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As the Head of Learning and Development in OCBC Bank, I spend a lot of my time thinking about leadership. Like anyone else in my position, the pertinent questions are: What should leadership look like? How should it be nurtured and ultimately, how can we as an organization engender future leadership?
Leadership is particularly important in our time when automation, robotization and digitalization are set to take over large parts of our work and lives. Yet what will remain relatively untouched are the human domains of connection, emotion, and values.
Leadership in this new world requires understanding and mastery of these domains. But what is equally important is an openness to teaching these skills. I see this playing out at the bank, where we have various mentoring programmes. And to me, there is no better way to foster future leaders.
THE ART OF BUILDING A MENTORING PROGRAMME
One programme at the bank that has a special place in my heart is an eight-month structured mentorship called MentorMe. Originally developed in 2018 for women in their first years in their careers at the bank, it was borne from the idea of “slip-streaming” – a physical phenomenon that describes an object travelling relatively easily in the wake of another.
There are a few points worth mentioning regarding the programme’s structure:
1. Being part for MentorMe as a mentor or protégé is voluntary.
We believe that mentors and protégés who are intrinsically motivated will generate the most valuable outcomes. Indeed, according to an independent study on our programme, participants reported a strong sense of self-discovery, positive changes in modes of working, and an improved perception of the organization as a result of the programme.
2. Strict and comprehensive application criteria.
To maintain quality, we ensure that potential mentors have a certain amount of experience and are of a certain seniority in the bank. Both mentors and protégés must fill out rigorous application forms that describe their interest in participating in the programme, and their expectations. Potential mentors are required to outline their areas of experience and expertise which are used in pre-matching them with their protégés.
"“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton."
3. Speed Networking and pairing mentors with protégés.
We pre-match potential MentorMe pairs based on applications. Then, a ‘Speed Networking’ session is held. Each round lasts 20 minutes. This allows each pair to sense if there is rapport and an alignment in expectations. At the end of each round, both mentor and protégé indicate their preferences, which are used to finalize the pairs. While this process involves intense behind-the-scenes work, we believe that it is a critical success factor as the pairs spend a subsequent eight months together.
4. Learning and ‘lifeline’ support provided throughout the duration of the programme.
Workshops on mentoring, self-discovery and even questioning techniques are provided throughout the programme so that participants can pick up relevant skills and apply them immediately. There is also a ‘lifeline’ in the form of two contact people who provide support to mentor and protégé. Such just-in-time support has been well-documented as having a significant impact on the quality and depth of learning.
CREATING A POSITIVE CYCLE FOR THE FUTURE
Mentoring is an investment in terms of time – but its sustained value far outweighs any initial outlay in organizational commitment, for mentoring programmes create a virtuous cycle of “leaders building leaders”.
In the past, many mentors in the programme were themselves the beneficiaries of great mentorship. The opportunity to “give back” was cited as a deep motivating factor as to why they joined the programme. Having been through the programme, many protégés have an eye on mentoring protégés of their own in time to come.
With millennials becoming a larger part of the workforce, Group Human Resources is thus open to exploring new types of models for mentoring, such as ‘reverse mentoring’. As the workforce becomes more diverse in response to disruption in both business models and the talent landscape, we will also see more of peer-to-peer mentoring and other networked communities of learning, many of which will cross geographical and industry boundaries.
To me, a great mentoring culture is simply one that allows individuals to be their best selves. That is what the bank strives to do – to create an environment in which this is so.
The overwhelming response to mentoring programmes here at the bank tells me that in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are seeing a much-needed return to our roots – what it means to be human and what it really takes to be a leader to other humans.
As Steven Spielberg said: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves”.