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Published on 16/12/2011
In the post global financial crisis environment, the world of mentoring has changed. Career structures and expectations have been transformed over the last three years and three new models of mentoring have emerged.
Traditionally, mentoring has been about the older wiser person who has been around the block a few times imparting their wisdom to someone starting out. With this model, their experience guides someone forward.
Chip McFarlane, a director at the Institute of Coaching says all that has changed in the economy that's emerged from the ashes of the crisis. Many boomers took packages to start their own business. Some are now being mentored by young entrepreneurs. Many have never had an employer.
"More recently we are seeing younger entrepreneurs who have hit age, 24, 25 or 26. They have already made over $1 million and they are now starting to mentor older people who are stepping out of organisations and seeking to start their own business,'' McFarlane says.
"We are seeing now a lot of what is called reverse mentoring. They actually start working with older entrepreneurs who are just entering the market. They understand this new market and they have demonstrated that. They have been there, they have done that and they have been successful in what they do."
Their mentoring can play a critical role for boomers who have spent decades working in a corporate environment with regular pay and hours. Outplacement specialists say that most boomers don't last more than two years. After about a year or so working in an uncertain environment, they gravitate back towards the perceived security of a regular job. Reverse mentoring can help them get through that and ensure they last more than two years.
"They have lived much of their life in the context of a large organisation and now they are moving into a sole trader status,'' McFarlane says. "When you get a chance to work with someone who has literally been there and done that, they may be 30 years younger than you but they have life experience of what they did to get to where they are."
So if someone is leaving, for example, an accounting firm to set up a café, the young entrepreneur will walk them through issues and ask hard questions. Do they expect to build it and people will come? How do they plan to advertise? How will they get people to know the café is there? How will they develop a buzz for the place?
Bernadette Crompton who runs the mentoring firm Perspective Solutions says this is the shape of the post-GFC world.
"Someone who has taken a package doesn't necessarily have the experience in the small business area. People are swallowing their pride and they will go to young people and respect the wisdom they have gained in their area. Age doesn't matter anymore. It's more the practical experience people are looking for."
"They are technically savvy, social media savvy, they have a handle on different ways to do things and that's what this market is about with the GFC, people are looking for different ways to do things."
After the financial crisis, people are looking for more value for money. It is now rare for people to have just one mentor. They can have several, advising them in different areas. Paul Smith, chief executive of the Carnegie Management Group and one of Australia's 12 accredited executive mentors, says that he has one client who runs a successful financial services company who has at least five mentors. "One might be looking after sales and marketing, one might be looking after financial services, one might be looking after back office operations. I am the generalist."
Chris Nunns, a partner at Deloittes, says having many mentors is actually healthy as it provides different perspectives.
"Mentorship should not be monogamous,'' Nunns says. "We should have many mentors and for varying lengths of time because there is nothing better than going and picking someone's brain."
Michael Donovan, senior associate for executive business mentoring at ARGroup, says the mentor network has become the new reality for mentoring. "Anyone who believes they want to be the sole source of mentoring help for somebody needs to go and check in somewhere," Donovan says.
"It's like a computer. You have different software for different functions. So you have different mentors and different coaches who have a suite of skills and experiences.
"There are people who have a support team around them and, depending on the challenge, they will ring the person they believe the most appropriate. Or they will ring three to get different opinions. It's like using them as a set of extra heads."
He says he has been in a position where a client has put a difficult and unusual matter to him. Baffled and not knowing what advice to give, he referred the client to a colleague who helped them out.
"I see that as an extension of the ability of the mentor to be someone who can be a source of extra contacts and more information and more knowledge,'' Donovan says.
"You now simply cannot be a single source of what the mentee actually wants, you have to open up different perspectives and if that means introducing them to other people, that's perfectly valid."
Donovan, who has written Australia's only manual on mentoring, The Art of The Business Mentor, says the shift to networks came out of the GFC. People felt the way they had done things before no longer worked. And at a time when it was harder to raise cash, mentor networks provided more value for their money."
"People got a hell of a fright,'' Donovan says.
"It was almost a black swan event. No one expected it to happen and it was triggered by something that happened in the remote boondocks of America and it flowed through to financial collapse that scared the bejesus out of people."
"It meant there were opportunities to be had. If you were fast enough and had the ability to get together with the right people, you could take advantage of those opportunities and secure your market place."
"It also meant that the amount of capital you had to work with was very constrained, so you had to do a hell of a lot better with it. And boards took stock of what they were doing and said to management what's gone before isn't good enough, it has to change. Come back to us with a different perspective of the market place and different strategies to cope with it."
Focus on creativity, innovation, experience and technology
Mentors say these are among the most noticeable changes. First, they notice more clients now want to develop their creativity and innovation. Donovan says that before the crisis, there was a lot more focus on developing soft skills and work/life balance. Now the ground has shifted.
"There is more emphasis now on innovation, creativity, situational analysis and forward strategic planning,'' he says. "It just didn't have that hard edge before."
Crompton says this reflects the post-GFC market place.
"With the GFC, it became more focused,'' Crompton says. "Buyers are a lot choosier and savvier about products and services. Also, social media has had a huge impact on the way people are doing business and they are looking for mentors who are up-to-date in these areas. They are looking for people who are creative and who are willing to try new things but they still want people they can bounce ideas off."
Debbie Bennett, a consultant at Mentoring Works says the GFC forced organisations to look carefully at the kind of creativity that would allow them to seize opportunities in a changed market place.
"Certainly organisations needed to look for new ways of doing things since the financial crisis,'' Bennett says. "It's the way organisations are moving now. If you don't allow people to have that space of innovation, you don't grow. You become stagnant and businesses just can't afford to do that."
Besides the scope for more creativity, organisations are now seeking mentors with experience. Donovan says that before the GFC, there were mentors who came from human resources and psychology backgrounds. Now clients are seeking people with hands on business experience.
"If you are a mentor, I want to know you have sat in my chair or a more senior chair, you have dealt with a company of my size and complexity, or bigger, you have faced some of the challenges that my business is facing and you have been able to resolve those,'' he says.
Or as Crompton puts it, people are now looking for mentors who have "been there and done that".
"What people are seeking is people who are experienced, who have creativity with different media, who know how to get customers, how to get the market to respond. That's what this market is about with the GFC, it's about looking for different ways to do things," she says.
Apart from social networking, there has been an uptake in technology to assist mentoring. Some have used web 2.0 tools for mentoring.
Smith has clients as far away as Perth and in regional Australia, and many overseas who he mentors through Skype.
"It's a beautiful tool if people have a high speed broadband connection,'' Smith says.
"It's still not as good as that face-to-face meeting and handshake type of contact but if people think we are meeting their expectations, and we deliver the goods, they will go with us on Skype."
(Article courtesy of Smart Company - 15th March, 2011; Author - Leon Gettler)
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