The following are some of the most innovative schemes from the files of The European Mentoring Centre, which maintains an extensive library and annual research conference on mentoring. A programme for young ex-offenders in a deprived area of Birmingham with very high levels of recidivism used local community volunteers as mentors. The mentors, many of whom were long-term unemployed, were tasked with helping the young people rebuild their lives. After two years, none of the 38 young people on the scheme had re-offended. Moreover, the mentors had gained so much personal confidence, that most of them had also found permanent work.
Nestle in Norway uses retired employees as mentors to help people nearing retirement make the transition. ASDA, a large UK-based supermarket chain, provides mentors for new superstore managers six months before their new job and six months after. Proctor and Gamble in the US had a major retention problem with women in junior and middle management in its marketing department. At first, the company planned a standard “glass ceiling” programme, where senior executives would “adopt” more junior women to show them how to behave.
Then someone pointed out that the problem was more with the organisation than with the women and that the culture of the organisation was defined and sustained by these same executives. So the roles were reversed – the women became the mentors. The results have been dramatic. Not only has the retention problem been resolved, but the executives have become switched on to a wide variety of diversity issues. British American Tobacco’s graduate recruits around the world receive a coach (usually their immediate line manager) and a mentor.
The two sources of support are very useful in helping the graduates settle in and stay. Shell in Brunei has used mentoring to speed up indigenisation – the gradual replacement of expatriates by local staff. Masons, a large solicitors’ firm in the City of London, uses mentoring to manage one of the great mysteries of the legal world – how to make the transition to partner. AN-Post, the Irish Post Office, is experimenting with a scheme for high potential women, in which the mentors are drawn from the supply chain – major customers and suppliers of the organisation.
Amidst all the diversity, there are many common features of these schemes. They all have passionate champions at an operational level and usually less passionate but fully committed senior management sponsors. They all have a preoccupation with the quality of the relationships, so they are keen to ensure that all parties receive sufficient training – mentors, mentees and line managers. They all have dedicated co-ordinators, who manage the background formalities, troubleshoot as required and ensure the scheme is sustained by providing continuing support for the mentors. Coaching v mentoring
There is a lot of confusion between mentoring and other roles, not least because it overlaps with them. In re-launching a large-scale mentoring scheme for small businesses in Eire, for example, it has been necessary to define very clearly the differences between mentoring, coaching, consulting and being a non-executive director. However, most confusion seems to occur within organisations between mentoring and coaching. Some of the most important distinctions are: Coaching Mentoring Generally by the line manager Off-line or other members of the team Focused on capability Focused on skills and performance Goals set by the learner
Sets goals for or with the learner Core skills of a mentor In general terms, mentors require only two basic skills – the ability to shut up and listen, restraining the urge to give of their experience until it is clear how they can best guide the mentee; and the ability to adjust how they respond appropriately according to the mentee’s needs and circumstances. They are, at least, unlikely to do much damage if they can apply these two behaviours consistently. (A US author, Lu Ann Darling, talks eloquently of “toxic mentors”, all of whom would fail these two basic requirements.)
To be really effective, however, mentors need to develop a wider portfolio of competencies. The in-company mentor can be expected to have some ability in most of these; career mentors (people who take up the role on a professional, external basis) typically need all of them at a fairly high level. Illustrated in the diagram below, these include: * Self-awareness – sufficient understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses to draw effectively on their own experience. * Behavioural awareness – understanding how and why people behave as they do; predicting the consequences of specific behaviours and actions.
Business or professional savvy – difficult to measure, but essential in helping someone else understand the politics and informal systems of an organisation. * Sense of proportion – sometimes seen as just a good sense of humour, but really an ability to place the organisation’s goals and culture in the wider social context. * Communication competence – being able to explain ideas clearly and to listen actively. * Conceptual modelling – using models to help the learner understand the dynamics of situation.
Interest in developing others – often demonstrated by how they work with their own direct reports. * Relationship management – the ability to build and maintain rapport. * Goal clarity – focusing on achievable goals; helping the learner sort out what they want to achieve and why. Keys to designing an effective mentoring scheme A high proportion – perhaps 40% in all – of mentoring schemes run into the ground after a few years. The reasons are various, but usually come down to a lack of continuing support and a failure to integrate mentoring into the mainstream of development activities.
As long as mentoring is confined to benefiting only a small elite, it will be particularly vulnerable to changes of policy or interest. Effective mentoring schemes all follow these basic rules: They begin with considerable pragmatic planning, which looks at the needs and wishes of the target group(s) and the development climate, in which the relationship will be planted. An engineering multinational, keen to introduce a “glass ceiling” scheme for its women managers, learned when it consulted them that this would be seen as patronising. What they wanted was one open to all, but which women were particularly encouraged to join.
The women perceived that creating a gender ghetto would only increase their problems. Some initial research upfront to identify which aspects of the development climate will help or hinder the building and using of mentoring relationships almost always provides valuable data for scheme design. In some cases, the research has led to radical changes in operational systems or career ladders, when previously unrecognised barriers have been identified. They set clear goals for the scheme and the measures, by which progress towards those goals will be assessed.
The nature of these goals can range from hard data – such as employee retention or numbers of promotions – to soft data, such as whether participants in community mentoring have grown in personal confidence and have achieved attitude shifts. Some companies have linked goals to a competency framework, using the improvement in annual performance rating of each mentee as a measure of success. Smithkline Beecham, for example, follows best practice guidelines very closely, using up to 10 measures spread between relationship processes and outcomes, and scheme processes and outcomes.
This spread enables it to use measures in three key ways: to troubleshoot as the relationships progress, to build in continuous improvement and to demonstrate to senior management that the investment of time and resources is well justified. They match carefully, against both generic criteria and the needs and wishes of the mentee. They avoid the many problems of a free-for-all approach, where people find their own mentors, but leave the selection in the hands of the mentee by guiding him or her towards a short-list of suitable mentors. They take care in matching to manage the hierarchy gap between mentor and mentee.
Too small and there is often insufficient difference in perspective and experience for much learning to occur; too big and it is difficult for mentor and mentee to relate to the issues each faces. They train mentors and mentees thoroughly at the beginning of the relationship and provide developmental support at intervals thereafter. In environments, where it is not possible to get people away for two days at a time, they break the training into shorter modules. People who don’t attend the training don’t get assigned mentees (or mentors). They also educate line managers, to capture their active support for the mentoring relationship.
Some companies now run continuous personal development clinics for mentors, for a few hours every two to three months. These are facilitated by an outsider, who helps the mentors help each other. They expand mentoring beyond the initial target group(s) as fast as the expanding pool of mentors will allow. In organisations undergoing rapid cultural change, managers representing the new values may be in short supply, so the process may initially be slow. But the mentees over a period become the new supply of mentors and it is not uncommon to see a sudden explosion of mentoring as volunteers become available.
The bottom line Mentoring is rapidly maturing as a mainstream developmental activity. Already, companies in the UK are finding that they cannot recruit the quality of graduates (and particularly post-graduates) they want, if they do not have a mentoring scheme. While the success rate and impact of mentoring is very high initially, organisations need to work at it to ensure it maintains a head of steam. International experience is providing a great deal of good practice, on which organisations can draw in designing, implementing and sustaining their mentoring schemes.