In response to pandemic-related workplace shifts, research and education business, Wiley, got creative, piloting a global virtual mentoring programme
Along with many other organisations, Wiley, a global leader in research and education, has faced a steep learning curve as it’s adapted to different working patterns and locations, becoming more agile and flexible to urgently support employees’ wellbeing, while still valuing learning and development.
Following the widespread shift to remote work early in the pandemic, Wiley identified an opportunity to bring colleagues together virtually to offer support, learning and personal growth. This led to a collaboration with coaching and mentoring experts, North-52, to pilot a mentoring programme during the pandemic with its global marketing team.
Kate Smith, Wiley’s senior director, marketing effectiveness and transformation, in the global enterprise marketing team, says: “We’re a learning company – our mission is to unlock human potential – and we want to live and breathe that for our employees. Learning and growth are very important parts of our company values. As we go through and eventually emerge from the pandemic, if we are going to ask people to live those values and change the way they work – be agile and adjust to be future fit – then we need to not just equip them with the technical skills but also help them to make a mindset shift.
“It’s very easy to say that colleagues own their development, but actually allowing them the time and space of forming a mentoring partnership really does help them drive their own growth in a supported environment, as opposed to just putting them in a training course,” she says.
Mentoring has multiple benefits for mentee, mentor and the wider organisation.
“With mentoring programmes it’s like a two-for-one – you are growing and developing both the mentor and the mentee,” says Smith.
But unless programmes are well-designed and offer ongoing support, they can easily fail, says Tessa Dodwell, North-52’s director of mentoring.
“How you deliver those benefits is critical. In the absence of training, only 30% of mentoring partnerships will be successful but with effective training this success rate can double. Research (Klasen & Clutterbuck, 2016) suggests if you get the right levers in place upfront and commit to the process, the programme has a much greater chance of success. In our experience, by using careful design and offering ongoing support, much can be done to mitigate potential failure.”
Key elements of success
Wiley worked hard to understand those elements and implement them quickly. Smith highlights seven keys to its success:
- Steering committee
“Having a steering committee has really helped with a diversity of perspective for those shaping the programme. We have a global representation – mainly from the marketing senior leadership teams,” says Smith.
There are several ways to match mentors and mentees. Wiley first considered suggesting options and enabling partnerships to test their fit with chemistry calls. Driven by a sense of urgency, however, they opted to match partnerships based on mentee goal.
“The steering committee were responsible for matching the mentors and mentees. The approach we took was to match mentees with one mentor, and that was the partnership. Given the breadth of the steering committee, we had a pretty good understanding and knowledge of the applicants. We had criteria to consider regarding current management structure and previous line management relationships. We gave mentees the option to come back and let us know if it wasn’t working out, or if we had got it wrong. There was a lot of thought and consideration that went into the partnerships,” says Smith.
- Prioritising the mentee experience
Initially the mentoring programme was piloted in one marketing team of 250 employees, then expanded to a further marketing team. Importantly, the mentoring programme was open to everyone in those teams.
“Wiley decided early on that one of the grounding principles of our mentoring programme was to prioritise the mentee experience. To achieve that, we needed to be confident that the mentors knew what they were doing,” says Smith.
- Mandatory mentor masterclass
Wiley determined it would like to create a mentor masterclass for colleagues. Partnering with North-52, a bespoke webinar was developed providing a detailed framework covering the start to end of a mentoring relationship.
Smith felt it was important that this training session was mandatory.
“Seniority doesn’t necessarily make a good mentor. A good understanding of a process, an approach recognising the skills, and respect of the partnership are more important. It also creates a more balanced partnership because the mentors are receiving growth and development as well as the mentees, allowing both parties in the partnership to flourish. We co-designed a semi-structured approach, breaking it down into all the elements they needed to think about and the sequence. That saying, it wasn’t a sequential paint-by-numbers, but gave the mentors a framework within which to approach their partnerships.”
As a result of the training, the reality of what was involved meant that some of the mentors opted to drop out or postpone their involvement.
“We gave everybody a get-out clause afterwards, saying, ‘OK, now you’ve been to the training – if it isn’t the right time for you to take part, that’s fine.’ We had a couple of people drop out saying that they had underestimated what it would mean to be a mentor and ‘the timing is not right for me’. We don’t want to scare people off by the gravity of it, the seriousness of being a mentor – to do it properly you actually have to do it with intent. That was really important.”
Sifting out those people who were not ready to commit to the process was helpful to Wiley as it prevented them from dropping out of the process halfway through.
“We feel even if they came to the training and decided not to do it, they still will have learnt and grown.”
- Mentee orientation
Research shows that mentoring programmes can double in their success, if in addition to training mentors, mentees also receive a familiarisation session (Clutterbuck, 2011).
Dodwell says, “We created a mentee orientation session to take a broad look at the partnership from the mentee perspective. We explored goal setting, expectations, boundaries, power dynamics and walked through a mindset that could maximise their mentoring experience.”
As Smith says, “I think quite a few people were surprised that we did the mentee orientation, but the mentee also needs to go into it with their eyes wide open about what is expected from them to create that balanced partnership. It was not training, it was mindset readiness. It was important for the mentees to have the space and time to think about what they needed and to have the confidence to articulate that to their mentors. With the mentors we were trying to create a commonality of understanding across the board. The mentees are all coming to the programme with different needs, we wanted to keep it as broad as possible and offer a framework for thinking as well as ongoing opportunities to support the most common topics tackled in the partnerships, like confidence, courageous conversations and influencing.”
- Tackling the tricky situations
North-52 researched the reasons that mentoring programmes fail, so mitigating these risks fuelled much of the content of the Mentor Masterclass and Mentee Orientation. To further improve success, and to tackle any issues head on, they developed a third ‘Tricky Situations’ workshop for the mentors. This began by running through the typical issues that might halt a mentoring partnership – unclear ground rules, a breakdown in communication, other priorities taking over and external influences.
The mentors discussed options on how they might approach resolving these issues in an open and confidential space where individuals could openly raise any concerns.
- A community of practice
Wiley programme leaders were keen to develop a community of practice to support their partnerships.
“We have a closed MS Teams site for all participants so we can help build a community of practice and develop the agile mindset that we are encouraging. We share articles, ask people for feedback and let them know what is happening,” says Smith.
Understanding the impact
Because of the confidential nature of mentoring, measuring impact can be tricky. The programme has been running for a year or so and it monitors dropout rate, engagement around communication, and anecdotal feedback. There has been little dropout, the exception being an employee leaving for a new opportunity.
“We are hearing results from the partnerships such as, ‘I would not have been able to take on a new role at Wiley if I had not been working with my mentor’, and ‘My mentor has given me the confidence to network with senior colleagues’. One aspect of impact is the appetite to join as a mentor or mentee. Due to demand, the programme has been opened up to more potential participants and we are seeing interest from current experienced mentees who would like to take part as a mentor,” says Smith.
- D Clutterbuck, Why Mentoring Programmes and Relationships Fail, Clutterbuck Associates, p3, 2011
- N Klasen and D Clutterbuck, Implementing Mentoring Schemes. Routledge, 2016