I’ve thought hard about both myself and about Adnams, and how we approach mentoring here.
My issue with mentoring is that about five years ago we tried to implement a formal programme. Six of us went away for a few days’ training, and pulled together the sort of contract that mentor and mentee should have. It struck me that there was a fear factor among the mentors – they panicked about having to mentor people while trying to do their jobs. And culturally, we weren’t quite there – we didn’t have a single person come forward to be mentored.
From my own perspective, rather than a mentor, I have a group of informal mentors – a social network of people who I talk to regularly. They’re people who I would run things past, whose brains I might pick. I think that the formal element can put both mentor and mentee off. I try to tell people that it can be done in a less formal way. Most people develop such mentoring networks over a period of time, without seeing the people involved as actual mentors. They may be friends who have the benefit of professional experience, or who are willing to challenge the way you think.
In an odd sort of way, that links into the need to use older workers, something I feel strongly about. While they may not be as physically fit, they have life and work skills. All that knowledge and experience is just sitting there. Hand on heart, I can’t say that we make full use of it. It’s an odd thing in this country that we have a negative perception of older people.
I did a coaching course a couple of years ago. There’s a very fine line between coaching and mentoring, but out of that I have formed relationships with a couple of people, one of whom is a coach at Ashridge Business School. We meet fairly regularly, but it’s a two-way thing. I talk to her about my job, and she talks to me about hers. It’s relatively informal – we phone or meet every so often. It’s a very open relationship, which is important – I think trust should be a huge part of this type of arrangement. We challenge one another. And we know how far to push one another, which is critical.