Coaching and mentoring is not a new idea. Companies large and small run coaching and mentoring programmes, formally and informally and have done since the practice was first chronicled in Ancient Greece. We know that people learn best using a variety of mediums and that they work best when motivated, engaged and most importantly valued. Academics and practitioners alike identify that coaching and mentoring help to encourage these. Sometimes, however theory just doesn’t seem to translate into practice.
Let’s look at a typical scenario: You had a great idea, you launched a mentoring scheme using senior managers and you trained your line managers to act as coaches to those who report to them. For a while it all worked well; attrition was down, working relationships were improved and great conversations were taking place regarding long-term career planning. HR sprang into action, sent out a survey and everyone patted themselves on the back for building another successful intervention to develop people.
Now let’s take a leap a few years ahead, its 2016… The magic mentoring programme is failing, matched pairs are not seeing out the full programme, little impact is seen in day to day working patterns or behaviours and feedback is not good. Senior managers are not mentoring anymore, middle managers are still coaching their reports but the learning and growing culture that you tried so desperately to reinforce is dwindling. Why?
A common mistake I have come across is the belief that training and development budgets can be slashed if ‘we just nail this mentoring and coaching lark’, indicating that schemes are used as a cost-cutting exercise. I have seen well thought out schemes fall flat on their face because they were thought to be the ‘magic cure-all’. The most extreme of these was in an organisation who believed that they could eliminate all other management training by using Mentoring. This fell apart rapidly. Senior management became overwrought with extra responsibility, head count had been reduced and now there was an expectation that they would mentor leaders of the future with no support, at a time when trust in the organisation was at an all-time low. The company values were displayed loudly and proudly, but the interventions that they were putting in place were overshadowed by those that they took away.
How do you rescue a scheme when this happens?
When any organisational incentive stops showing a benefit, it is time to reconsider.
- What exactly does this organisation and the people need?
- Where is our mentoring talent?
- How does mentoring and coaching fit within our existing development offering?
- How does this link to our company’s values and goals?
- How do we embed this learning culture into our organisation?
It may not be your most senior leaders that make up all your leader mentors. Your middle leaders may be better placed and more knowledgeable about the organisation to make a more positive impact, especially on those at the start of their career. Most importantly good design and a clear vision of the purpose of the scheme is paramount. A robust mentoring programme must be:
- Focused on the learning and development of the mentee.
- Structured – have goals, a vision of the purpose of the relationship, follow an agreed time structure (even if that is ongoing)
- Built on mutual trust – learning means taking risks, sometimes failing.
- Considered in matching of mentoring pairs - personality fit and ease of interaction is vital.
- Measured on the success of the learning; not all mentoring pairs can be measured against the same markers.
- Another example of development that embodies the values of the organisation, not a stand-alone development activity.
- Championed as an intrinsic part of leader development with the necessary skills being prerequisites of the Mentors that take part.
- Supervised by HR to ensure that the programme remains effective and is valued by the Mentees. Mentors must be provided with the necessary support and access to learning opportunities to help them be the most effective mentors that they can be.
- Made available to all those who would benefit.
To build trust and consequent engagement with the programme an organisation will need to stop, re-think, re-design, re-brand and re-start a mentoring programme. In order for coaching and mentoring to be a widespread success across an organisation it needs to be a part of the ‘norms’. An activity that all employees can access at different points of their career and fit with the culture of the staffroom as well as the boardroom, being equally valued in both.
About Natalie: Natalie is an agile professional with interests in a variety of fields, most notably HR. She has a weakness for chocolate and a love of the great outdoors! She has enjoyed a varied career thus far that included running 2 businesses simultaneously but is now pouring her energies into (amongst other things) mentoring programmes in the education sector. You can connect with Natalie on Twitter @nhumphrys