"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. "- Oscar Wilde
As the increasing longevity of the population means that the government continues to struggle with the question of where to peg the age at which we might all receive our bus passes, I recently attended the festivities surrounding the retirement of a long-serving colleague. Listening to the stories relating her personal history to patterns and methods of working which have long ceased to be relevant in a modern environment, it occurred to me that, over time, her capacity to adapt had been severely tested but that, in amongst the other elements of her day to day tasks, she had found the time to train and assist those around her.
Compare this scenario to one that I am sure that we have all encountered – where a member of staff retires or resigns taking his Rolodex with him, without leaving an instruction manual behind, without telling colleagues how certain processes are performed or where the key to the recycling bin is kept. This would be bad enough if it only applied to a loss of skills capacity but when it also applies to the loss of a lifetime of applied experiential learning then the loss is much, much greater. So how can organisations prevent this from happening? The answer may well lie in formal and informal mentoring schemes as a method of future proofing.
There are, of course, different types of relationship which would be covered by the mentoring spectrum - long term one-to-one relationships, short term for an individual’s particular role or organisational need, peer discussion (for which read sounding board or buddy), encouragement (probably closer to a coaching scenario). It is, therefore, possible to pick and choose what suits time availability or inclination, whether the commitment is to a prolonged process over time or to put in a short concentrated spell, perhaps between assignments.
One of the main issues which raises its head when talking about the concept of CPD with very senior members of any profession is that, after a certain number of years, it is felt that CPD is irrelevant as individuals with so much experience have nothing left to learn or have no need of further input. This misconception is wrong in so many ways, not just in terms of the lack of professionalism on show but also about the theory of CPD itself. Extending one’s horizons is not just about learning new facts or methodologies but can also be about new behaviours and new patterns of working. Most professionals would agree that the main benefit to be gained from attending seminars and conferences, for instance, is not just about the subject matter but also about the networking possibilities, the chance to benefit from other people’s experience, finding out how someone else would carry out a particular task better or quicker or more efficiently.
If you turn this on its head and consider the opportunities open to younger members of the profession of learning directly from the voice of experience you begin to see how mentoring can be a uniquely beneficial experience to both the mentor and the mentee (yes there is such a word). The mentee sees the value and rationale of the approach which comes with maturity and painful experience while the mentor gets to tell all the work stories he hasn’t been able to squeeze into the conversation recently! More seriously, demonstrating by example and anecdote are acknowledged to be among the best teaching and learning tools available and very experienced practitioners have a very wide store to choose from.
Some might argue that a forward looking profession should not need to learn from those that have gone before. I would argue that actually things don’t change quite that fast in the real world and few would pass up the major opportunities which meeting and conversing with more senior members of their profession would bring. One would hope that in most organisations an element of this is happening all the time but there is always extra to be gained from discussion with those outside one’s own sector or area of expertise.
For any professional discipline the issue of harnessing the wealth of knowledge and skills of its more experienced practitioners for the benefit of the newer members is a key factor in development and maturity. Many have realised the value of this type of knowledge cascade and implementing formalised mentoring schemes mean that individuals are reaping the benefits.
So for those of you who are already embarked on this noble enterprise but who probably don’t take any credit or receive any acknowledgement for it, consider your contributions as suitable elements for your own CPD. For those of you not yet involved, perhaps you might consider the idea, if not now then perhaps at some point in the future. How about giving something back and bring on the youngsters behind you by offering them the benefit of your vast experience. You need not wait until you are nearly set to get your pension (tempting thought) because however far you have advanced in your career, there are always those who know less or are less experienced and who would be grateful for a small, regular amount of your time.
I know there are many out there to whom this expertise transfer would appeal so perhaps it is time to dust off those stories …….