Mentoring: Take another look

At first blush mentoring looks like a safe option.

  • It’s usually based on an hierarchical relationship (Odysseus gave his trusted servant “Mentor” responsibility for the development of his son, so the idea has been around a while)
  • It’s about passing on good practicePartnership
  • It’s not too demanding

If this view concurs with your impression of mentoring, then you have got the wrong end of the stick!

Certainly, mentoring is not a threatening activity, but its more than a quiet chat.  Mentoring can help unlock potential, engage long-serving staff and generate ideas.  All things a modern, progressive business will have on its “to do” list of people development.

Who benefits?

Mentoring results in hard, quantifiable benefits, like staff retention, or new staff being able to be productive rapidly.  Examples of less tangible, but highly valuable benefits include, staff engagement, inter-generational & inter-department communication, and support for line management.


Benefits of Mentoring for Stakeholders

Mentor Mentee Organisation
  • Recognition of experience & value to organisation
  • The opportunity to contribute to development
  • Time to reflect
  • A chance to stay in touch with colleagues
  • The possibility of learning something new from them
  • Learning new skills which will serve them in all walks of life


  • Access to experience outside line-management
  • Support
  • Guidance
  • Advice
  • A listening ear
  • A sounding board
  • Another perspective
  • Someone who can challenge them to be their best


  • Staff engagement
  • Increased staff retention
  • Motivation & commitment from all parties
  • New staff productive earlier
  • An additional source of support for line managers
  • Communication between different levels of staff
  • Cross-department working
  • Transferable skills for both mentor & mentee
  • A flow of ideas about existing practices

Mentoring: Getting started

It is essential that there is clarity about the purpose of your mentoring programme; otherwise any initiatives will fizzle out in the face of operational pressure.  Here are some key steps:

Step One

Identify who might benefit from mentoring, how that fits with business need and how you might measure the benefits.  You might consider;

  • your least experienced staffTaking the first step
  • new comers
  • people hoping for promotion

Think about existing formal and informal mentoring or mentoring-type activities in your business and make sure you are not over-burdening either the potential mentees or the potential mentors.  Do you need something new, or do you want to improve an existing arrangement?

Step Two

Get management buy-in to:

  • the strategic purpose
  • the operational impact (e.g. training need, communication effort, time away from the work-place)
  • how the process will be monitored and its impact measured

Step Three

Mentors have to be volunteers.  Identify who is interested in being a mentor and get them together to discuss their motivation and expectation.  Remember, mentors do not have to be people from the top of the organisation.  Experience, knowledge and skills worth communicating will be found at all levels.

Giving staff ownership of the mentoring project will increase its impact on engagement and is likely to be a positive factor in its success.   So get the potential mentors to think about;

  • The purpose of mentoring
  • The resources they need
  • What skills, knowledge and attitudes mentors need; do they have them?
  • What and how they would like to learn.

At this point you will have the basis for a planned approach to mentoring.

Essential Principles

Mentoring is natural for some people; they instinctively know when to encourage, or  when to advise and when to stand back and let someone work something out for themselves.  Even so, there are some basics which need to be part of the framework of mentoring, however lose it might be.

  • Boundaries need to be agreed at the outset
  • The ethics of the process need to be clear
  • Expectations need to be managed for all parties concerned, including line-managers, HoDs and at an organisational level

Reaching the parts other initiatives do not reach

High-flyers benefit from being mentored by excellent role-models, of course.  However, mentoring is a great way of engaging long-serving staff who may not have any other mechanism to communicate their knowledge and experience.  It builds-in that buzz word; sustainability.



A quiet performer

Introducing mentoring, or reviewing an existing programme, is an easy win.  Its low risk and relatively cheap.  Its a great way of demonstrating business values such as commitment to development, strong communication and recognition of experience.  And it opens up other avenues, like using developing low key coaching skills in senior staff, collaborative working,  and the potential to use online systems as a platform for mentoring.


Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?

It sometimes feels that no matter what you do in terms of strategy,  nothing really changes?

If so perhaps Peter Drucker’s question ‘ Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?’  might give an insight  into what is getting in the way, to understand why it might feel that the organisation is facing in a different direction from the senior team.

Culture permeates through organisations creating the ‘feel’ of an organisation, affecting how things are done.  Often it is multilayered and different  cultures coexisting within one organisation.

If culture has such power what can you do to limit its impact?

There are thousands of different theories about organisational culture and the factors which will align your culture to your strategic objectives.  As fascinating as these theories are they often don’t offer the practical help to allow you to address your cultural issues.

We have found that four key factors that when addressed can make a significant difference:

Leadership approach

Every individual has personal preferences, this includes the leaders in your organisation.  When performing their leadership function they will favour those leadership activities and behaviours with which they feel most comfortable avoiding those which are on the edge or totally outside their comfort zone.

If the culture of your organisation is at odds with your strategic objectives, starting with your leadership team enables you to assess whether the leadership activities which will make the most difference are being performed.  Which these are  will vary dependent upon what you are trying to change and the make up of your leadership team.

Examining your leadership approach will give you a framework within which to develop your team.

Organisational behaviour

The accepted way of doing things effectively becomes your organisational behaviours. Changing behaviour is like breaking a habit.  Anyone who has given up smoking or some other addiction knows how difficult that can be.

Habits Triangle

Attitude is the biggest challenge to changing behaviour.

So how do you tackle attitude?

But consider how well your managers are equipped to manage behavioural performance?  Start by defining the behaviours that you want to see, with examples of positive and negative indicators, so there is a common understanding of these desired behaviours, then manage against them.

Do they have the right knowledge skills and attitude to be able to do this?

Organisational design
Organisational structures often evolve rather than be designed.

When they work effectively supporting the strategic objectives no one really notices.  When they don’t they can become a major obstacle.

Reviewing whether your structure is fit for purpose can make a significant difference.

Performance measures

Following on from the other factors, ensuring that
you are measuring the right things will enable you to encourage the right behaviours to deliver the results you need.

We all know from performance measures in schools and hospitals, if you measure the wrong things you will encourage behaviours which will undermine the bigger picture.

Identifying the right performance measures is the start, but you also need to equip your managers with the skills knowledge and attitudes to manage staff effectively.  Easy enough when the performance measures are being achieved not always so easy when they are not.

Athena professional can help you to ensure that rather than your culture eating strategy for breakfast it becomes the magic ingredient that makes your strategy a Michelin starred full english!.