The one-to-one guidance of mentoring can be an invaluable source of development for the individuals involved, as well as being beneficial to the organisations themselves.
Mentoring has only relatively recently been recognised in the UK as a valuable training and motivational tool. The idea first became popular in the US in the 1970s, when a number of organisations turned what had been an informal process, into a more formal one.
However, later in that decade, the US model was adopted in the UK, largely by individuals who went on to form the Mentoring and Coaching Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University.
The UK relationship between mentor and mentee was based more on mutual learning. It was less of a ‘godfather’ approach than the US style, less career driven and, crucially, wasn’t between an employee and their line manager. By the mid-1980s, mentoring had really begun to gain ground, and the first books on the concept were published.
Last year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conducted a survey on the way its members were managing employee careers. Half the respondents said their organisation offered a mentoring scheme, while 72 per cent said the scheme was an effective tool. And although mentoring schemes tend to be offered to graduate trainees, executives or minority groups, the majority of respondents said their scheme was available to all staff.
David Clutterbuck, author of several books on mentoring, senior partner of Clutterbuck and Associates and visiting professor at Sheffield Hallam University, is in no doubt that mentoring can dramatically improve staff retention levels, improve communication between departments and be a useful way of merging one company with another. But he warns that HR professionals offering an internal mentoring scheme together must be trained to run such a scheme successfully.
The alternative is to link up with an external organisation that operates mentoring schemes themselves. External mentoring involves linking someone from business with someone from a community project or school.
Business in the Community (BitC), the voice of business on corporate responsibility, runs several mentoring programmes for businesses, including Partners in Leadership, which was launched nationally in 1998, pairing senior and middle business managers with head teachers. The programme usually runs for 12 months, during which time the partners meet regularly.
The scheme gives businesses the opportunity to contribute towards more effective school management and improve standards in schools. Since its introduction, the scheme has made 6,000 matches, with 12,000 people involved.
EDF Energy, the UK’s fifth largest energy provider, has 11,300 staff across the UK, with 20 per cent currently involved with a community investment programme, including the Partners in Leadership scheme.
“We feel involvement in community projects helps staff,” says spokesman Richard Robinson, who has himself participated in a mentoring scheme. “It helps team-building, management skills and bonding. Our involvement in the communities we serve is a fundamental part of a commitment to act as a responsible corporate citizen. Volunteering is more than just a PR tool.”
Plymouth-based IT environment manager Stephen Meredith has been with EDF for 14 years, and first became involved with mentoring more than three years ago. Meredith is paired with Neil Dolton, headteacher from nearby Ruishton School, near Taunton.
“We enjoy each other’s company and always find different aspects of the role to discuss, whether it be legislation that Neil is having to deal with, or budgetary matters,” says Meredith, who has been able to advise the head teacher on running and structuring meetings, drawing up action points from those meetings as well as on areas such as risk assessment.
“We hit it off as friends, but it also gives him someone else to talk things through with. It has broadened our overall knowledge, and I’ve learned more about the people skills.”
“You can learn so much from each other, particularly the basic management techniques. It also helps from a company perspective – our company culture has improved because of the community involvement,” he adds.
Caroline Hall, EDF’s HR operations manager (customer branch) is in no doubt about the benefits of mentoring, both internally and externally.
“Our internal mentoring scheme is fairly career driven, and we pair people up with others who can give the individual the skills to help develop their career or help them with the job they are doing.
“The external mentoring is a real skills-sharing process, and it benefits both the mentor and the mentee in terms of the soft skills, such as coaching and listening. It’s also practical, not theory based, so it’s easy to translate what you learn back into the workplace,” he continues. “It’s about understanding different business issues. Steve [Meredith] is used to a large, public company, but not an organisation with the constraints of bureaucracy and finance – mentoring has broadened his experience.”
BitC now has more than 5,500 such pairings nationwide, involving senior managers from more than 1,200 companies throughout England and Wales.
The partners typically meet six times a year for a two-hour briefing to discuss the headteacher’s agenda and any management and leadership issues. In a 2002 BitC survey, 94 per cent of business participants said they would recommend the scheme to a colleague.
Another BitC mentoring programme is Partners in Leadership with Community Enterprises (PiLCE), launched in January 2002. The scheme has already paired 275 people from business with leaders of social and community enterprises.
William Onuwa is GE Commercial Finance’s European director responsible for asset management. Keen to put something back into his local community, Onuwa is currently mentoring the director of the Shepherd’s Bush Healthy Living Centre in London, a charity that helps to promote food and health in the community, particularly in deprived areas.
He says mentoring is different, as you’re learning about how not-for-profit organisations work. His involvement in the scheme has also helped him develop his people skills, teaching him how to build up trust and respect quickly with total strangers, and how to be persuasive and credible in a very different environment.
“It tests your skills and knowledge from a planning perspective,” Onuwa says. “This is a business that you don’t know, and they have things they want to accomplish – they want tangible results from me.
“I have gained an appreciation of some pertinent issues that surround a non-profit organisation as well as an insight into the health issues of people with a very low income,” he adds. “It gives GE an insight into a different area – one that they wouldn’t ordinarily know about.”
According to Beverly Solinger, HR director of GE Commercial Finance, European Equipment Finance, the company has been running both internal and external mentoring schemes for the past five years.
The HR department plays an active role in establishing mentoring partners.
“We work with the managers to determine who would benefit from a mentor. We then identify appropriate mentors and provide training to both the mentors and mentees on how to ensure a successful relationship,” Solinger says.
“Our internal mentoring programme lasts for a year, and midway we will always take a pulse check to see how it’s working,” he says. “At the end of the year, we get more formal feedback to make improvements for the following year’s programme.
“While the formal mentee/mentor relationship ends after a year, these relationships tend to go on informally. HR encourages our employees to participate and we work with the managers to ensure that they are supporting their employees in this activity.”
Solinger’s advice is to keep the process simple. “Don’t force people to be mentors as they won’t be good at it if they aren’t engaged. The mentee must understand that they should drive the relationship and ensure they are getting the benefit from the process,” she says.
This is a view echoed by Clutterbuck, who believes many organisations still need to improve their mentoring schemes. “There’s still a problem with quality,” he says, urging HR professionals to ensure their schemes meet with the international standards set out by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.
“If you don’t prepare people for it, then you have an issue with quality,” he says. “The mentor and the mentee must both be given proper training to ensure they know what they will get out of the mentoring, how it should work, and how it should be supported by the company’s HR department,” he adds.
“Very few companies are measuring the success of these programmes, so they don’t know whether it’s working, and very few are training anyone,” he adds. “Mentoring is still very much a discipline that’s coming into its own.”
And it’s easy to see why. According to Clutterbuck, one national bank has improved staff retention by a third through mentoring, while another multinational has reduced turnover in one department to 2 per cent for staff that have been involved with a mentoring, scheme, compared with 27.5 per cent for those that hadn’t.
“But there are too many assumptions made,” he warns. “It’s hard work for the organisation and the participants.”
HR questions answered
What’s mentoring all about?
It enables one person to help another achieve their potential by sharing experience, listening and guiding. It’s a one-to-one relationship between mentor and mentee based on trust, confidentiality and equality.
Who stands to benefit?
The organisation, the mentor and the mentee. Internal mentoring is a good way of developing senior managers or integrating graduate recruits. It can also improve communication and break down departmental barriers. External mentoring helps companies build links with the local community.
Doesn’t it take up too much time?
It needn’t. Participants on the Business in the Community Scheme typically meet up around six times a year for two hours, usually in their own time.
Isn’t it just like coaching?
The two are often confused, but mentoring is relational, whereas coaching is functional. Coaching is usually undertaken within a manager-employee relationship, whereas mentoring isn’t. Coaching also focuses on developing people within their current job, while mentoring is about developing individuals on a broader, more personal level.
Does it suit all companies?
There are very few organisations where it fails, although David Clutterbuck cites one company whose graduate mentoring scheme collapsed because the corporate culture viewed talking about issues as a sign of weakness. But successful mentoring can help to improve corporate culture.
What’s HR’s role in mentoring?
Programme planning and development, deciding how the programme should be launched and who it should be aimed at and establishing methods for evaluating success. It’s also up to the HR professional to establish the responsibilities of the mentor and mentee, ensuring both understand their respective roles, and to gather feedback at various intervals throughout the programme.
What is the European Mentoring and Coaching Council?
It is an independent, not-for-profit organisation created to improve standards within the mentoring industry. It has recently published new guidance for mentors and managers and is available at www.emccouncil.org