Money Moves

In-house mentors help polish aspiring workforce

by Grace Chan

Margaret Cheng
head of human resources
regional PFS and Hong Kong human resources Asia-Pacific
Photo: Lewis Wong

Development opportunities at all levels enhance loyalty and staff retention

Company coaching schemes often focus exclusively on selected employees already earmarked for future promotion. However, one leading bank has broken this pattern, offering inclusive development opportunities.

In January this year, HSBC made its new mentoring scheme available to personnel at all levels. The bank has also developed an internal electronic platform to help pair up mentors and their proteges.

"We currently have an employee-oriented market in Asia and it's important that we adopt a creative approach to people management," says Margaret Cheng, head of human resources, regional PFS and Hong Kong, human resources Asia-Pacific, HSBC. "The mentoring programme is like building a social network within the company, which ultimately improves staff engagement."

In a bid to gain a better understanding of employees' views, HSBC conducts an annual survey across the group. Recent findings indicated that career development was a major concern for a majority of the bank's staff. "Most employees, and especially members of generation Y, are keen to advance in their professional lives," Ms Cheng notes. "Employees may consider other career options if they're uncertain about their prospects here. We want to show that we're committed to helping them grow on a long-term basis," Ms Cheng stresses.

Driving force

Most mentoring programmes are geared to help top achievers go the extra mile, with senior managers assigned as their mentors. But HSBC's new scheme allows any member of its staff to be mentored and to find an ideal adviser via the organisation's tailor-made intranet tool.

"If someone in the investment banking division expresses an interest in the finance division, he or she can take the initiative to look for a mentor there," Ms Cheng explains. "We always encourage our people to take ownership of their careers." The programme enables the mentored employees to benefit from the knowledge and experience of their chosen coaches, and helps them to gain wider exposure across different business functions.

All staff members, regardless of position or department, are eligible to become mentors, provided they have managerial experience. They can simply sign up for the programme through the internal e-platform.

In preparation for the launch of the initiative, the bank held a series of briefing sessions in September last year where potential mentors were addressed on programme guidelines, confidentiality, as well as coaching and listening skills. "Mentors also have access to an e-learning platform so that they can stay up to date with the relevant skills and knowledge," Ms Cheng points out.

During the first recruitment campaign for the programme, more than 100 HSBC staff members registered to be mentors. The bank's intranet tool allowed mentees to contact their ideal mentors to arrange meetings to discuss mutual expectations, including their own personal and career-development objectives.

Mentoring relationships typically last for a year. Mentors may meet with their charges at least once a month. "On average, each adviser looks after two signed-up staff members, but we don't allow more than five at one time, so where mentors are very popular, candidates have to wait for the next rotation," says Ms Cheng.

Everyone gains

It is not only younger employees that sign up for mentoring. Staff members at an advanced stage of their career may look for more senior mentors for support with developing interpersonal skills, advice on how to be a strong partner to senior management or leadership issues. There is also interest from new recruits in mid-career that are seasoned professionals in their areas of expertise. "We believe that they adjust to our corporate culture more quickly in a mentored environment," Ms Cheng notes, adding that the bank will continue to run its longer-established mentoring programmes.

The new scheme can benefit everyone, but particularly staff that previously would not have had the opportunity to be provided with a mentor. As employees develop their own support networks, they become more informed about internal development opportunities, which in turn results in a higher level of engagement.

Being a mentor is challenging yet rewarding, Ms Cheng says, pointing out that advisers develop coaching, listening and communication skills that are transferable to their personal and professional lives. "As well as helping others advance, mentoring can hone the coach's own leadership skills," she remarks.

The approach also gives mentors the chance to improve communications with younger workers, which can lead to more effective management and overall business success.

Participants are asked to evaluate the scheme and the bank intends to review the programme and measure its success mid-year, after which it will be fine-tuned accordingly.

"So far, the feedback has been generally positive, with mentored staff seeing increased opportunities for growth through this channel," Ms Cheng concludes. "We hope mentoring will ultimately encourage internal mobility and increase staff loyalty."

People potential

  • New mentoring scheme available to all employees
  • Internal electronic platform pairs up coaches and charges
  • Improved internal communications increases staff engagement

Taken from Career Times 25 March 2011, A8

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