by Laura Smith

10 reasons CIOs must mentor their staff

Feb 15, 2011
CareersEnergy IndustryFinancial Services Industry

Mentoring has become something of a buzzword in the business world, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Some of the UK’s top CIOs certainly think so. Here are ten reasons why mentoring your staff could be the best thing you’ve ever done.

1. Learn new skills:IT leaders should have the technical knowledge to make strategic decisions, but many lack the soft skills needed to gain the trust and respect of their non-IT peers. Peer mentoring can help them acquire those techniques. David Wilde, CIO for the City of Westminster, said mentoring helped his move from central to local government and sharpened his ability to operate in a political environment.

2. Gain from others’ experience:Mentoring by senior staff offers an invaluable opportunity to pass on years of hands-on knowledge. Vincent Sparks, IT director at Stobart Group, says: “From my first position in industry as a management trainee I was mentored by a brilliant MD which helped shape my outlook on the world of industry and commerce.”

3. Exchange ideas and best practice:The InfoSec Mentors programme gives professionals in the tough field of information security the chance to share their expertise on technology and broader issues and spread their ideas about the industry. “I wish there had been something like this when I was trying to make my start in the industry,” says Melissa Fagan, who organised the programme.

4. Identify strengths and weaknesses:Graham Benson, IT chief at M and M, says peer mentoring helped him toidentify faults he wasn’t aware of. “I can be a bulldozer and I hate the phrase but emotional intelligence is important in my job,” he says.

5. See yourself as others see you:Whether it’s peer mentoring or mentoring of junior by more senior staff, the relationship offers the chance to be exposed to new points of view. “My own work was around seeing myself as the world sees me, and in seeing others as their peers would see them,” says Stephan Conaway, director at Whetstone River. “We all think that we know ourselves well; few of us do.”

6. Turn criticism into an asset:John Saffrett, CIO at Newedge Group, said mentoring taught him to accept criticism, learn from it and move on without it affecting your relationships. “If you want to be perceived as a business leader, having an external reference to understand those around you will always help,” he says.

7. Support professional development:One of the CIO’s biggest challenges is holding onto talent. Offering staff mentoring opportunities to support their career progression could be the difference between retaining your brightest sparks and losing them to the competition. The Scottish Government runs a formal mentoring scheme to help staff build on their aspirations.

8. Make staff feel valued:The charity London Advice Services Alliance’s mentoring scheme — Circuit Riders, offers ICT staff the chance to learn from each other. “It works well and we always have positive feedback from both the mentor and the person being mentored,” says Andy Gregg, the charity’s CEO. “It’s important to me that staff feel supported and able to use their initiative in the workplace.”

9. Uncover future leaders:The incomparable support offered by a good mentoring programme can help identify the next generation of senior managers.

10. …But only if you do it well:Jora Gill, former CTO international systems at Elsevier, says he initially saw mentoring as “something that had little or no effect” having seen poor examples at university. That view changed when he joined McGraw-Hill and saw it applied professionally. “[I saw] what value it can bring an organisation and an individual,” he says.