been doing very well and are trying to help their staff struggling with rising costs – but they are slightly nervous about the recession on the horizon. Increasing pay is a ratchet – it only tends to go up – so ways of honestly helping staff without increasing the exposure of the agency to a wage bill that is potentially too high next year have been highly sought after.

Culture/ ways of working

Agencies are still struggling to settle on ways of working within the new flexible, hybrid model most are now using. Getting the balance right to allow flexibility alongside support for the younger team members should be your focus. Senior staff need to be prepared to spend more time in the studio to mentor their teams. But as many businesses are finding, it is their senior staff who are most comfortable working from home.

Staff benefits

Coupled with pay-rises, agency leaders are looking at new ways of adding to the benefits packages for their staff. The biggest issue by far since the start of the Covid pandemic has been mental wellbeing and how businesses can help their teams manage the mental impacts of our current working environments. My prediction for the future is an increase in dental cover being added to benefit packages, as the struggle to register with NHS dentists increases.

Effectiveness

Maybe it’s because we have just had the entry deadline for the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, but I have also had a lot of conversations with agencies keen to understand the secrets of “measuring design” (SPOILER ALERT: there are no secrets). It is a simple process of asking the right questions at the right time to formulate a brief which has clear objectives with measurable outcomes.

I am constantly shocked by how many agencies are not asking clients for clarity around this. If you’re not yet doing this, make 2023 the year you start. It will transform the way you work and the impact you have on your clients’ businesses. Even if you have no plans to enter the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, we can help you with this (email adam@dba.org.uk if you want to find out more). And you never know, maybe you will have an award-winning project or two on your hands in 2024.

New business

As for the biggest concern for agencies right now, that’s new business – illustrated in a recent straw poll of members attending the launch of the DBA Annual Survey Report, where it came out as the most immediate, medium and long-term concern.

As you plan for next year, there are a few things I would recommend to everyone:

Subscribe to podcasts such as the Small Spark Theory podcast and David C. Baker and Blair Enns’ 2bobs podcast, covering a range of thinking around agency new business. 

If you are in a new business role look up the BD Matters Community.

And if you need external support or advice check out the DBA Experts Register for a fantastic range of individuals accredited by the DBA who are experts in PR, marketing and new business. In fact, our Register features Experts in a wide range of fields who can help you with all of the areas above and much more. If you don’t know where to start or would like to talk through any issues that are on your mind, book in a call with me.

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Main Content

  • One member shared their journey as the Head of People for a business of 15 people that’s grown to 27 this year, a task that the business leaders couldn’t have achieved themselves. Only 3% of DBA member businesses of this size have a Head of People. The question this raises is do you need to rethink the roles now needed in consultancies of less than 20 people? In the past a Head of People was the privilege of those with over 30 staff.
  • Recruitment is a challenge for many of us the moment. For this member, having a dedicated person across all the responsibilities that come with people has enabled them to realise their growth plans. That portfolio of work has probably doubled in size as a result of the last two years – is it time to rethink how you handle this workload? And do you have some latent talent in your business that could step into this role? This Head of People was a Studio Manager who coached kids’ football at the weekends – what skills do your team have that are only displayed out of work? Get to know them.
  • This business also had 90% of the workforce in on a rainy Monday in November. How? They have a deep level of trust in their employees. There are no expectation to come into the office from the most senior to the most junior – they’ve simply found they do their best work together, and the team want to work like that.
  • Another DBA corporate member shared the story of their journey to diversify from board level down. Those policies are now impacting the agencies they work with as they need to meet policy goals for diversity in their supplier relationships – something that may be a pre-requisite of working with major brands in the near future, if it’s not already a conversation you are having with them.
  • For the business, these ambitions have impacted parental leave (same benefit now offered to anyone becoming a parent, not just mothers), to meeting strict targets around graduate recruitment. Members shared a number of initiatives that could inspire change and you can find them below.

Useful advice and resources that were shared:

  • Valuable advice for those members at the beginning of their DE&I journey; build diversity in to your freelance roster, remove subconscious bias when you’re recruiting, take advice on how to build an inclusive culture – or your newly diverse team won’t stay, and get started now – it takes time to create and embed an inclusive culture. 
  • One member has planned their own initiative going into schools in Tower Hamlets in London to help children see what a career in the creative industries is like – if you’re near Tower Hamlets and interested in joining this, let me know and I can put you in touch. 
  • Babbasa is an initiative in Bristol to create a work placement scheme which is designed to attract people from under-represented groups. I can put you in touch with members involved in this.
  • For those with a US office, Where are the Black Designers is a great resource – could it help inspire what you do here in the UK?
  • Blueprint 1000 is focused on secondary schools and inspiring young people to embark on design careers through D&T courses – and it does this by giving their teachers placements in industry. DBA Members have been involved in this for years now – can you make space for a teacher placement?
  • A member who was struggling to find diverse talent shared 10,000 Black Designers.
  • If you have an FT subscription, there was an interesting piece Retirees heading back to work. Diversity comes in the shape of age too – can you think about your roles differently and carve them up in a way that opens you up to the millions of people looking for part-time work, particularly among the over 50’s? This demographic can be incredibly productive if given the opportunity and the flexibility.

Our Members’ Forum takes place on the first Monday of each month, at 4 – 5pm. If you would like to attend, get in touch here

Our next members forum will be taking place on Monday 5 December.

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Main Content

Why did you decide to get involved in the Twenty/Twenty mentoring programme? 

I’d had some great (and unofficial) mentors throughout my career and wanted to give something back as a mentor myself.

How would you sum up the experience?

Extremely positive, both as a mentee and a mentor. A safe space to explore issues that might seem trivial (or conversely, overwhelming) almost guarantees solutions.

How valuable has it been?  

The training I received as a mentor has been directly helpful in improving my personal and leadership skills.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the programme? 

How almost every session reveals something that is incredibly helpful, insightful or that was hidden in plain sight!

About Twenty/Twenty Mentoring

DBA Twenty/Twenty pairs rising industry leaders with established design pioneers for a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship. Find out more about the programme here

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