Mentoring is evolving into a valuable support mechanism. By partnering with a mentor, mentees benefit from one-to-one guidance and coaching to help them identify and complete a learning and development path they create.
Career ladder or lattice?
In flatter, less hierarchical organisations, there are fewer management roles. However, climbing up is no longer the only way to get ahead. The traditional career ladder is being replaced with a more matrix-based approach. That’s one reason employee-driven professional development is on the rise.
Think of it like a rock-climbing wall. A climber moves along the face of a wall or cliff in a series of moves – or techniques. A skilled climber doesn’t power their way up a wall; they “technique” their way to the top with a set of moves.
Rock climbing, like career mobility, is about problem-solving. Practising and refining your technique in a safe but experimental environment is a great way to build confidence and gain the skills needed to become better at what you do.
Getting a foothold and grip
Finding the right holds and grips within reach is part of the technique. Just like climbing, employees need to visualise how to get where they want to go.
More and more employees are moving sideways, diagonally, up, and down. Individuals can confidently explore different options through mentoring, shadowing, coaching, online, and face-to-face learning. Both internal and external networks can help individuals make connections to explore other areas to expand their ‘T’ skills.
From internal communities of practice meetings through to external groups or meetups, it’s easy to gain more in-depth knowledge or expand skills laterally. In a previous post, Lisa Overall, Senior Test Engineer at BPDTS shared her experience learning new skills through different testing meetups and communities, for example.
Enter Code First Girls
Code First Girls works with women across the UK and globally, supporting women working in digital. The Code First Girls’ mission is to increase the proportion of women and non-binary professionals in the tech community. The organisation develops a community where professionals can engage through in-person and online activities. They offer training and support to boost success in technology sector careers.
Strengthening our capacity
Earlier in the year, BPDTS partnered with Code First Girls to strengthen our mentoring capacity. The 12-week ‘Women in Digital Mentorship’ training programme supported the first cohort of mentees (all women) and trained the mentors. The objective was to build an internal capability (the 15 mentors) who can then support future mixed cohorts.
The participants trained every 2 weeks with a Code First Trainer via webinars and interactive calls where they discussed key issues. Mentors and mentees also attended different training tracks comprised of modules specific to either the mentees or mentors.
Mentoring through lockdown
In February, we launched the programme with a face-to-face networking event with all mentors, mentees, and Code First Girls’ employee participants. By March, we reached the halfway point, then the pandemic hit.
Lockdown conditions meant participants were facing new challenges as their personal and professional lives collided; the mentors and mentees rallied as a community to support each other. I spoke with several participants to learn more about their experiences and what they're gaining through the BPDTS mentoring programme.
Mentee, Niamh Garnham
Niamh Garnham, BPDTS Business Support, joined the programme to progress her career: “Learning through mentoring is broadening my knowledge and boosting my confidence. The Code First Girls training reinforced that people of all levels sometimes experience feelings of doubt,” says Niamh. For Niamh, the Code First Girls training helped her build confidence, explore different job roles, and develop more effective working relationships. Niamh explains:
"Ultimately, I’ve become a mentee to progress my career. Although I already have a clear idea of what I want to achieve in the next 5 years, the mentoring programme reminds me there are lots of other options to consider."
Mentor, Will McLean
Will McLean, Senior Agile Delivery Manager at BPDTS, found the Code First Girls training programme went well given the sudden constraints put on it by the pandemic: “The interactive sessions were well organised, the resources excellent, and the format was adapted to new conditions.”
Niamh, Will’s mentee, agrees: “The programme was delivered efficiently, considering the onslaught of a global pandemic. Joy, our Code First Girls coach, was terrific. She was personally invested in each person and was keen to help everyone achieve their goals.”
The areas of training Will found most relevant included active listening, relationship building, dealing with conflict, and management and leadership style; Will says:
"The training was a fantastic opportunity to learn some important skills and give back to the business by helping other individuals realise their potential and reach their goals."
Despite disruptive conditions, Will and Niamh pack a lot into their time together. Will explains: “Niamh and I continue to meet on a fortnightly basis. Given the geographical differences between us, we had always planned to hold our sessions via Skype. After things settle down, hopefully, we can actually sit down face to face for a coffee.”
Mentor, Rob Patton
Rob Patton, Senior Agile Delivery Manager within BPDTS, also participates in the mentoring scheme as a mentor. For Rob, the intense training helped build a stronger foundation so he can continue working as a mentor, improving his mentoring style and upping his skills. Rob explains:
"Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your colleagues empowered and achieving goals. Developing our people helps the organisation grow. I signed up for the programme to improve my mentoring skills; now, I can add more value to our organisation by helping others."
Mentor, Clare Garnham
Clare Garnham, a Special Projects Manager at BPDTS, is one of the 15 mentors who participated in the Code First Girls initiative. Clare, an experienced mentor at both BPDTS and other government organisations, participated in the training to continue to hone her mentoring capabilities. Clare adds:
“The facilitated learning programme helped me gain a better understanding of mentoring while giving me the chance to share my knowledge and expertise. I intend to spend more time networking across BPDTS, engaging with other mentors and mentees who are also taking part in the mentoring programme.”
Winning with mentoring
Everyone wins in a mentoring environment. Through the BPDTS mentoring programme, we’re investing in our people in a way that allows them to give back to the organisation. After finishing the programme, our participants are already testing their new skills as BPDTS mentors using our Mentoring Hub.
Mentoring is a terrific opportunity to help someone with their learning journey. Along that journey, both the mentor and the mentee will experience different milestones. Everyone’s journey is unique.
Our mentors find it’s hugely satisfying to use personal skills and experience to help coach someone through a professional journey. Mentees participating in the programme look for support in their career, career progression guidance, or are perhaps looking to find a mentor to help them through a specific situation.
"Being paired with Will is perfect. The experience allows me to learn about the different tools he's using to facilitate meetings in his role as a Senior Agile Delivery Manager; he's also helped me recognise gaps in my learning, and offered guidance to build out my CV," adds Niamh.