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The Right Match


A great mentoring system can provide guidance and development for staff, but how do you go about setting up something that is worthwhile and rewarding for both parties? The 50,000-strong Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) is the leading international body for marketing and business development. It provides its members with training, qualifications and career development resources. It has been running a successful mentoring scheme for over two years. Here is the CIM story.

The Institute’s member-to-member mentoring scheme was piloted by its Greater London Region, which encompasses 6,000 members in London, Greater London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes. The scheme was piloted as a way to mine the potential within its own membership for sharing knowledge, advice and support. One member, Philip O’Brien – who still oversees the scheme today – used his experience of a CIPD mentoring scheme to set up the pilot for The CIM.

Getting started
“The pilot began with an initial focus on building practical experience by just getting started, however small the scale,” says O'Brien In November 2004 The CIM sent an invitation to members to join the scheme and put themselves forward as would-be mentors or mentees. Members were asked to share common data about their work/life experience via an application form to facilitate the matching process.

The quality of this data was seen as important in ensuring the quality of mentors. “Getting enough good mentors was key to the success of the scheme so the application form was designed carefully to capture indicative information.”

All applicants were accepted onto the scheme but to be a mentor, members needed to demonstrate at least three times as many years’ marketing experience as a mentee. This also meant that members could in theory become both a mentor and a mentee, which several did.

A summary of applicants’ data was shared with all applicants enabling applicants to select their own mentor partners using a simple on-screen form. This gave mentors and mentees a greater degree of ownership in the pairing process. This was consistent with one of the basic philosophies in setting up the scheme – that members are able to manage many things in their lives which are more complex than a mentoring relationship and therefore can manage a great degree of ownership and involvement in their own mentoring scheme.

Over the next 18 months the scheme gathered momentum as more matches were made and more members joined the scheme. The scheme was publicised at regular intervals, often printing interviews with enthusiastic participants to generate further interest.

O'Brien offered participants advice and guidance but mainly encouraged mentors and mentees to make contact and get going. He also focused on keeping the admin 100% email-based with fast, simple responses to email queries. No paper, no post, no telephone tag.

Reviewing the scheme with partcipants
A survey reviewing the scheme was conducted by email 18 months after its inception. Key findings were:

  • Mentors are highly valued for the confidentiality and objectivity they offer. The most popular topics for discussion between mentors and mentees include career development, finding a new job, going for interviews, dealing with office politics, improving your work life balance and preparing your CV. “These issues can be really tough especially when you’re in your 20s or early 30s,” says O’Brien.

  • It was important to manage expectations of how quickly a good match can be found and also to emphasize that you might have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right mentor/mentee for you. “The best mentoring relationships improve with longevity,” says O’Brien. “Don’t be discouraged if it isn’t perfect the first time round!”

  • The match-making process did not work satisfactorily in a few instances and warranted more attention. For example, some members working in specific industry segments requested a mentor with experience in the same sector. It was important that the process remained relatively straightforward however. A “No Blame” break is invoked whenever dissatisfaction arises and new matches are made.

  • Most mentoring meetings take place over lunch or after-work drinks. Frequency of meetings vary from monthly, to once or twice a year. Busy schedules proved to be the main inhibitor of progress but many mentors and mentees found that email or phone contact worked well once a face-to-face meeting has established a rapport. Mentoring by email was particularly popular and in a small number of cases, due to changed circumstances, mentoring continued even when one party moved abroad.

  • The mentoring scheme was overwhelmingly popular among female participants although the gender divide has balanced out slightly now. Slight adjustments were made to the way in which the mentoring scheme was publicised: change of tone in articles, demonstrating direct benefits, using male-male mentoring relationships as case studies etc.

  • Some mentors reported a disappointing level of commitment among mentees with late or repeated cancellations of appointments. Although the scheme remained free to join, organisers reminded members that a degree of commitment from mentees was necessary in order to retain mentor commitment.
  • Going forward
    Now the scheme is established, O’Brien finds the time to focus on providing a smooth and speedy turnaround from a member’s initial expression of interest to their first meeting with a mentoring partner.

    Although 99% of the admin is on-screen and via email, one or two cases have needed personal mentoring by O'Brien himself, with a view to understanding why previous matches have not been successful and helping the mentee find a positive way forward.

    Most participants are enjoying a beneficial and productive relationship with their mentor/mentee and most said they would recommend the scheme to a friend or colleague. The experience of being mentored has created a willingness to become a mentor.

    A mentor says:
    "I was once told that we can learn something from everyone. This must be especially true in marketing, which is constantly evolving. I signed up as a mentor for the scheme because I felt I ought to pass on something of my training and experience. If only this scheme had been in existence when I started out in marketing. I think of myself as a sounding board for my mentee. It has been immensely satisfying to be able to help another marketer in a situation where I have nothing to gain or lose – financially. I have gained an insight into a side of marketing I had no previous experience of and what greater incentive can there be for such a scheme that works, than it is free?"

    A mentee says
    "I had just got a tough new job I felt that a mentor with a vast amount of experience has got to be good for my career development. Any middle manager should be looking seriously at a scheme like this as part of their career development plan. It’s a bit like having your own business psychiatrist or counsellor. Problems which I thought were intractable at the coal face suddenly seem so easy to solve once you have talked them through with someone who is not involved. We meet for about two hours once every four-to-six weeks in the station coffee bar and we also keep in contact by e-mail. Everything we talk about is confidential and I have the confidence to know that I can say things and I won’t be judged."


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