Clarity and transparency are fundamental to equitable career planning and progression within practices, and yet processes are too-often unknown, opaque or entirely absent. The Champions of Change Architecture Group has developed the Role Descriptions Tool and Competency Map to support architectural practices in developing a transparent system of career development within practices. This creates a clear visual guide of many skills required in our industry and the expected competencies for various career stages.

This article was developed as part of a set that draws on the Champions of Change Architecture Group Role Descriptions Toolkit with the aim of sharing knowledge and experiences within the wider architecture profession.

Without the right framework, we may limit or omit critical skills that could be an asset to the advancement of an architectural practice and the architecture industry as a whole.

Research in Champions of Change architecture practices uncovered an overwhelming lack of transparency in terms of why people are offered career advancement in these workplaces. At the core was a lack of communication about the expected levels of competency for various career stages.

In response, the Champions action group developed a Role Descriptions Toolkit. This includes a role descriptions framework and a customisable competency map, which offers a visual guide to describe technical, business and soft skills. The map can be used to create role descriptions, to map equitable career advancement, and to identify areas for personal and professional development and aspiration. Competency levels can then be determined by business needs and can be used to map the whole practice’s capability to inform recruitment as well as training and mentoring programs.

This article has four key sections.

An overview of the core components of the map and the principles that underpin it.

Setting up the competencies and assessment system (X and Y axes), setting the baseline and undertaking an individual assessment.

A guide to assessing and developing a role descriptions framework that specifically relates to the culture, values and size of your practice.

A set of prompts to help practices tailor the solution that best suits. This includes information in relation to company culture, evaluating performance and eliminating bias from recruitment and performance evaluations.


Competency Map Principles

The Competency Map is grounded in the understanding that clear and defined roles are an essential part of supporting career progression within practices. A graphic representation of these roles allows for a clear map of an individual’s competencies and a pathway for progression. The core aspects of the map are as follows:

Axes

The Competency Map is organised by two key axes.

The first documents the set of competencies – this set can expand or contract to suit the size and culture of the practice.

The second provides the assessment range, typically from beginner to advanced.

Baseline

Coloured boxes create a visual map of the baseline for each role. They indicate an expected range of skills and the level a staff member should be performing at for a given role.

This is not necessarily a direct line; the shape and banding is more informative.

Individual assessment

An individual staff member’s performance is documented through a line overlaid on the baseline. This shows relative performance against the baseline.

The shape of the line in relation to the baseline is most informative, not the individual assessment.

Visual map

The visual comparison offers a clear map of an individual’s performance as plotted against the baseline.

This may reveal areas where training is required. It can also help identify suitable mentors in key areas and opportunities for promotion.

Comparison over time

Comparing a current assessment with mapping from earlier reviews can show how an individual has developed.

Plotting an agreed future line as part of a performance review process can help forecast future progression, and identify areas of growth and ambition.

Overlay

Overlaying several maps may be a useful tool for resourcing, proposing teams and job sharing potentials. It might also reveal training required or mentoring opportunities.

Overlaying the entire practice will reveal the practice profile and highlight any future needs for skills, which may be met through additional hiring or specific training beneficial to the practice.


Setting up and using the Competency Map

This section outlines how to set up sections of the Competency Map in detail, and how to map the baseline and conduct individual assessments.

Range of competencies & assessment system

The X axis of the Competency Map outlines the range of competencies, showing a core area, a description and a set of skills.

Range of Competencies

Core area

Core areas define those competencies that are most important to the practice.

Depending on the size of the studio, competencies may stand alone or several may be combined together.

Description

The description of the competency provides further information. It summarises the key attributes, providing clarity as to what the area encompasses.

Skills

The set of skills provides fine grain detail to allow assessment of an individual to be given against a defined list of skills.

The Y axis of the Competency Map provides the assessment system, showing performance in relation to each competency.

Assessment

Range

The assessment system ranges from beginner to advanced and is divided into bands.

Guide

A descriptive guide for each band enables individuals to assess their performance against each competency.

Examples of guides

Exemplary record and skills – considered an industry leader

Exceptional record and skills – considered a studio leader

Excellent record and skills – considered a team leader

Demonstrates a proven record – has shown a continued development of skills over time

Demonstrates an interest – has capacity to develop under supervision and to contribute

Using the map – baselines & individual assessment

The baseline creates a visual map that indicates expectations for each role level within the studio.

Shape of the map

The shape of the map will vary for each role level and is defined by the expectations of the studio.

Each skill may have different weighting, depending on the culture of the studio.

Creating the baseline

The baseline may be formed by the average of a survey of all staff, or from a working group who determine the expectations of the studio.

The baseline will be relative to the assessment scale; however, each individual will be assessed compared to the baseline for their role only.

Range of Baseline

Some core areas or skills may require a broader range, rather than a single band. For example, a range might be particularly relevant for software skills.

An individual assessment is mapped over the baseline, creating a visual comparison that highlights the individual’s performance in relation to the baseline for their role level.

Individual assessment

Shape of the line

The shape of the line indicates the performance of an individual at the time of the review.

The line can be formed by an average of self assessment and 360 degree peer reviews, or the practice may wish to plot all lines individually.

Several lines can be plotted; for example, the past review, the current review and the desired future goals.

Visual map

A map clearly shows where the individual is excelling, compared to the baseline of their role. It also highlights where further development may be required and a personal action plan can be agreed upon.

The map can clearly show how an individual may have progressed from the previous review and where they aspire to be in the future.

Comments

A comments section is a valuable way to capture specific observations about the individual’s performance or skills.


Implementing a Role Descriptions Framework

The day-to-day operations of an architecture practice require a mix of skillsets – ‘soft’ skills are essential and need to be refined along with spatial design, technical and graphic communication skills. Clear role descriptions are important to ensure that these ’soft‘ skills are valued within a practice. An architectural practice can be described as a system of roles – clearly articulating this enables individuals to plan and progress their careers.

The following guide provides tools to assess and develop a role descriptions framework to specifically relate to the culture, values and size of your practice.

1. Consider the skills and competencies required

The first step in assessing a practice’s current process and implementing a framework is to consider the skills and competencies required.

It is essential to consider ‘soft’ skills as well as the technical skills that are an inherent requirement for architects and are outlined in the current professional competency standards. Additional skills might include: leadership, communication and collaboration, people and team management, business management, commercial acumen, financial management, strategic thinking, business development, marketing and so on.

  • Assess your current methodology and status quo. Define your objectives for developing and implementing a new way to describe roles.
  • Consider undertaking listening and learning workshops with your team to understand how clear your current role descriptions are and what are the important aligned skills and competencies.
  • Consider a pilot study to test your competency map. Explore how to remove bias when selecting participants, including an intersectional approach of different staff, a 40:20:40 gender balance and a number from each role level. 
  • Consider developing a staff survey to determine the baseline and the future impact of the framework.

2. Customise your Competency Map

  • What are the key competencies for your practice?
  • Ensure there is a balance of technical and soft skills and consider how they are valued at each role level.
  • Consider future strategic needs rather than focusing on past requirements.
  • Reference the resources available within this article and the wider architecture industry.
  • Establish your baseline assessment for each role level. Consider utilising a survey from your pilot study and taking an average of staff expectations. Also consider forming a working group of key staff to evaluate holistically the expectations and gain leadership level consensus to ensure the roles align with the practice values.

3. Develop a Role Descriptions Framework

  • The Competency Map forms the basis of your framework.
  • Include supporting documentation to explain the map, the key, the assessment scale and the evaluating criteria.
  • Develop written role descriptions that align with your Competency Map and can be used for recruitment, job advertisements, contracts and policies.
  • Role descriptions, if clearly defined, should be a list of key competencies, including both technical and soft skills. Candidates should only be selected on the basis of these competencies. 
  • Refine your framework based on the results from your surveys, reviews and pilot studies.

Considerations for practices

The Competency Map is a useful starting point to help practices rethink how roles are defined and measured. Each practice is unique – the following prompts will help practices tailor meaningful, specific solutions.

Practice culture

Each architectural practice is different. Taking the time to identify and understand your culture is an important part of customising the map to suit your practice.

  • Consider how the map can be adapted to suit practice size, organisational structure, culture and values or multiple geographic locations.
  • Think about the business focus area – is it design, documentation or construction?
  • Does the practice place greater weight on expectations for certain skills?
  • Review the type of competencies that are relevant to the practice, according to company culture and business strategy.

Evaluating performance

The assessment of individuals should be transparent and clear. Consider types of performance evaluation methods and how the practice’s own version of the map may describe and measure competencies.

  • Use an assessment scale or range that works for the number of people and roles within the practice. This may be a graphic rating scale, a competency based method, a ranking method, a banding or assessment scale or rubric grading (against percentages or adjective based criterion).
  • Consider combining a numerical scale with adjectives that describe exactly what each level of assessment entails.
  • Make it clear to staff that the individual number is not critical; the shape of the assessment line is more telling. 
  • Encourage conversation around the various skillsets and utilise comments from 360 degree reviews to tell more of the story than the assessment scale.

Eliminating bias in recruitment and selection

Bias comes in many forms. Standardising the process of recruitment will help minimise any hiring prejudices.

  • Bias may originate from work and personal life experiences, from education, cultural background, or pre-existing assumptions about a particular demographic cohort.
  • Role descriptions play an important role in recruitment. Adjectives can have a strong impact on the applicant demographic. Use gender neutral language in your map, role descriptions and job advertisements.
  • Name blind hiring can help with removing bias, and many applicant tracking software programs can action this.
  • Consider asking colleagues from different areas of the practice to review job descriptions to ensure they are inclusive.
  • Be conscious that skills and competencies at any level are not biased.
  • Ensure your practice has a diverse range of people at every level. Diversity of ideas, thoughts and skills enriches your culture by being inclusive and diverse.

Eliminating bias when evaluating employee performance

We all have biases, whether conscious or unconscious, and these can impact decisions around recruitment, talent development, career progression and promotion. Understand common biases and have strategies to eliminate these from the process.

Confirmation bias

This is when we seek to confirm our beliefs, ignoring contradictory evidence.

  • Assess all competencies across the range of skills agreed within the practice and look to
    360 degree reviews for well-rounded feedback.
  • Remove expectations and look at the facts.

Group-think bias

This is a tendency to agree with the majority or someone more senior in order to maintain harmony.

  • Set a culture within the practice that values constructive and collaborative discussions.

Recency bias

This involves a focus on recent performance at the expense of more thorough assessment.

  • Have frequent touch points for feedback throughout the year to help track performance.

Halo effect bias 

This involves allowing one good/bad trait to overshadow others.

  • A range of competencies allows assessment across a number of performance aspects for a more holistic view.

Leniency bias 

This involves giving favourable scores even though improvement needs to be made.

  • The competency framework removes this bias by using a scale that aims to identify those who require development for progression in a supportive way.

Idiosyncratic evaluation bias 

This is when managers evaluate skills they are not good at and rate others more highly.

  • Set clear evaluation criteria across a range of skills to allow fair assessment of all competencies.
  • Do not overvalue skills you do or do not possess.

Affinity or mirror bias

This is the tendency to rate people more highly when they have similar likes/skillset. It results in homogeneous teams.

  • The competency framework aims to create unambiguous role descriptions where there is clear criteria for assessment of merit.
  • Set clear evaluation criteria across a range of skills to allow fair assessment of all competencies.

Gender bias

The tendency to favour one gender over another.

  • Clear competencies within the framework attempt to reduce unstructured feedback and associated bias.

Flexibility bias

The tendency to make assumptions based on the hours staff work, or their personal situation.

  • Design roles to enable flexibility from the start.
  • Engage in active career planning to avoid assumptions and support staff to get the skills required.

Further uses

This framework provides the starting point for career planning and progression that assists individuals and the practice overall. It can inform a practice in a range of areas, including recruitment, resourcing, the review process, personal action plans, training, mentoring, promotions, practice gap analysis and practice profile.

Overlaying maps

Overlaying several maps may be a useful way to see the skills across a particular role, revealing if and where overall training is required. It may also indicate the need to hire in a particular specialist area to complement current staff skills.

Overlaying the maps of a proposed team or job sharing role might indicate if you have the balance of skills to best suit the project.

A visual practice profile

Overlaying the entire practice will reveal your practice profile and assist with a skills gap analysis. This will also highlight any future needs for skills, which could be addressed by hiring, or by arranging specific training that may be beneficial to a particular role level or the practice in general.

Future opportunities are made evident and a visual profile is created.

Mentoring opportunities

The map provides a visual guide as to where individuals are excelling at a particular skillset. This clearly indicates mentoring opportunities. Conversely, the map will indicate if an individual needs further development in an area. Matching these individuals together provides a strong base for a mentoring relationship.


Next steps

For more information on career development, watch the recording of the On Career Development discussion.

This article was compiled by Justine Clark as part of a set that draws on the Role Descriptions toolkit, created by the Champions of Change Architecture Group.

Contributors to the toolkit include David Randerson (DKO), Brett Hudson (Peddle Thorp), Thihoa Gill (Grimshaw), Soo-Ling Kang (Grimshaw), Eeshenn Wong (Hayball), Tara Keast (DesignInc), Sofie Pringle (Peddle Thorp), Gemma MacDonald (DKO), Rebecca Champney (Nettleton Tribe), Will Nguyen (Grimshaw) and Amy Dowse (Tzannes).