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Blog : Mentoring - madness not to?


Mentoring - madness not to?

By Jane Sunley - CEO

In times when resources are scarce, yet people still need to be able to develop and progress, it always amazes me that more organisations don’t make use of mentoring.

Think about successful people in a company – doesn’t it make sense for at least some of their approaches, skills and knowledge to be passed on to those who are coming up the ranks?  Mentoring is a low cost way to do this which, once set up, requires little input. It is an effective and fulfilling way to support people to progress their careers. Although it’s become more popular, mentoring is still far from widespread, as I believe it should be. SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in particular should love it, since it’s relatively easy to put in place and costs next to nothing.   

Mentoring is a partnership between two people (mentor and mentee) normally working in similar fields or at least sharing mutual interests. In my experience as a mentor, what starts out as mentee learning from mentor often becomes a far more equal exchange of ideas and viewpoints. By 2020, Generation Y will comprise over 50% of the workforce- want to learn to understand them anyone?

The exchanges between mentee and mentor will depend on the needs of the mentee and the agreed way forward. In general, good mentors:

·         Help the mentee find options and solutions to career and work challenges

·         Ask questions and challenge thinking

·         Pass on knowledge, tools and techniques

·         Share their experience and wisdom

·         Provide an empathetic, supportive resource

·         Act as a sounding-board and help with big picture thinking

·         Build trust and respectful relationships

·         Support self-belief and nurture confidence

·         Encourage the mentee to take responsibility and focus on the goals


It’s not necessary for every single person to have a mentor (though most successful executives do just that). What is important is that people have access to mentors when they need them and that provisions are made to make this happen. The way we do it at learnpurple is fourfold:

1.    Every new employee is able to choose a mentor from the team before they start work with us. This person keeps in touch, makes sure they’re all set to go and meets them on their first day; introducing them to other colleagues and in general ‘showing them the ropes’. This person is then responsible for providing on-going support, helping solve any small issues that might occur. Although our leaders are open, approachable, non-judgemental; new people often feel more comfortable about asking questions and raising small issues with someone who is not officially their leader. This is also an excellent way to reinforce culture and underpin ‘how we do things around here’.

2.    If any one of our team would like a mentor either to work on a specific area, we will help them to find the right person internally or externally. We’ve had a business development manager mentored by an external HR Director, and our office manager was mentored by an external Operations Director.

3.    We encourage our people to become mentors since this is a rich learning experience in itself and one which provides and develops alternative perspectives and ideas. This might be mentoring an individual or providing support to a charity or other group.

4.    Senior leaders at learnpurple will always make time to pass on their knowledge and wisdom. This is a great way to provide development and also to explore points of view. Personally this keeps me in touch with ‘the sharp end’ and enables me to get to know people with whom I might not have much direct contact. This all might sound a bit time consuming yet it’s easily managed by setting aside specific time. I do two hours on a Thursday morning, for example, whereby anyone in the company can book in to see me. 

If you’d like to set up a mentoring scheme, I’d recommend the following basic steps:

1.    Decide your ground rules – for instance you can’t have everyone mentoring and no one doing the work

2.    Provide mentor development and guidance – it’s potentially dangerous to let people loose on each other if they don’t know what they’re doing

3.    Look around for established schemes e.g. Women 1st , Oxford Brookes Bacchus Mentoring Programme

4.    Work out how the mentoring scheme will be communicated and do it

5.    Review to make sure things are working well, in harmony with the day-to-day work and that there are business benefits

What are your experiences? Have you been a mentor or a mentee?


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