Solace Blog

Setting up a Mentoring Programme

By Jill Penn, Head of Finance and Revenue Services, broadland District Council

As we all are aware, we live in uncertain times. However, we all want to do a good job and develop ourselves at the same time. In such circumstances, how do we support colleagues who may be new to local government? How do we ensure there is equality of opportunity for all?


One technique being discussed in many arenas is the role mentoring can play in providing support and a safe environment for staff to explore options and develop as an individual at the same time.

The plus with mentoring is that you are talking to someone who has been there and come out the other side with confidence and the satisfaction they mastered that hurdle.

They are able to share their successes and key learnings on areas they worked on. This can be a breath of fresh air to someone who thinks it’s only them that is feeling a certain way or experiencing pressure.

Mentoring is where the empathy the mentor has for their mentee and their situation helps the mentee find a solution that is appropriate and gives out confidence, enabling the individual to move forward and develop into a stronger officer. This can only help a local authority use its resources (staff and finances) to the best advantage.

I have recently introduced mentoring as an additional career development tool within my own Council.

The programme is helpful to all staff involved, but a higher number of mentors and mentees are female. It’s good to see women stepping up and benefitting from either becoming mentors or seeking development opportunities as a mentee.

Why?  I am a strong advocate of women in leadership and because I was challenged by my organisation to use my learning from a Women in Leadership course for the benefit of the organisation.

At my Council there is one female Cabinet Member out of a membership of six and I am the one senior female manager on the Corporate Management Team which numbers eight.

So what did I did I do first?  The first task I undertook was a survey of all staff to see how people felt about their role and their opportunities for development and promotion.

What were the results and what happened next? There was an underlying trend of making do, the impression that there was not the opportunity to work part time or flexible hours in a senior role. In addition coaching and mentoring was mentioned as something that was not offered as part of the normal career development tools for all staff.  A number of people have said to me “I could do not do your job”.

I suggested a mentoring programme pilot to the Corporate Leadership team and drew up a set of principles for the programme to operate, under which included managers giving permission for staff at all levels to take part in the programme and have meetings on site in work time. The mentoring would be confidential.  The go ahead was given for a six month pilot.

I requested volunteers to act as mentors on the programme and ran two training courses to bring people on board. The volunteers came from throughout the Council, at all levels. Once the training was complete I asked for pen pictures from the mentors on what they could bring to the table as regards experience.  

The six month trial went well and the results were reported back to the Corporate Leadership team where the decision was taken to embed mentoring as a career development tool at the Council. 

So what lessons have been learned from this process?  The experiences our mentors shared made me realise what a powerful resource we have and how we may underestimate people when we do not know their full story.

The peer support staff have had has resulted in promotions and staff taking up opportunities they would not have considered before and confidence has risen in both mentors and mentees. 

I have seen for myself the benefits that both mentor and mentees experience by working together. Is it not our responsibility to support one another even though changes to local government over the last years mean there are less of us with experience at the coal face? So let’s take up the mantle and bring on mentoring support so that all officers can confidently face the challenges ahead.