Using senior staff to help colleagues with their professional development has become increasingly popular.
One example of where this has been used successfully is Service Point Poole, an IT desktop service provider at Barclays Bank, which won a Best Places to Work Award in the banking and finance sector. Every agent on the company's helpdesk has an IT analyst sitting beside them as their 'buddy'.
'They work through customer calls together and the analyst buddy spends two hours a week going through the agent's overall performance to see how it can be improved,' said team manager, Jodie Whale.
Staff also get one-to-one mentoring with their team leader, who is in turn mentored by their team manager, and all leaders and managers have to have done the work the agents do.
Telecoms company Thus, which was shortlisted in the utilities and communications category of the Best Places to Work Awards, has taken a similar approach to career development.
'We have a leadership campaign that is more about mentoring, about 'lighting the spark' than formal training. Our culture is very nurturing,' said Lloyd Naylor, solutions technology support manager at Thus.
'One of my mentors was from a different business area - marketing - I had worked with him and wanted to emulate his strengths - he was almost a role model. I then requested a different director, who was more involved in finance.
'It has been incredibly useful. The knowledge transfer that takes place depends on the individuals. For example, I was going to have to present a budget, so I went to my finance mentor to understand what I needed to do, and presented it to him first to get feedback from him.'
Software company Newchurch, which was shortlisted for in the software, hardware and IT services SME award category, used a directory of staff CVs to help employees find suitable colleagues to job shadow.
'We encourage staff to use our resource directory, which holds everyone's skills CV so they can see who they could talk to or work shadow,' said David Walker, HR director at Newchurch.
'We also hold Ôbrown bag' lunches where if you have got particular expertise anyone can come along to learn about it over lunch in an informal way.'
'Everyone has their own learning log, which identifies issues they need to address for their own personal development, and how they intend to get the knowledge they need and by when. Ownership has to be with the individual.'
Tips for successful coaching
- Have a talent management and development programme
- Have a matching process to identify who is best to mentor whom
- Recognise that it is preferable for a mentor to be a different personality type to the mentee. There has to be some stretch, some tension - but also a good rapport between them
- Ensure there is a good feedback and response mechanism for both parties
- Be aware that untrained coaches can be dangerous. Managers who take on coaching roles need to know where they can and cannot go in their programme
- Remember that coaching and mentoring must be in the interests of both parties and the employer
- The aim is to improve organisational performance through personal development of staff - not just to improve individual careers.
Source: Alistair Russell, personal development director, Impact Programme
This was first published in April 2005