Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Mentor me, mentor you

I've been to the Housing Diversity Network (HDN) annual mentoring conference today and it's prompted this blog reflecting on the experiences I've had of mentoring on this and other programmes, and of being mentored myself. 

What role has mentoring played in my and others professional lives? How high up the list of development methods does it lie?

This week is Volunteers Week  - and so the conference was well timed. Mentors usually give their time for free and volunteer their lessons, experience and advice to those they mentor. 

The conference itself was at the superb Fazeley Studios venue in Birmingham and was well attended. It's an annual celebration of the year long HDN Mentoring Programme. GGHT usually has five staff on the programme as mentees, attending a mix of classes, activities and having a senior manager mentor from another organisation to meet with them half a dozen times in the year. My own involvement, aside from co ordinating the programme from a GGHT perspective, has been to act as a mentor myself to other organisations staff on the programme, and to deliver some of the workshop sessions to groups of mentees. 

I find it's a good programme and one where the mentees gain a great deal of skills, knowledge and experience that serves them well in the future. At GGHT I was proud of the 40% success rate of people moving into new roles having been on the programme. 

So the conference celebrates what has happened the previous year and showcases some good practice examples of mentoring in action. Last year I was asked to speak at the conference and enjoyed every minute, but this year I've enjoyed just sitting in the audience and watching. 

I've mentored in the programme for three years now and each mentee I've had has been very different, with different reasons for wanting a mentor and wanting to talk about different things too. It's been a fantastic experience for me and I'm genuinely sad that a change in job roles means I'm unable to continue with mentoring on the programme and delivering workshops next year. The workshops I delivered were around goal setting, personal effectiveness, handling conflict, time management and personal development planning so I hope they were helpful for the mentees who attended. 

HDN as an organisation has its roots in, surprise surprise, diversity, and most of its activities are in that sphere. As I commented in my speech at the conference last year though, the mentoring programme has gone far beyond that and is mainly about talent management now and less about diversity. 

I've enjoyed being a mentor. I started off thinking how I could possibly be of benefit to any mentee given where I am in my own career, as well as my many weaknesses and foibles. But then I realised that a mentor doesn't have to be a superstar senior manager, just someone who can act as a critical friend and sounding board, and someone who has more experience than the mentee and can therefore share those experiences and particularly lessons learned. So I always now approach mentoring from a position of total honesty - I've learned a lot in my career, often through making mistakes, and if I can help a mentee to understand what NOT to do, that's as good as sharing with them some of my successes. 

Not that any of them have shown any interest in following me in doing the Argentine Tango, but you never know. 

I can also be honest with them about things they are doing and give an unbiased opinion on their activities, strengths and areas for development. So it's good. And it's so good to see the mentees developing through the year and trying out new things in their career. Tom McGuire from Riverside Housing spoke at length this afternoon, in a very entertaining and passionate way, about what mentees can develop and how they can do good work as a result. 

And I get something out of it too. I get to connect with younger housing and HR professionals, and expand my network, and learn from what they are doing just as much as they learn from me, if not more so. Terrie Alafat, new CEO of the Chartered Institute of Housing, kicked off today's conference and made some similar points, as well as highlighting how housing as a profession faces significant challenges attracting younger workers (watch out for a blog on this subject soon). 

I've also been involved in a joint CIH/HDN Middle Managers mentoring programme for the last year and found it a similar experience, very positive all round. I find helping new managers very rewarding and given that I deliver training on such subjects, working one on one with individuals becomes more coaching than mentoring sometimes but often achieves the same goals. 

I think every new manager or manager who wishes to develop themselves should have access to a mentor, someone who can be honest and truthful with them and to whom they can unload their frustrations, and discuss their hopes and fears. When I first started managing I didn't have that - I had a few people who mentored me on HR stuff and some who still do, but I didn't have anyone who could help me understand the intricacies of people management from anything other than a procedural perspective, so I learned through bitter experience and feel I'm still learning too. So again if I can share my experiences, I'm happy to do so. 

I've also mentored aspiring HR professionals both formally through CIPD and NHF mentoring programmes, but more often informally - I used to deliver CIPD programmes at Mid Cheshire College and as students left the programme and continued studies elsewhere and developed their career, many kept in touch and still do, meaning I can learn from their experiences and offer ad hoc advice on HR issues or assignments etc.

So professional mentoring has been a very positive thing for me. 

Last year the CIPD launched their Steps Ahead Mentoring scheme, a partnership with some government agencies to get senior HR leaders Involved in mentoring young unemployed people and helping them to find work. It's a really noble cause and one I was very happy to get involved in, but it's not been a fantastic experience I have to say despite its good intentions. Many of the young people I've been paired with have not really known why they are on the programme and seem to have been referred onto it by someone who has not explained it to them. So some of them haven't been keen, whereas others have been keen initially but by the time the pairing process has matched us and we have made contact and agreed to meet up, they have found work and have opted out of the programme altogether. That, to me, defeats the object of mentoring on Steps Ahead. It's not just to get someone into work, it's about keeping them in work afterwards and ensuring they learn key employability skills. Senior HR professionals are well placed to give this support, but I'm not sure the Steps Ahead programme has been sold to young people, or the government agencies, in such a way, as both seem to opt out once a job has been started. It's a shame. 

And in GGHT we've had an internal mentoring programme for some years where I've co ordinated the matching of talented staff with senior managers and mentored actively on that programme. Internal mentoring is quite different as you can often talk about issues that affect both of you and it can become more like joint problem solving, although that's not a bad thing in itself. 

But it's not been easy to convince people to take on mentoring roles, and I wonder whether that's because the advantages aren't as clear as they could be?

So here I am, an experienced mentor facing my first year in many without any formal mentoring to do. All my current mentoring relationships, from the HDN, Steps Ahead, and GGHT internal programmes have all come to a (natural) conclusion and my changed job duties mean I'm not able to devote the time to it in the next year, which is a real shame. 

But I'll be back. Someone needs to learn from my mistakes. 

But it doesn't mean that I'm done with mentoring completely. Conscious of my own development needs, I've sought a mentor myself and am due to meet with them next week. Someone who can help me to improve things I need to improve and who I can use as an impartial sounding board and critical friend. 

I think I'll have a lot to tell them. 

And it's about time I sat on the other side of the mentoring relationship. It might help me to become a better mentor in future too. 

How have you used mentoring in your career? Has it helped you to develop? How important is it that senior leaders take on mentoring roles?

Till next time...

Gary

Ps in other news, bridesmaids dresses have come, and all bridesmaids and best man etc have been appointed. Wedding stationery is next...