*Guest post for Ashley Kate HR*: When coaching and mentoring programmes stagnate; how to reinvigorate the learning culture.

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Full article as published on Ashley Kate HR Guest Blog – December 2016

Coaching and mentoring is not a new idea.  Companies large and small run coaching and mentoring programmes whether formally or informally and have done since the practice was first recorded 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.

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.  So HR sprung into action, sent out a survey and everyone patted themselves on the back for building another successful intervention to develop people.  

Let’s take a leap a few years into the future….. The magic mentoring programme is failing, matched pairs are not seeing out the full programme and feedback is not good.  Senior manages 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 that I have come across is the belief that training and development budgets can be slashed if ‘we just nail this mentoring and coaching lark’, so 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:

  1. Focused on the learning and development of the Mentee.
  2. Structured – have goals, a vision of the purpose of the relationship, follow an agreed time structure (even if that is ongoing)
  3. Built on mutual trust – learning means taking risks, sometimes failing.
  4. Considered in matching of mentoring pairs – personality fit and ease of interaction is vital.
  5. Measured on the success of the learning; not all mentoring pairs can be measured against the same markers.
  6. Another example of development that embodies the values of the organisation, not a stand-alone development activity.
  7. Championed as an intrinsic part of leader development with the necessary skills being prerequisites of the Mentors that take part.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.  Shouldn’t this fit within the culture of the staffroom as well as the boardroom and be equally valued in both?

Please feel free to comment and let me know of your experiences. Best wishes Natalie.

Being entirely self-taught…

Recently I have been very aware of my love of learning, I say recently as I have always taken it for granted until now.  I love to learn a new skill and feel even better when I get the opportunity to share my new knowledge with someone.  This, I believe stems from my deep rooted fear of the unknown, I like to know why, how, where and when to feel safe in my position.  This fear made me insecure in my youth, but now that I’m a grown up and getting longer in the tooth the joy of teaching myself something new really excites me.

A few clicks through Wikipedia and Google, and I discovered that there are many, many famous and incredibly talented people that are/were entirely self taught. There is…..

Kurt Cobain (taught himself to play the guitar), Edward Elgar (composer), David Bowie (taught himself to play many musical instruments and was a self taught artist), Benjamin Kidd (socialist and author with no formal education at all), Thomas Edison, James Watt, Einstein, Karl Marx.  Heston Blumnethal (UK celebrity chef and avant garde restranteur) lasted less than a week as an apprentice to Raymond Blanc so taught himself haute cuisine.

We are telling our children that they need to be resilient learners and all the information they need is at their fingertips.  We should embrace the flexibility that such autodidactism offers for our own self development.  Taking charge of your own learning and growth should be an inbuilt part of our journey.  I will continue on my autodidactic path, teaching myself to blog and write and I hope that you will bear with me while I polish my MVP and continue on my way.  So get out there, ask questions, read, listen, talk and see how far you can get!  Thank you for reading. Best Wishes Natalie.