Imagine the typical day at the office – emails, deadlines, never enough time to do any substantive work because you are too busy fire-fighting, manager breathing down your neck… Trying to ignore your colleague at the next desk gossiping about the new woman in finance… You go through the day as if in a trance, working through lunch without realising it. You have not drunk any fluid since 8 in the morning. You don’t feel like you’ve achieved anything. You’ve completely forgotten why you’re in this job (other than the monthly blip in your bank statement), what your ambitions are and what you’re really good at…
Now you step away from your desk and walk out of the office & down the high street to a coffee shop. There you meet up with someone. For an hour and a half, you talk. He asks you questions about your work and career, your motivation and challenges. He gives you space to consider what you really want, what’s really getting in your way, and what’s actually helping you which you can’t yet see. You get a picture of your real goals and what you could actually do to influence your world – particularly your work world – to achieve them. You feel listened to, understood, challenged, stretched. Somehow you understand yourself better (that includes bits you don’t like, as well as what you consider your better qualities). You feel calm, but energised. You’ve also rehydrated your body. And you’ve come away with some clear practical steps to take before the next time you meet up.
You return to the office with a spring in your step. You tell the guy at the next desk you couldn’t be less interested in his opinion of the new finance assistance’s figure. Instead of fretting about your deadline, you have a brief honest chat with your boss, explaining why the report she requested can’t be done by tomorrow afternoon, but will be on her desk first thing Monday. She’s not pleased, but she does stop breathing down your neck. After work, you research evening classes in Japanese – something you’ve always wanted to do, and discover there’s one locally which might just fit with your weekly schedule.
Anyone who’s had a really good mentoring session can relate to some part of this story. Good mentoring is challenging and empowering for the individual. But can it transform workplace cultures? Under the right conditions, we think it can, and here’s why…
At the heart of every mentoring relationship are moments of Beauty, in which both parties recognise with clarity important truths about the world of the mentee, and in which the mentee recognises that they can only effect change by taking appropriate action based upon a change of perspective. The Beauty in helping relationships such as mentoring is that two minds focus exclusively upon the needs, aspirations, interests, talents and abilities of one person, who is consequently empowered to make changes which will benefit them, their work, their colleagues and organisation. The moments in which clarity is gained and inspiration received are, in our experience, so deeply moving, they cannot help but send ripples out into the client’s ‘world’, affecting others (the manager and the colleague in the above example, for instance) – not just the two involved in the immediate interaction.
That’s all very heart-warming, but can moments of Beauty transform the Beast that is the corporate workplace? We think they can – but like seeds, they will only take root if planted in fertile soil. Mentoring programmes have the greatest impact on corporate culture when:
A well-designed mentoring programme introduces into the culture of the business a legitimate ‘conversational practice’ of good listening, analysis, inquiry and empowerment. As these skills spread more widely, the whole culture of the organisation can begin to shift. Hidden issues can be brought into the light of day in a constructive way, individuals can receive support and guidance, and confidence can grow in the possibility that engaging in real conversations can result in positive changes. It could just help reform the ugliest of Beasts – from the inside out.