Sarah-Jane Penman is a business improvement manager at BAE Systems’ maritime business in Edinburgh. She says: “I was naturally drawn to mentoring because of my interests in people and shaping best practice - things that are part of my job,” she explains. “I thought this would be a great way of discussing problems with different businesses, of different sizes, in different sectors, and to learn about the nuances.”
She has been mentoring CGA Strategy, a data, research and insight consultancy, which, before Covid, had grown to around 150 people since it was founded in 1992. CGA works across the globe from its headquarters in Manchester and offices in the US. The pandemic meant it had to furlough some employees, and work out how to facilitate remote working during lockdown. But keen not to put the brakes on its plans, it also wanted to find ways of translating some programmes it was already working on - including workforce development and retention, and cross-departmental communication – into a remote context.
Fiona Speakman, client director at CGA was looking for personal development as well as organisational support, and Sarah helped on both counts. “Sarah recommended books to read, or formats for documents, as well as process frameworks she has adopted and adapted in her own business that we could use here,” she explains. “For example, BAE Systems has a staff consultative committee to facilitate cross-departmental communications, with members elected from every part of the business."
Sarah-Jane has found the process cathartic: “To an extent I do impart knowledge, but we also share experiences,” she says. What’s more, though she had had coaching training, and has mentored apprentices within her part of BAE Systems, the Mentoring for Growth role has allowed her to hone her mentoring skills. “In the early stages I know I talked too much,” she admits. “I err on the side of positivity, and believe that nearly everything, to a greater or lesser extent, is fixable. But I can be overenthusiastic in sharing the benefit of my experience, and I quickly realised that I needed to give Fiona time to reflect, and talk about her own experiences.
Fiona agrees: “I’ve found the sessions increasingly enjoyable, and it began to feel like a more mutual process. I was surprised that Sarah seemed to be learning as well as me.” As the relationship evolved “we realised we had opportunities to explore each other’s experiences in different fields,” says Penman.