NZIM Mentoring: A concept for all seasons

Organisational mentoring is catching on because, to put it simply, it meets some very fast growing personal management needs.
Consider the major drivers for organisational (read people) failure in the industrialised nations – the effects of rapid, often incoherent, change; ambiguity of roles and situations and dogmatic stress on ‘flat structures’. Many now say that stressed managers, enveloped in change, must have the opportunity to make better sense of what is happening and to be able to articulate it better to others. Mentoring is increasingly seen as one of the most effective ways to help those who are key to organisational performance to step back, in thoughtful, measured way and cope with all this.
While many point to the ancient origins of mentoring, capturing the benefits in modern setting requires clarity about what you are trying to achieve.
Consider these cases:
* young lawyer, just starting out in large legal practice, receives informal help from colleague in identifying people it would be useful to know to further his career.
* scientist, after working as part of team for many years, has just been promoted to the position of team leader; as part of the organisation’s development processes, she opts for help from the experienced manager of another team to help her come to grips with the unfamiliar dimensions of her new role.
* seasoned chief executive regularly takes time out to meet person outside of his organisation to act as ‘sounding board’ to develop partly formed ideas.
* An aspiring member of professional body is required to demonstrate practical familiarity with comprehensive range of technical skills and knowledge; she chooses an experienced practitioner from register provided to oversee her progress and compliance.
At various times all of these and other activities have been called ‘mentoring’.
So, if we are to make sense of the impressive growth in the practices grouped under this umbrella term, we should look underneath the definitions to what is actually going on and the mechanisms by which it is achieved.
Firstly, we will carefully avoid the swamp of competing labels characterised by questions like: “So, where does coaching end and mentoring begin?”; “If we talk about feelings, does that mean we are taking part in therapy session?”; “Can skills transfer happen outside formal training?” and “Can you really mentor someone who is younger than you?”. Arguments around boundaries are fruitless; so let’s put those to one side and talk about the primary elements of useful mentoring relationship in the context that concerns most readers of this magazine, namely, management.
As managing director of the New Zealand subsidiary of large multinational, I was lucky enough to have someone who could help me, on one-to-one basis, become clearer about solutions to difficulties and how to develop possible business initiatives.
The experience created in me an enthusiasm for the practical benefits of mentoring – not that I would have called it that at that stage.
Subsequently, working as mentor myself, I began to record from my own experience and the writings of others in this field the essential characteristics of mentoring in management or organisational context. These characteristics collectively could be said to form what I term ‘management mentoring’. What distinguishes such relationship from others?
* It is an experience that aims for practical results.
* The outcomes relate to improving the practice of the individual as self-directing manager.
* It is about developing the manager’s performance rather than sponsoring career progression or networking.
* It is clear from the above that evaluation against initial goals is key component.
* The mentor requires sufficient experience of ‘hands-on’ management to be able to understand the other person’s situation; to be able to ask the appropriate questions in order to ‘break open’ the issues and to help them reflect in focused way on issues of importance to them.
At the core of the process is the reflective space, where manager can reflect on practice and be encouraged to extract the learning for future use.
“Being able to think aloud in the presence of creative and challenging guide powerfully improves the manager’s ability to carry out high quality reasoning about issues of real importance in his/her organisational role.”
In addition, the relationship:
• Is one of trust and respect.
• Focuses on the needs of the person being mentored.
• Sees both parties benefit.
• Maintains independence.
The results of research project initiated by the Central Division of the NZIM, show that there is growing awareness in New Zealand organisations of the value of management mentoring but low level of understanding about what it involves and the results that can be expected.
It could involve something as straightforward as using outside mentors for senior managers or developing the mentoring skills of the organisation’s own managers or combination of both. Some have gone on to create internal mentoring schemes, often complemented with external mentors. NZIM has been running successful mentoring programme for its members for some time, employing the skills and experience of its large pool of fellows and associate fellows. The mentors’ management experience is complemented by comprehensive training in core mentoring skills. Drawing on that experience and its extensive research, it is now offering guidance and mentoring services to its corporate members.
By whatever name it is called, the practice of formalised mentoring is well established. Our managers, more than ever, could use responsive guide or thoughtful sounding board to help meet the challenges of today’s organisational environment. M

John Butterfield FNZIM is the corporate mentoring manager for NZIM, Central Division. He has just completed research project into the practice of mentoring in management context and has, for some years, been drawing on his management experience in working in the field of management mentoring.

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