Pam Dyson MA, FCCA, CPFA, FMAAT, CMgr, FCMI knows how valuable a good mentoring scheme can be. She has been involved with them on and off for much of her career, and is currently mentoring people through two of them – a student mentoring programme at the University of Lancaster and the NHS North West Leadership Academy.
“I’ve been mentoring for 30-odd years,” she says. “I helped [the NHS] set up that programme, using the work that we’d done mentoring NHS finance professionals. When I left the NHS in 2008, I was able to stay attached to the work that the leadership academy was doing, and that keeps me very much in touch at a local and national level.”
Because of this experience, Dyson has a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to setting up a mentoring programme. Here’s how to get the foundations right:
Get Explicit Buy-in From Senior Management
“Is the senior management completely on board with using mentoring as a critical learning tool? If they’re not, you might as well not do it. If they are, then how do you engage them in it? That’s really quite important.
“It might be down to whether they have mentors or not. This can help you decide how best to use those senior members within the scheme. They could be the ones doing the mentoring, but they could also be mentoring champions, sharing their own experiences to encourage staff to engage with your programme. That gives substance to the idea that the organisation is on board with mentoring as a positive strategy for development.”
Know Your Objectives
The big question you need to ask is the same as if you were deciding on mentoring as an individual: what are we trying to achieve? What are your goals as an organisation, and what do you want individuals to get out of it? Hopefully, you will get insights from senior staff on what it is the organisation needs, but it’s also worth running a pilot event, where you get to say to people: ‘this is the offering, this is where we are at the moment with it, is this the sort of thing you’d buy into, and why?’
“Programmes are usually designed badly when people don’t know what was wanted, needed or possible.”
Consider the Inner Workings of the Business
“Knowing the business is critical. If you, as the organisers, don’t know the intricacies of the business, it’s going to be really difficult to get to grips with planning out your mentoring programme you should be putting together.
“You should interrogate what the benefits for the business might look like and what the risks are, and how you might address and mitigate those risks.”
Get Staff on Board With the Change
“What you’re trying to put together, with a mentoring scheme, is essentially a change management programme. I tend to use the word ‘evolution’ rather than ‘change’ – people bridle when you say ‘we want to make a change’. When you say: ‘we want to evolve what we’re doing into something different’, it’s a softer word, and that seems to work for me.”
Integrate It Within Wider Training and Development Initiatives
“You might need something like a national learning programme or a technical development strategy, so that it’s part of the learning and development approach of the organisation. It needs to tie into things that are going on.
“I’d want to know what kinds of learning and development conversations that staff were having with their bosses, what sort of learning and development opportunities that were available to them, what sort of network they were exposed to. All of those sorts of things would help me determine how best to mentor them.”
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