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How to… make mentoring matter

06 February 2015
How to… make mentoring matter

Everybody needs help and guidance now and then. Jon Reed offers his three top tips for building a successful mentoring programme

Last month prime minister David Cameron expressed his desire to spend more time mentoring people. He was quoted as saying that transferring skills to others who had not had the same opportunities in life was "one of the best things people can do".

His thoughts echo those of Sir Richard Branson who, at the latest Purple Cubed Breakfast Club, told attendees that mentoring is often the missing link between a good leader and a successful leader.

This is evident when you listen to eminent business professionals around us. Sir James Dyson credits his success to his late mentor, the British inventor James Fry; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is guided by his mentor, software engineer and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen; and Catey Manager of the Year Award winner Peter Avis dedicates his achievements to mentors like Graham Bamford (most recently general manager of the Royal Garden Hotel) and Kirsten Faulk (previously general manager of the Roof Gardens in London).

Deemed too time-consuming, resource heavy and complex, mentoring is still an underused opportunity in businesses. But for those who wish to be seen as a ‘best place to work', mentoring has to move up the priority list. Not only are younger generations demanding the opportunity to receive formal mentoring, many will choose their place of work based on the access they have to this skills transfer.

oreover, it has been proven that establishing a mentoring scheme in business can dramatically increase productivity. Here we outline our three tips to help you build a successful mentoring programme throughout your organisation:

Set the objective

Like any business initiative, it's first important to consider and agree on why you want to introduce mentoring in your department or business. Ask yourself what the objective is, where will it add most value, is there a particular area of focus, and is the business ready?

The last question is critical to the success of the programme. Culturally, mentoring must work in your organisation to achieve the desired result. For example, a very structured and formal mentoring programme could be difficult to implement in a relaxed working environment.

Make sure you understand your culture first and then use this information to implement the best type of scheme for you. Also, ask whether you as a business need to establish your own scheme or are there industry initiatives, such as the Women 1st mentoring programme (which is open to both males and females), which could satisfy your requirements.

Once you have answered all these questions and decided the best way forward, you then need to focus on logistics. How autonomous is the programme? Will mentees drive the agenda, conversation and goal setting, or will the business decide on topics to cover based on skills gaps? How often are the sessions and for how long? Will you use mentoring software to pair mentees with mentors and record the outputs?

Getting this right is a balancing act and, as such, mentoring isn't and cannot be viewed as a tick-box activity. Take some time to unearth the information and build the case, opting for the right solution for your organisation and your people.

Secure buy-in

Mentoring provides the opportunity for impartial advice, improved confidence and skills transfer, no matter where you are in your career. It is a valuable learning opportunity for all employees involved. However, many employees fail to recognise the benefits and
therefore do not engage with the prospect of a mentoring relationship.

Use successful examples within the business, providing evidence of situations in which mentoring has provided a development opportunity, greater self-belief or supported problem solving.

Expectations and preconceptions must also be managed; both logistics - the time and commitment required - as well as an explanation that it isn't a direct line to a career advancement. Instead, communications should demonstrate that mentoring offers a supportive relationship that will help staff tackle challenges in their current role and enable them to reach their full potential.

To further engage, it's wise to introduce mentoring champions throughout the business. These individuals can share experience and answer any questions employees may have around mentoring. They are your noise, advocating the benefits and creating excitement among the workforce. They can also feed directly into the success of the programme, recommending ideas and improvements.

Leaders must also lead by example and participate themselves - be it as mentors or mentees. After all, mentoring isn't just about older employees mentoring younger employees. The skills and knowledge the younger generations have, such as in technology, are equally as valuable and should be shared through 'reverse mentoring'.

Make it matter

As with any programme, measuring the outputs ensures it is fully committed to and taken seriously. Within a mentoring relationship this is about agreeing what the mentee is aiming to gain from the sessions and recording this information with clear goals. To make things simple, write these down in a mentoring notebook or use an online system. Either way, these goals should be front of mind for both the mentor and mentee, with the mentor ensuring the conversation is directed towards achievement.

From a business perspective, it's also vital to place measurements on the success of the programme to ensure changes and improvements can be made throughout, which betters the overall results of its implementation. Use your initial objectives as the starting point, seeking feedback from those who have participated to provide qualitative input. If things aren't quite going to plan, then go back to the beginning - re-evaluate your objectives, assess the cultural fit and improve your communications.

Jon Reed is operations director at HR consultancy Purple Cubed. For more information on its approach to engaging people, contactsally@purplecubed.com

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