By Anne Phillipson, Director, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton Ireland 

Anne Phillipson
Anne Phillipson

When times are tough, staff training and development is often one of the first budgets to be slashed. And yet, when times are tough, we also need our people to step up, adapt to changing circumstances, and pull together in the same direction to deliver results. This is more likely to happen when people are given support and feel valued for their extra efforts.

Most employees are much more willing to go the extra mile when they believe their employer is doing the same for them. It’s a reciprocal relationship between employer and employee; and so, rather than cut employee training, I would encourage employers to seek lower-cost options that will still deliver results, and mentoring fits the bill.

Mentoring is different from coaching. Mentors are typically more experienced than those they mentor (the mentee), and are willing to share their expertise, experience or insights with the mentee.

More experienced or skilled doesn’t necessarily mean ‘older’. I know of mentoring programmes where young graduates mentor board members on using social media. As digital natives, they have skills and insights into how to connect with their generation, which an older generation would benefit from understanding.

The beauty of mentoring is that it requires very little input or investment from the organisation, but the payback is tremendous. If you don’t already have a mentoring programme, here are the steps to help you get a programme up and running:

Step one: Send out a staff survey, explaining the purpose of a mentoring programme, and asking who would like to be mentored. This will inform how many mentors you need to recruit.

Ask the mentees to identify their reason for wanting to be mentored, as this can be helpful when matching them to the most appropriate mentor. This definition may help: Mentoring is a voluntary partnership between two individuals, based on a mutual desire for learning and development.

It is a form of assistance and replaces none of the organisational structures in place. The focus for mentoring is knowledge exchange and behavioural change.

Step two: Ask for volunteer mentors. Typically, we like to have the mentors be one or two grades higher, and from a different team or department, if possible. This creates the psychological safety to allow the mentees to be open, and have different conversations than they do in their own team.

Step three: Facilitate a short induction programme for mentors, to set them up for success. Outline what mentors do, the process, confidentiality, and logistics.

Step four: Facilitate a similar induction programme for mentees; highlighting their role – to take ownership of the meetings, set their goals, take actions between meetings, and value the mentor’s time.

Step five: Match the mentees with the mentor that is a best-fit; bearing in mind the ideal objectives and organisational structure, and make introductions.

Step six: Let the pairs get on with it, but offer support should it be required. A check-in part way through the programme is also a good way of monitoring progress.

By following these six steps, you can reap the rewards of developing staff, while keeping costs to a minimum. And it’s not just the mentees that will benefit from this investment. We often find that the mentors get an awful lot from the experience, too. And in these tough times, this win/win is particularly valuable.

For further information or advice, Anne Phillipson can be contacted at

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services.