Mentoring in a VUCA world – ‘Future Proofing’ your people

In an era of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) what makes an organisation fit for the 21st Century? And what impact has the global financial/economic crisis had on organisational cultures?CM mountain top

Sadly some organisations have gone backwards and become more “controlling” culturally, whilst other organisations are courageously and riskily doing things differently hoping this will lead to survival and better things longer term. This requires a different mindset for the people, and mentoring can support that mental change.


The key to organisational survival

The key elements for good organisational survival appear to be about clear vision, organisational agility and better performance delivered by happy people who are fulfilled in their work and overall, developing faster responses to a rapidly changing world. Are the leadership of the organisation engaging in these issues and being true, authentic role models living the values the organisation is extolling, but also managing to keep up?

Developing deep insight to help leaders discover their authenticity and develop mental flexibility and resilience, which is so crucial today are aspects that are very difficult to “train” into an individual. Organisational culture is often adverse to nurturing these facets, with Talent Management initiatives filtering out any diversity in the high potential population, creating homogeneity in thinking, compounded by the extreme work pressure of a globally connected world and power dynamics being a barrier to creating a deep feedback culture.

Our personal lives also exist within this new norm of uncertainty and turmoil, with rapid social change, ever developing technology and unpredictable events. So a form of mentoring is required to “future proof” your leaders and people to not only survive, but thrive in this type of environment and support people to live successfully with disequilibrium, insecurity and continuous flux.


The role of mentoring in a VUCA world

Robust 21st Century mentoring to “future proof” your leaders and people, needs to cut through all of these challenges and provide the following elements for your mentors and mentees:

  • Developing deep insights so individuals can discover their own authenticity and break away from any “group think” culture
  • Building resilience to cope with the vast uncertainty and rapid change that is commonplace daily
  • Supporting great decision making under extreme pressures
  • Understanding how to manage the 24/7 barrage of communication and developing healthy work/life balance practices
  • Providing the opportunity for deep reflection and honest conversation which is absent in so many “rushed lives”
  • Being a conduit for open and challenging feedback which is critical for personal learning
  • Creating a forum to develop personal courage and confidence where individuals can make hard choices about their futures
  • Becoming more globally and virtually savvy, it is crucial to feel comfortable with and embrace these developments, whatever your age or background.
  • Learning to build speed and agility in your career, whether it is developing like-minded people around you or becoming an expert in your field, understanding the career strategies of this decade so you can engage in meaningful work and be assured of a future.
  • Finally, developing cross-functional leadership i.e. not just contributing to the effectiveness and engagement of their own people, but to the organisation as a whole, maybe the biggest contribution is to an area outside of someone’s own responsibility – different thinking but broader organisational efficiency.

Sounds easy, but how do you actually create all that diverse learning in a mentoring relationship?

This form of mentoring relies on exactly the same mentoring behaviours that are associated with developmental mentoring: active listening, asking questions and giving feedback. However, it is the learning foci to which these skills are applied and the contracting on subject matter between the mentor and mentee, which is more sophisticated. Many of the insights and richness of learning can be achieved in any less directive mentoring relationships, but not at the speed or the breadth this framework facilitates. By contracting as a pair to explore voluntarily some of the “smorgasbord” of ideas introduced and both mentor and mentee receiving some initial briefing on what these concepts really mean, together with further supervision and input along the way, allows an organisation to kick start some faster learning, whether it is between a more senior role model mentor with mentee or between peers.


What does 21st Century Mentoring look like?

In terms of preparation for using this framework, the mentor and mentee undergo two preparation components:

Stage One – to consider what mentoring is, how to build rapport, contract to work together, have honest conversations, use learning objectives and reflective space; the type of content most generic mentoring briefings or workshops contain.

Stage Two – In addition they would be offered some input or learning around some or all of the following topics, depending on the programme focus. A more senior mentor can add to all these areas from their own career and life experience and a mentee relate to these topics again from their own experiences:


Diagram ‘Future Proofing your People’ by Lis Merrick 2014

  1. Authenticity – understanding what “authenticity” means, in life and leadership
  2. Resilience – building resilience to cope with the vast uncertainty and rapid change
  3. Decision making and problem solving – how to make great decisions when faced with extreme pressures
  4. WLB/Our virtual world – understanding how to manage the continual barrage of virtual communication and developing healthy work/life balance practices
  5. Quality of communication – using mentoring to create the opportunity for deep reflection and honest conversation which is absent in so many “rushed lives”
  6. Courage and confidence – considering personal courage and confidence so individuals can make hard choices about their futures
  7. “Savviness” – insights into becoming globally and virtually savvy
  8. Career Strategies – understanding how to build speed, agility and becoming an expert in your field, so you can engage with the career strategies of this decade, find meaningful work and be assured of a future.
  9. Developing “cross-functional leadership” – different thinking but broader organisational efficiency.

This input can be as simple as using mentoring newsletters to introduce new thinking or insights to the mentoring pair, regular briefings as an adjunct to the support and supervision process of the mentoring programme, or an up front workshop, webinar or skills training video, sharing insights into some or all of these topic areas.

We find this model is a really effective catalyst to stimulate mentee and mentor learning and a terrific way to utilise mentoring with guided input as a way to “future-proof” your people.


Future Proofing your people 

At Coach Mentoring Ltd, we have extensive experience of designing and delivering mentoring programmes and working with clients to shape and deliver leadership development programmes, please get in touch to find out more about how we can help you future-proof your people and your organisation.

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