The HR Juggler

That Mentoring Malarkey

Posted on: April 25, 2013


So, it’s been a little while…hello again! As an irregular blogger, I have been very fortunate to be invited to the CIPD’s HRD Conference and Exhibition today with my very own press pass and a remit to blog about any and all of the sessions that I have attended. I won’t literally be singing for my supper…your ears might not ever be the same again!…but I will be writing a series of posts about the event as a fair quid pro quo for the kind invite.

The first session I attended this morning was on mentoring in the workplace and it was predominantly based on the experience of St Mungo’s of setting up a scheme in their workplace, with Jordana Ramalho, the Head of Inclusion and Diversity as the main speaker. What I liked about it was the practical and hands-on nature of the learning that was shared – I think Jordana would be the first to admit that none of it was necessarily rocket science or revolutionary in its content, but her insight was shared with enthusiasm, authenticity and integrity, whilst engaging the audience and encouraging questions, input and challenges. All of those things go a long way in any presentation and it was great to hear genuine passion, pride and commitment to the business she worked in.

After covering the difference between coaching and mentoring and briefly discussing the different types of mentoring styles (imparting of wisdom and sharing advice “when I was a lad…”, compared to a more consultative stance based on finding solutions to problems, and a more laissez-faire stance of letting the individual drive the approach), Jordana emphasised the importance of identifying a mentoring style which suited the organisation, or specific groups within it. Within St Mungo’s, the mentoring programme that they developed for their apprentices favoured a directive or advisory approach, whilst the wider scheme they developed for other more experienced  members of staff was more based on active listening, reflection and motivational interviewing, perhaps requiring more action from the individuals themselves. From my perspective, I have a lingering doubt whether mentoring styles should be tailored to an individual rather than an organisation, as we are all different and respond accordingly, but perhaps I am splitting hairs.

There was a great point made by the speaker, which is that mentoring already takes place in all organisations, regardless of whether HR or management have set up  formal scheme. The key is to get under the skin of the organisation, find out what is happening first and what works well informally, before launching any formal scheme. I loved the reminder that mentoring is essentially so organic and will take place in any organisation where people with differing levels of experience and skills work alongside each other.

Jordana described 7 steps to setting up a mentoring scheme, as follows –

  • Establish the need, through doing mix of qualitative and quantitive evidence, understand the potential barriers and how you believe mentoring will help. St Mungo’s did this through staff surveys and focus groups.
  • Define the aim – is it professional development or something different? How does it fit with the organisational business objectives? Who will be your target group?
  • Consultation – identify an appropriate mechanism to consult with staff and test your proposal, potentially through focus groups
  • Decide on approach. I was interested to learn that St Mungos chose to run their mentoring scheme for the defined period of one year, rather than leaving it open-ended. They specifically targeted the focus groups and launched it to people who had expressed an interest in being mentored, before opening it up to everyone. It was specifically linked it to the existing apprentice programme rather than being entirely stand-alone. They gave real thought to how they were going to evaluate the program upfront and decided to it by means of testimonials and feedback
  • Secure the buy-in. St Mungos had developed lots of this through the consultation process. They formulated and delivered a one day training programme for mentors, as well as drafting guidelines on the process and the benefits of taking part in a mentoring scheme, for example sharpening up coaching skills, as well as being good for an individual’s professional development. Interestingly, there was no specific mention of training for mentees and this may be a gap in the current process.
  • Time to launch it. St Mungo’s asked mentees to complete a short application form to ascertain the level of motivation and they encouraged their high performers to be mentors and take part in the one-day training, focussed on active listening skills and the ability to give feedback
  • Match making. Identifying similar interests/objectives and matching across departments where possible
  • Monitoring and evaluation. St Mungo’s made sure they checked in regularly with the mentors and the mentees, both formally and informally, particularly at the 3 month point. Both the mentors and mentees were asked to fill out a short feedback survey on what has been learned and achieved, what they might have done differently etc.

There followed some interesting questions and challenges from the audience, for example from a larger organisation where they felt that their mentoring scheme had died, as it was too targeted to newcomers and existing staff were increasingly unwilling to take on the extra responsibilities of becoming a mentor. Other organisations shared that being mentored can be seen as a weakness or can work well initially in the induction phase but tends to peter out. There were no silver bullets of answers from the panel, although there were sensible suggestions and solid advice offered, for example on reselling the benefits of the scheme, making sure individuals take responsibility, focussing not just on soft skills but on hard technical skills too and highlighting the personal and organisational benefits. Inevitably, culture plays a key role and one insight that I really valued from St Mungo’s was that in their business, one of the clear objectives in considering managers for senior positions is whether they have they undertaken mentoring and demonstrated that they can develop staff. Now, there is an incentive to take part, right there!

Other learnings that were shared were reminders not to underestimate the importance of sideways moves, the fantastic opportunity for networking that mentoring creates, the power of sharing case-studies of individuals who have benefited from a good mentoring relationship and the requirement to combine a strong mentoring scheme with other means of development. There was also some brief discussion of upward and peer mentoring, both of which I would have liked to hear more about. Interestingly, in the context of a charity who sourced mentors externally because there were insufficient people available internally, the strong advice was given to never compromise on the matching process of mentor and mentee. Whilst this advice was in response to a very specific set of circumstances, it also provided valuable food for thought in the importance of the matching process within all organisations.

And that was it for the first session! Informative, helpful, engaging, valuable reminders and pointers on an important topic that would be possible to implement in an organisation even on the most limited of budgets. I found it helpful and hope you will do too…let me know if you think that anything important has been missed!

5 Responses to "That Mentoring Malarkey"

Lovely to see/hear mentoring on the agenda at the conference and also to hear the interest & challenges of other organisations.

There are loads of great pointers shared above… I think there is huge benefit for organisations setting up or running mentoring schemes to reach out to peers and share practice. I wonder if this is well facilitated at the moment beyond the conference space? Is this a larger need?

You are spot on in identifying training for mentees as being an opportunity. It’s traditionally something that’s not been thought of but it’s a great way to set expectations and help the mentees get the most out of their mentoring experience. Easily done really isn’t it?

An aspect that’s not been mentioned and seems to be emerging is the value/potential for supervision for mentors. It’s something that’s expected in coaching but rarely mentioned in mentoring. Regardless of the style of the mentoring scheme, I think there’s always merit in providing ongoing support and (loose?) supervision to mentors. The aim being to help them understand how they can be as effective as possible in their practice and to help reflect on what is happening in the mentoring relationship. It also maybe helps avoid mentoring as “hobbyism” by some…

Any thoughts?

Hi David, thanks for popping by to comment. I agree that it was really helpful to see mentoringon the agenda, and there was clearly an appetite amongst delegates to learn from each other and share best practice. Perhaps organisations should be mentoring each other on some of this stuff?!

Really interesting point you raise on the supervision of mentors and one that isn’t discussed much. I think that support fand development for mentors is a great idea.

Lots of food for thought here – thank you!

[…] joined us for day 2, Alison went to the Mentoring session, about which she eloquently wrote on her blog, and I, for once, arrived a little late for Developing Internal Talent, at which point Nick […]

Hi Alison,

I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the session. Thank you for capturing the presentation so accurately and for making it available to a wider audience through your blog. The suggestions made by yourself and David about providing training to mentees and giving the mentors more structured support/supervision are very helpful. I think we will test them out with the next cohort.

Thanks again!

Hi Jordana

Thanks so much for popping by to comment…and thanks again for a great session!


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