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More Than a Match - Mentoring.

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Introduction

MORE THAN A MATCH Although mentoring benefits from being highly structured, the process of pairing people sometimes requires a lighter touch. Tony Stott and Jenny Sweeney relate how a scheme at Shell became successful only after its rules of engagement were loosened to take account of the organisation's culture. Mentoring has successfully established itself as a useful development approach, well suited to today's flexible business structures. But how many times have such schemes been set up, with enthusiasm from all sides, only to wither away? Clutterbuck Associates Mentoring Schemes has found that one mentoring scheme in three lasts less than two years, and that two in three need revitalising during that time. To ensure success, the process requires planned nurturing so that relationships can be sustained. But this need not be unduly time-consuming, costly or bureaucratic. The uses of mentoring have broadened over the past five years. Initially deployed to help graduate recruits make a successful transition into work, mentoring schemes can now be seen supporting business school courses, levelling the playing field in diversity programmes, developing high-flyers, providing a sounding board for top executives and helping long-term unemployed people. In the days when mentoring was provided for a dozen graduates who all joined in September and were each paired with one mentor, it was possible for a company's HR manager to co-ordinate the whole programme on the back of an envelope. ...read more.

Middle

Removing the controls eliminated suspicion and freed the pairs to develop a relationship of trust. Eighteen months on, all 130 first assignees are using mentors, and two who declined have subsequently joined in. There are now 70 mentors participating, and this number has been maintained despite job changes and downsizing over this period. "Coming into RTS is very stimulating, but I have found it invaluable to be able to talk to someone who understood the rules of the game and could put my concerns and aspirations in context," reports one graduate chemist after nine months on the programme. An important later addition has been the appointment of a person to promote, monitor and generally support the day-to-day workings of the scheme. Ken Elvery, a retired Shell employee, started on a three-day-a-week basis for three months, and now works one day a week. His main tasks are to interview every first assignee as part of their induction and to ensure that they understand the scheme and the process of finding a mentor. He also acts as a recruiter and coach for mentors, initiates the training of new mentors and keeps records of all staff involved in the scheme. An evaluation of the RTS mentoring scheme by two external observers took place in November 1998. ...read more.

Conclusion

This show of concern about how mentoring is working generates additional interest and support at all levels. The evaluation method chosen was one-to-one interviews followed by focus groups comprising a cross-section of participants. The review took two days, including the production of a two-page summary of findings. The conclusion was: "Keep doing it. The basis is sound and mentoring is appreciated by all participants." Through this evaluation, RTS has shown that taking away bureaucratic control and giving ownership to the participants has created the environment for a thriving mentoring scheme. Yet underpinning this are simple, non-bureaucratic systems that have given people confidence in the process. The costs of RTS's mentoring programme include those of designing, "selling" and administrating the scheme; training all participants; evaluating the results; and rewarding the mentors' efforts. But the benefits are that all parties learn from the experience; new recruits enjoy a quicker start; staff develop a wider view of the business; diversity is protected; professional standards are maintained; and best practice is communicated more effectively. As companies come to rely more on mentoring to deliver their people policies and to market themselves as employers of choice, they will have to look closely at the long-term return from their investment. This is all part of the maturing of mentoring as a development tool. Supporting participants and managing schemes for lasting benefits will increasingly be a requirement, not an option. ...read more.

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