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Leadership Styles

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Remote working has underlined the importance of mentoring – and is changing the way it is done, Insider Engage discovers

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Mentoring - Key takeaways:

• Successive Covid-19 lockdowns have driven both appetite for mentoring and the need for platforms to enable virtual engagement

• Mentoring programmes represent ‘low hanging fruit’ in terms of facilitating internal growth and professional development

• Setting clear boundaries and expectations for mentoring outcomes from the start is key

• Group mentoring or action learning groups are an efficient way to facilitate learning

• Reverse mentoring is likely to become increasingly important as a way of educating senior management about issues of diversity and inclusion

• Formal mentoring can also be a substitute for the informal peer support employees may have benefited from in a 'real world' office environment, helping to boost motivation during remote working

Julie Hyett, Aon’s London-based head of talent, was in the midst of developing a new mentoring programme for the broker when the pandemic struck.

“Aon always had targeted programmes around, for example, young careers, supporting high potential [employees], women. The challenge we had was to set up a wider mentoring programme, across the whole business,” she says.

But Covid-19 added new urgency to her plans: “It quickly became clear that people needed support in lockdown and they needed to keep developing. In that sense, mentoring is more important than ever.”

Hyett had been thinking tentatively about using a technology platform to facilitate interaction – but wasn’t sure. “Now, in lockdown it’s become clear there will be no resistance to virtual engagement,” she says.

Meanwhile, at Hiscox the company’s mentoring scheme allows for six monthly, 1-hour catch-ups, or in a flexible format to suit the mentor, according to 25-year-old mentee Ishaan Rahman, a London market underwriter.

“It has been great to continue this scheme through lockdown and all six of my sessions have been virtual phone/video calls. Whilst trying to build a relationship with a mentor is easiest conducted in person, the situation this year has called for new methods of engagement. Being well prepared with questions and topics is especially helpful now,” he says

Low hanging fruit

Matthew R Williams is a senior finance analyst at Charles Taylor and an advocate of the Next Generation Insurance Network (NGIN). He believes that mentoring can work as well in cyberspace as over a coffee table – and that it’s in every firm’s interests to keep it going.

“Mentoring, in my opinion, represents the lowest hanging fruit for a company who wishes to facilitate internal growth and professional development,” he says.

“It is quick and easy to organise and creates long lasting and mutually beneficial relationships, as well as providing an instant and effective platform for the sharing of opinions and ideas. Most importantly though, it makes people feel valued.”

The NGIN runs a mentoring programme for individuals across the insurance industry and promotes an annual event where prospective mentees and mentors meet. NGIN's scheme gives professionals the opportunity to receive guidance from someone outside their organisation, or within their own.

“Previously we have run an annual event where prospective mentees and mentors meet. We then work very hard to match mentees with mentors so that both individuals can get the most out of the scheme,” says Leah Wood, an associate at the law firm RPC and head of mentoring for NGIN. “This year will be a little different due to the events being virtual.”

Agile online connections

Back at Aon, Hyett is moving ahead with the company’s online mentoring platform.

“We think a technology platform will allow for an agile way of connecting people. A person will be able to ‘volunteer’ as mentor and mentees with a specific problem can request to connect virtually to discuss the problem,” she says.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean having a continuous relationship with the same person because the next ‘problem’ might require a completely different area of experience.”

Fiona Temple, HR and academy director at the Lloyd’s Market Association, says that mentoring has to be efficient because time is tight for industry professionals.

“We need to make sure that the mentoring relationship commences in the right manner. Setting clear boundaries and expectations from the start, a mentee can foster important skills and be introduced to networks in an effectual way,” Temple says.Group mentoring or Action Learning Groups are another way to be efficient, with multiple people coming together to learn with a mentor.”

Reverse mentoring

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) places great store in mentoring and engages with a third party training provider for its own internal mentoring scheme. They have held sessions to “upskill” staff on how mentoring works and the expectations of all parties.

“We’re planning on re-launching our internal mentoring scheme to colleagues in the New Year in order to ensure this continues to have a good level of uptake and energy behind it,” says Emma Phillips, assistant director and head of human resources at the Association.

She points out that the ABI is also involved in several external mentoring schemes that connect individuals from different firms and sectors to support their development and progression, in particular amongst minority groups.

“We expect there to be a bigger focus on reverse mentoring in the future. The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on the importance of ethnic minority inclusion and implementing initiatives that support senior executives in understanding different lived experiences,” she says.

Charles Taylor’s Matt Williams, who has been both a mentor and a mentee, agrees it’s a two way street.

“Establishing a relaxed and ongoing conversation with someone you may not interact with on a day-to-day basis will give you an exclusive insight into what your mentee does and how their life and career progression has differed from your own,” he says. “

You can then use this newfound knowledge to make better decisions in both your professional and private lives.”

Experience counts

Juliet Redfern, Markel International’s divisional managing director for equine and livestock has been a mentor for a number of years.

“I like to think that my experiences might be useful for others, and equally, when I spend time talking with my mentees, I gain insight into other perspectives and learn for myself,” she says.

“I think it’s only as you get older and have more experience you think about giving back some of that experience to others and mentoring is a great way to do that.”

Hiscox’s Rahman agrees: “It has been most useful hearing about how the market previously navigated challenging times such as ‘01, ‘05 and ‘11 and how those lessons can be applied to today’s market.

“It has also helped getting a senior perspective on mapping out a future career and associated skills path; they are then able to guide and consult on which opportunities, training and tasks are most valuable for achieving your targets.”

NGIN’s Wood says mentoring must keep moving up the HR agenda as working practices change in the insurance industry: “Working from home can be particularly tough for those who are new to their role, or are more junior in a team, especially when it comes to asking questions or having more informal discussions.

“Lockdown probably means that the informal mentoring you may receive from your peers probably isn't happening, and it's also likely that people are feeling less supported and/or motivated than they did whilst working in an office.”

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