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Guest Blog: Moving ahead with mentoring

About the authors: Liz Dimmock is the CEO and founder of Moving Ahead and Women Ahead - enterprises that design, deliver, evaluate and support world-class mentoring partnerships between and within the worlds of sport and business. Jane Booth is the Head of Research at Moving Ahead/Women Ahead.

About the blog: Sports Coach UK teamed up with sport and business mentoring experts Moving Ahead and their mentoring facilitator, Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi, for a day of insight and discussion around the benefits of mentoring. Here is a run down of the day from the perspective of Moving Ahead.

"People tend to fall in love with solutions before they really understand the problem". - Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg

In the 'modern' world we often feel pressured to make changes, deliver answers and provide innovative solutions, whether personally or professionally.  External pressure often drives us to find solutions that are obvious and accessible as we need to feel that we are able to meet demands quickly but are these solutions really going to help us deliver the change we seek?

It was a real pleasure to spend the day with a group of engaged and enthusiastic individuals looking at mentoring and exploring how the idea of mentoring could provide some solutions to a number of our coaching and participation challenges in sport. It was also a great opportunity to spend a few hours really challenging us all to think about whether the problems we think we need to solve really are the problems we actually need to consider.  The day got off to an inspiring start with Maggie Alphonsi sharing her experiences of how mentors have helped shape her career over time - and also how her mentors have learned as much from her as she has from them.  And in one case how the mentee has turned mentor in recent years; an ever shifting and mutually beneficial relationship.

But before we got started, it was important to take time out to reflect on what success for the day looked like for each of us individually.  By asking this question prior to the session, Liz and I had been able to shape the format of the day around these insights but ultimately the responsibility for making the day a success was down to all of us and how we chose to engage throughout the day.  Success criteria appeared to be very much around the desire to share ideas with others and have a space in which to learn and reflect on new ideas.  From the feedback from everyone at the end of the day, we seemed to hit the mark.  However, don't forget that real success comes when you implement something, or do something differently, because of a new idea or development you stumbled across during your conversations.

Taking time to 're-frame' our problems and look at them from a number of angles in the morning session gave us all the opportunity to take a step back and think about what it is that we are really aiming to achieve within our own sports and organisations.  Whilst everyone had their own challenges and were all at different stages in terms of their exploration of mentoring, what it means for them and how it could be implemented, there were some common themes arising from the morning discussions.

We very much heard a shared sense of:

  • Pressure to measure impact when we generally work in the short-term
  • Constantly shifting landscape (policy, strategic, funding)
  • Tracking what we do – how do we know what to measure, when and for how long?
  • Hard to really understand our shared, organisational ‘problem’
  • Creating a culture of mentoring and coaching…and recognising that it may already be happening (but we don’t know about it)

And so to the afternoon session and an exploration of what a successful, structured mentoring programme can deliver.  Using her 16 years of business coaching and mentoring experiences, Liz took us through a journey of impact and change through mentoring.  Using the 'International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment' as a reference, we learned about the basic ingredients for any structured mentoring programme.  Making particular reference to the highly successful cross-company mentoring scheme delivered for the 30% club, Liz shared her stories of how these standards have been brought to action - and delivered lasting change - on a large scale.

“The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.” - Nancy Kline

The big challenge for all of us was to always be sure of the purpose of what we are doing.  Reflecting back on our work re-framing the problem; do we really know what it is that we are looking to achieve through mentoring in the first instance?  And if so, how, by asking the right questions in the first place, can we begin to tease out what our solution may look like.

To draw this blog to a close, as we drew the session itself to a close, we leave you with a challenge.

Firstly to REFLECT.    
What have you heard, remembered, thought about today that is important to you in your role?

Secondly to then CONNECT.     
How does that relate to what you already know or have done in the past?

And thirdly, to APPLY.          
What will you put into action as a result of today? 

Accompanying this blog are slides from the presentation.

Jane Booth, Head of Research, Moving Ahead and Women Ahead

Follow: @opus29jane

Follow: @_MovingAhead / @Women_Ahead