The aim of this case study is to show how an organisation can design an internal mentoring service to improve management development, retention and internal operations.

Facing The Challenges

Many organisations, especially larger ones, accept a proportion of staff will leave every year, and their recruitment plans take into account what they call “natural wastage”. Yet in times of low unemployment it is difficult to find replacements and such losses can have a significant adverse effect on operations. The leaver may join a competitor taking valuable knowledge about clients. Information, particularly personal data, which has taken years to acquire may not have been recorded on the employers information systems.
Knock-on impacts can be an increase in workload on the rest of the team with reductions in motivation and operational efficiency. In some cases existing and new business revenues can be reduced. Some estimates put the real cost of a leaver at three times their annual salary.
The company is a division of an international business, producing over one billion pounds annual revenue in the financial services industry. The company has offices across the UK with the human resources manager being based in SE UK where local unemployment figures are falling. Wanting to take preventive action to address the challenges above, the company had been recruiting talented graduates whom they particularly did not want to lose to aggressive poaching by other companies. The graduates held positions in key functions, back office and client-facing, and any losses would have an adverse impact on operations.
The company recognised that people would feel stretched to put time aside into a mentoring programme which can require regular contact between two people for several months, sometimes longer. Some employees had past negative experiences of employer mentoring schemes. Mentees had specific concerns: line managers seeing the process as interfering with reporting lines; not knowing if a mentor from another department would fit with themselves; how confidentiality could be guaranteed; how to end the relationship. There were also some suspicions that it was “just another top down initiative”.

Overcoming The Barriers

The head of human resources invited an independent executive coach to offer ideas to address each issue, overcome doubts, attract interested parties and win their commitment for mutual support. They agreed a strategy to create a “bottom up” process, giving mentees control over how the programme would work. The governing principle was that mentees were “internal customers” and therefore would be empowered to lead the programme. To avoid the “top down” branding the external coach was invited to act as an independent quality controller and facilitate the development of internal guidelines for mentors and mentees.
Mentees drafted the initial guidelines which were then discussed with mentors for further amendment. These guidelines described the purpose, roles and conduct for the relationship so that all party expectations were agreed at the outset. Confidentiality, reporting lines, and how to end the relationship were included. To enable participants to select the right partner, informal lunch and the option to share information about their personal styles and interests was offered.

Reaping The Rewards

The consultation process supported by an internal board level champion and facilitated by an external coach has overcome early barriers by allowing mentees and mentors to set relationship guidelines. This now includes creating learning logs to track progress. The scene has been set for self-managed learning without high external costs. This in turn improves cross-function communications, role expansion, employee motivation and retention. And senior mentors will gain new insights into the realities of life “on the front-line”, improving their own skills in giving and receiving feedback at the same time.