Focus: People Management - An outside view can help you through

Graham Willgoss,

With the right mentor, staff can gain new perspectives on what they do.

When Denise Yates joined the National Association for Gifted Children as finance and fundraising manager, she sought the help of Doug Sinton, who had recently retired from his role as managing director with Sinton Tyres, a Milton Keynes-based specialist tyres company.

"Having a mentor is a bit like having your own business psychiatrist or counsellor," said Yates, who is now deputy director of the National Childminding Association. "Everything you discuss with them is confidential. Problems you think are intractable seem easy to solve once you have talked them through with someone not so closely involved."

This is one example of how access to external skills and advice through a mentor can help staff and provide a different perspective on their work.

The mentor and the person being mentored must get along if monitoring is to work, according to Mark Freeman, learning and skills manager at the Workforce Hub. "It is important that the relationship between the mentor and person being mentored is right and that they can work well together," he said. "Mentoring is not only beneficial to the person being mentored, but it is also a useful learning experience for the person doing the mentoring."

This rings true for Sam Berwick, the managing director of Mizuho International, the investment banking arm of Japan's biggest bank. He volunteered to mentor John Street, director of Free at Last, a charity that supports communities in Birmingham and sets up social enterprises nationally. "I worked with John's youth workers, who are not incentivised by money like the bankers I work with," he said. "It gives you a new perspective on what makes people tick."

Mentors are often volunteers from other sectors or organisations. In these cases, charities may use broker organisations to help find suitable mentors. Yates found her mentor via the Chartered Institute of Marketing's voluntary member-to-member mentoring scheme, and Berwick volunteered through Pilotlight, a charity that recruits business people to offer business coaching.

"You build a strong relationship with people you meet, and you know they will give you an honest opinion," said Street.

But charities can also ask senior staff to mentor junior managers in their own organisations. "The person being mentored benefits from the knowledge and experience of a more senior colleague; the mentor benefits by enhancing their coaching and communication skills," said Freeman. "The organisation benefits from developing staff in a practical, cost-effective way."

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