In our latest column on mentoring, we consider lessons learned from mentoring programmes operating in a VUCA environment

By Lis Merrick

We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. From Brexit to terrorist attacks, to the impact of constantly changing technology and financial markets, we all experience a VUCA world first hand. What can we learn from mentoring programmes operating in this context?

An increasing amount of technology and social media is being used to deliver mentoring. Most larger organisations use intranet, some with interactive tools such as Yammer, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, few organisations have time for a whole day’s training. Some 75% of talent mentoring programmes I’ve been involved with recently are briefing mentors and mentees by webex in 60-90 minute sessions. There is also a trend for setting up relationships for six or nine months – a plea for ‘speedier’ mentoring.

Mentoring can provide development for both mentors and mentees, and organisations have become much more savvy about the outcomes they want from their programmes – for mentor learning too. These include developing leadership behaviours or learning about another division of the company. There tends to be much greater integration between different mentoring programmes in the same organisation. So, for instance, a talent programme may be divided into one with an emphasis for female employees and diversity inclusion.

There’s also far greater consideration of the differences in expectations of mentoring from diverse cultures. In setting up and supervising global programmes, it is accepted that a mentee from South East Asia will have a far different experience than one in the UK, despite the cumulative cultural adaptation a VUCA world has expedited. An understanding that we are not going to become one giant homogenised world culture seems to be respected by mentoring.

An important focus for many organisations is the extent to which employees (particularly talented ones) can be supported in developing dynamic mentor networks. Individuals may have one close mentoring relationship focused on medium to long-term career development, but several medium-term ones focused on development of specific (leadership) competencies and ad hoc short-term ones focused on the transfer of skills or knowledge.


Mentoring outcomes

Certain outputs of mentoring are now perceived as more critical in a VUCA environment. Mentoring can:

  • help create reflective space for both parties to make sense of their current situations
  • develop a professional friend and human contact for an isolated home worker – 14% of the UK workforce now works from home*
  • focus on developing the diversity needed to develop connectivity, valued by far-sighted organisations
  • build resilience to cope with constant change
  • boost confidence during immense turmoil
  • provide much clearer personal development priorities and career momentum during uncertainty.

A VUCA context requires a different approach to developing mentoring programmes. Reflecting on what you need to be aware of and focusing on your design will ensure a programme fit for the world we now live in.

* Office for National Statistics, 2014


  • Next issue: supporting cross-cultural programmes 
  • Lis Merrick is a consultant and visiting fellow of the Coaching and Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Business School. She welcomes correspondence on anything to do with mentoring.
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