Caroline Rainbird, director of regulatory affairs at RBS Group, has spent 20 years working for the bank during which time she has moved between roles in retail and investment banking and worked as the chief finance officer of an operating division. Over this period Rainbird says she has benefitted from the experience of many mentors and has given insight and guidance to her own mentees along the way.
Rainbird says her mentors all shared the common characteristic of being willing to open up, share their experiences and knowledge and explain how they landed their career opportunities. This candid attitude helped her gain confidence in applying for roles with the understanding that anything is possible within banking, that it was not, in fact, rocket science but relies on common sense, commerciality and good sense of humour.
Positivity was a trait found in all her mentors which she says she found invaluable after a day when it seemed nothing had gone right. To have an ally to go to when feeling isolated is incredibly important, says Rainbird. Members heard how real honesty is needed between both people if the relationship is going to offer value and while you may not see each other very often, keeping in touch verbally is key to maintaining a close personal bond. Rainbird says you need to be close enough to your mentor that you can open up. In an honest relationship, a mentor can provide you with a fresh perspective on a situation you may be too close to or feel defensive about.
Matching up mentor and mentee
Members heard when seeking a mentor, they need to look for someone they respect and want to hear from. It can be a formal pairing, through a mentoring programme, or an informal arrangement. Whichever format is chosen, both parties have to be willing to give their time to it and consider the relationship to be career development on both sides.
Asking someone who may disagree with your opinion to be your mentor may be challenging but can encourage the mentee to consider situations in a different light. Choosing a mentor who respects confidentially, who you can trust not to divulge the conversations you’ve shared must also be part of the mentee’s selection criteria.
Members wanted to know if the mentor always had to come from within the same organisation as the mentee. Rainbird says in her experience either can work equally as well but someone external to the organisation gave the added dimension of a different career background. Inside or out, the important point was to pick someone outside the direct support line to make the relationship work better.
SMEs can use outsourced mentoring if they feel their company does not have the staff resource to offer this support. One small business member said this would be a great fit for her company and that she would benefit from mentoring support as well as her staff. She talked about the benefits of using a business life coach who performed a similar role.
Business academies were raised as a useful environment for meeting other executives from sectors outside financial services. One member, part of a large group of property services firms, said speaking to non-competing executives makes people feel comfortable about sharing problems openly. It is an event she has gained valuable advice from.
Committing to being a mentor means a commitment to being honest about a mentee’s performance. This means, at times, delivering bad news. Everyone agreed this was challenging and difficult to get right.
The group discussed the risks that informal mentoring could pose when poor performance needed to be discussed. Giving negative feedback in the wrong way could create further problems down the line.
Rainbird says delivering messages aggressively was a short-term tactic. It may seem easier at the time to vent frustrations but it won’t help to correct long-term behaviour. If the relationship between both parties was set up correctly from the outset, where the mentee asks for honest feedback, it puts the conversation in a more comfortable context.
Reward versus promote
Mentors need to champion the career of their mentee, which is why choosing a mentor outside your direct line management structure avoids a conflict of interest. Often the reward for strong performance is promotion which hands the line manager a problem. They lose a competent member of staff and they have a vacancy to fill.
Rainbird says if promotion complements the mentee’s career goals, working with the line manager to help with succession planning may be welcomed. But, members were told that promotion to leadership was not always the best way of rewarding outstanding performance. Quite often the mentee may see this is a negative outcome.
Not everyone is right to lead and great leaders don’t necessarily have to have come from within the team –the skills are very different. People who do well in their jobs often want to stay in them and elevate their skills. Making them subject matter experts is one route and having pay increase bands which match leadership roles is one way to show employees that these experts are just as valuable as managers.
Caroline Rainbird, director of regulatory affairs at RBS Group
Vanessa Owen, head of retirement solutions, LV=
Hilary McVitty, head of external affairs, BSA
Samantha Partington, news editor, Mortgage Solutions
Martese Carton, senior corporate account manager, RBS
Lynda Blackwell, mortgage sector manager, FCA
Darina Armstrong, CEO, Progressive Building Society
Alison Pallett, director of sales, UK mortgages, Bank of Ireland
Andrea Rozario, chair, Bower Retirement Services
Victoria Hartley, group editor, Your Mortgage and Mortgage Solutions
Clare Jupp, director, people development, Brightstar
Debbie Staveley, managing director, BClear Communications
Alison Beech, business relationship director, Spicerhaart
Fiona Kitchin, marketing director, Aldermore
Paula Mercer, regional business development manager, Atom Bank
Paula John, editor-in-chief, AE3 Media