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What it takes to build a mentoring culture that delivers

Worldline has been one of the key customers I’ve been implementing a company-wide strategic mentoring program (you will spot me here and there presenting, gesticulating and laughing in the short video). During the last four years, I’ve been starting up, designing, implementing, training, tweaking, measuring and evolving their mentoring programme to attain specific strategic goals (that I won’t disclose obviously, but you can Google what they’ve been up to since 2014 and have some idea).

As consultants working on the strategic side of things (culture is about strategy) we can’t share much of what we are doing internally. That’s probably the only frustrating part of our job really. If Worldline chose not to communicate that much on this program up to until now, it’s evidently because it was not just a PR « feel-good » operation. That being said, now that the program is really mature and has delivered enough Worldline decided to share a few things about it.

As such, I can also open up a bit on what the key to their success at making mentoring a strategic tool, not just a feel-good operation:

There has been for them 4 key success factors in sustainably establishing a mentoring culture that supported their talent strategy through growth and stimulated their adaptiveness to new market paradigms.

1) They have me ; )

I know you might think I’m blowing my own trumpet and you may be right… It is not that I am the key to success, it is more that they were open to expert advice, to create a programme based on solid knowledge and experience, whilst understanding that they needed a tailored programme not a one-size-fits-all magical recipe.

We took the time to design the programme, it was a co-construction between my expert view and their knowledge of their culture and context. My role is also to support them along the way, to help them become autonomous, to train internal teams, and ensure the sustainability of the programme.

Also I challenge them every year to ensure the programme doesn’t become “boring”, doesn’t lose its energy and purpose and continues to create value. We are now discussing next steps towards mentoring 3.0, but can’t talk about that yet.

2) They have a committed diverse internal team

Scaling up a mentoring programme toward mentoring culture cannot rely solely on HR, it needs the engagement of senior managers and EXCOM who understand the strategic value of mentoring as well as on-boarded operational managers who see the benefit of their teams participating in such practices.

What Worldline did very well was to gather a diverse team of volunteers, people who believed in and were interested in mentoring, to pilot their first programme: people from HR, leadership and operational functions.

As the programme grew so did the internal team of coordinators, locally present on all their sites, coming from diverse functions, having previously been involved in the programme as mentor or mentee.

These coordinators are now key to the facilitation of local mentoring events, support of mentoring pairs, and generally the keepers of the mentoring spirit (values, ethics, energy). This is a powerful sign that the practice of mentoring and the dynamism of informal networks are clearly embedded in the culture and they have become autonomous.

3) Their mentoring approach is constantly evolving

To ensure that mentoring becomes a culture but also is adaptable to support the growth strategy and various transformations, it is key to evolve the approach along the way. With Worldline, each year, we measured the results and we reviewed the design, checking if the current approach was still delivering value and serving the strategy.

From the pilot in 2014 to the third deployment this year, and with several reverse mentoring programmes since 2016, their approach to mentoring never ceased to evolve, improve, whilst keeping its core values and purpose:

  • From the way mentoring pairs are matched: from manual to 2 generations of matching tools, and more pro-activity ;
  • To the facilitation competencies development of the coordinators: they are now running their own workshops with new tools ;

  • To the content and knowledge being shared throughout the programmes: managerial techniques and tips, career mobility advice, team facilitation and exchanges with internal and external experts ;

  • And the strength of informal networks: from within a given BU to a company-wide cross-silos connections.

Creating a mentoring culture is not just about matching a mentor with a mentee, it is not about implementing Harvard Business Review magical thinking and be done with it. It is about transforming the mindsets at scale towards more sharing and supporting, and the programme needed to evolve to ensure it continued to deliver this and created the conditions for this to happen naturally and sustainably.

4) They are building a community

Mentoring as a practice can yield results company wide, beyond the individual benefits, if and only if it becomes part of the culture, which starts with community building and reaching critical mass (30%).

After 4 years, running mentoring programmes at scale, people who participated are truly engaged in a community, whether they are returning mentors, or former mentees becoming mentors, mentees becoming reverse mentors, or former mentors and mentees becoming coordinators, sharing content, managers encouraging their teams to participate etc.

This aspect is the most difficult part because you cannot force people to interact with each other when it is a voluntary activity, it is not in their KPIs, or part of their normal daily professional lives. This is the challenge we are focusing on at the moment to ensure the next generation of this practice (mentoring 3.0) is possible.

I’ve enjoyed and keep on enjoying working with Worldline on developing their mentoring culture and hope to soon be able to share with you what is coming next too.

Published by

Stéphanie Mitrano

Insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.