Mentoring – why?

What is Mentoring, and what can I expect to gain?


“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

— Oprah Winfrey

Mentoring is not a mystery. Nor is it new. We are all mentors. We all, to a larger or lesser degree learn by observing others. A mother smiling at her new born baby until it learns to smile back is a mentor. A child in the playground looking intently at his peers on the jungle-gym before copying them is learning from others. Teachers, lecturers, parents, business leaders, leaders in society, politicians, sports coaches, music teachers – we are all either showing someone how to do something or learning how to do something.

Mentoring is important because “every day is a school day”, meaning every day we wake up we have an opportunity to teach someone, and to learn from someone. Every encounter with another person is an opportunity to co-create learning, to share ideas, thoughts, and information through the critical art of conversation. We all do it, but many of us are either not aware or we are frightened away by the notion that it requires a range of complex skills.

Life is the simple evolution of thoughts and consequent behaviours, the distilled wisdom of the ages that is transferred from one generation to the next. Historically wisdom was passed on orally through song and dialogue. As mankind mastered the art of writing and recorded values, principles, norms, policies and procedures – these were then passed on to the next generation in text form. Scriptures, philosophy, law and even cookery books give us a glimpse into life before the common era. As we evolve as a civilisation we simply continue to place stone after stone on the cairn began all those years ago.

Mentoring simply brings the distilled knowledge of the ages together with personal experience in a practical manner that makes it relevant to the mentee.

Is it really just as simple as reading a few books and having a couple of discussions that constitutes mentoring? Yes, it is both of these, but for mentoring to be effective and meaningful, we need to co-create a structured program that suits the needs of the mentee. This is important as we need to manage expectations as well as to define what mentoring is not.

What is mentoring not?

A recent meeting with the head of student affairs at a local university highlighted just how misunderstood the notion of mentoring is. I was part of a team establishing a mentoring program for the universities alumni department wanting to create a platform for alumni to share their skills, experience and wisdom with fellow alumni and current students.

I was extremely positive about the initiative as I had recently implemented a similar program where the impact was enormous. An institution which was largely separated into current students and old boys was united by the simple process of creating a platform for skilful, wise, experienced and connected persons become energised by spending time with eager, enthusiastic and energetic young students.

The program had many benefits. Most importantly it created an environment where individuals with a single purpose forged relationship across generations, races, creeds, cultures, genders and professions. These co-created relationships were of mutual benefits as the student might learn about the complexities of corporate governance whilst the mentor learns about social media.

The head of student affairs, a psychologist, was horrified, “never, these “so called” mentors are not trained therapists, we could soon be dealing with depression and suicides on an unprecedented scale.” The program was not implemented.

Her response was not unexpected as the process of mentoring is not fully understood. At best it is confused with formalised coaching and at worst with therapy which are both important and both have a place – but they are not mentoring.

The need for mentoring is even greater today!

My experience in business as well as in life generally has taught me that mentoring is the single most important factor for leading a successful, fulfilled life. I say business and life because when mentoring, I see no difference between the boardroom and the bedroom – it’s the same person who simply has a life divided into portfolios: spouse, parent, employee and more.

When I began working there was very little business literature. Businesses developed their own unique structure, systems and culture. The result was in order to replicate the DNA of the business you needed to develop your own training programs and train staff “in-house”.

If you left school and wanted to be a sales representative in FMCG, you joined a company as an assistant merchandiser. The merchandiser would show you where the stores in your cycle were. He/she would introduce you to the store manager. Show you were the goods receiving was. Where your products were stored. Guide you through the first daunting sales meetings at head office. Teach the basic skills of merchandising: eye level is buy level, category management, how to fight for shelf space, what products never to go out of stock on, what a promotion was, what a gondola end was and how to treat the staff instore to make your job easier. If you were successful, you were appointed to the permanent staff and the training wheels came off. After some time in this position he would be promoted through the ranks of junior sales representative, sales representative, regional sales manager, and if good enough the national sales. This process was common across all job functions. We can call it in-house training, apprenticeship, traineeship and more – but the truth is it was simply a transfer of knowledge, information and experience – mentoring. And it took time and patience.

Think of it this way, the day you left school you had certain knowledge but very little experience. By experience I mean the kind of experience one cannot gain through reading books or looking it up on google. Many people I mentor comment, “if only I had a person I could speak to, someone who had experience in the situations I faced whilst at school I would have avoided so many elementary mistakes, done so many things differently and saved a lot of time and wasted emotional energy. How can we avoid this?

By sharing our insight with young people or those moving into the professions and trades. One well thought out idea or well-made choice is worth years of wasted time and regrets. This is all the more necessary given the skills shortage that sees young graduates assuming more and more responsibility before they are ready. Furthermore, these same young graduates come with heightened expectations. The notion of building a career entails does not mean a “job for life” and slowly progressing through the ranks. They are a brand of one wanting as many different experiences on their CV as possible. Their careers are like their email addresses rather than their post-box number, they move around to develop themselves rather than waiting in one place for things to improve.

In my experience the best institutions achieve the greatest return on their human capital when they establish a formal and/or informal mentoring program. Naturally these must be tailored to suit the needs of each institution as well as those of the individual.

As each company requires mentoring aligned with its needs and culture, so too will the individual require a wide variety of choices: first time employment requires the employee to adjust to the workplace – meetings, politics, change, their relationship management, workplace etiquette and more. Mentoring executives means providing a more strategic insight. Whilst business training for small, medium enterprises requires a broad spectrum of skills including moving from start-up by establishing policies and procedures without using the entrepreneurial spirit. Career mentoring and life skill mentoring mean less of a focus on technical skills and more on general career development. In some instances, it can be one or many of the above depending on the needs of the mentee.

If mentoring appears to benefit so many, why did the head of student affairs have such an aversion to establishing a mentoring system? It can’t be that it is a novel idea?

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”— John Crosby


Why We Need Goals in Our Lives


There are two truism that apply to goals and planning: “if you don’t plan your life, somebody else will” and, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a clear, simple achievable plan for you to give effect to your dreams and achieve your full potential.

The Saige Goals Workshop focuses on firstly developing personal goals that equip the individual with the skills to achieve their full potential. Goal setting is an effective tool for making progress on a personal level towards a specific or desired outcome.

The process I use when setting goals is to establish SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bounded objectives) in the following areas of an individual’s life:

Definition of areas of self-development: 5 Ps

Personal: Values, purpose, family, home [me & others]

Professional: financial, career [me & others]

Physical: health, wellness, fitness [me & others]

Psychological: Mental educational, spiritual, ethical

Pastoral: Hobbies, interests, social, cultural, charity

We then assist the individual in aligning their personal goals with the organisation’s strategic objectives. A comprehensive talent management program is then drafted with the organisations HR Department.

The Saige Goal Workshop ensures that individual employee goals and objectives align with the vision and strategic goals of the entire organization. Goal-management provides organizations with a mechanism to effectively communicate corporate goals and strategic objectives to each person across the entire organization. The key consists of having a centralised strategy (we recommend the Saige SCORER process) and providing each person with a clear, consistent organizational-goal message so that every employee understands how their efforts contribute to an enterprise’s success.

Critical Need for a Team Strategy


“Perfection is spelled paralysis”


The greatest gift any CEO, Owner, MD, Consultant can give an organisation is to give it a simple set of marching orders – a strategy. No strategy means no vision, no goals no direction and eventually poorly directed inertia. The Saige Scorer established a simple, clear unambiguous strategy with a clear set of objectives to EXECUTE the strategy. The failure of organisations is not that they lack strategic direction, but they have no idea as to how to implement it. After the strategic session, they place the file on the shelf and go back to managing their day-to-day activities.

Over many years of working with good and great organisations, we have developed a simple easy to use system that not only provides clear direction for the organisation, but also measures the organisation on a constant basis, builds in excellence, instant self-correction, pulls organisations together, breaks down SILOs, and in our experience is the single biggest factor for moving from Good to Great.

If the question is, “how to I move my organisation form good to GREAT”?, then the answer is:


  • SCORER is the Swiss Army Knife of business management. A MacGyver tool that can be adapted and adopted to suit to any team or business.
  • With business experiencing constant change and disruption, SCORER is a simple effective system that cuts through the clutter and gets things done. If we all agree that leadership is all about energy, all about movement, all about action, then SCORER provides us with the perfect system for developing strategy and executing our objectives.
  • SCORER develops a crystal clear unambiguous set of “marching orders”.
  • SCORER creates a shared language for execution.
  • SCORER clarifies expectations. It simply says, “what do we need to get done (and fast), and who is working on it”?
  • SCORER keeps employees united and aligned vertically and horizontally.
  • SCORER demolishes silos, cultivates cross-team connections, highlights concerns early on, holds the entire team accountable and up to date.

The Saige SCORER is tried and tested, our many successful clients are proof of this.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Alumni Department (Part 1)


It is my experience that irrespective of the nature of the organisation, the successful ones are remarkably similar. They are [to paraphrase the first line in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina],

“happy organisations are alike; while each unhappy organisation is unhappy in its own way”.

I have been fortunate to work in wide variety of industries, private enterprises, family businesses, independent schools, universities, listed entities, charities, and more. Without exception the successful ones share the following characteristics.

They have a compelling direction; a clear vision, purpose and strategy. Their leaders are committed to and live this vision. They use the vision to trade in hope and create the image of what the future will look like.

They are serious about talent; they recruit the best possible people for each position and empower them – they attract, train and retain talent. As Jim Collins commented, “people are not your greatest asset, the right people are”. Great organisations get the right people on the bus and hold them accountable.

They have an appropriate structure; their form fits the function. They constantly perform “paper audits” to ensure the organisation is fit for purpose, flat, efficient and functional.

They have clear roles and responsibilities; job descriptions are clear, concise, and relevant so staff know exactly what to do. These roles are directly linked to the strategic objectives of the organisation.

They have effective measurement and feedback systems and processes; these are built in as part of a continuous improvement, growth and development, and striving for excellence process rather than a “surveillance and annual tick box exercise”. Staff know at what level they are required to operate. KPIs are one thing, but having OKRs is critical.

They celebrate their successes; when you measure success, you can celebrate it. This creates a culture of positive reinforcement and an environment where employees become ‘winners in the workplace”.

They have enabling environments; with high levels of emotional intelligence where staff are mentored by senior staff and encouraged; what I call HERO environments where the leaders create a culture of Hope, Effectiveness, Resilience and Optimism.

They encourage and respect multipliers people who perform above the requirements of their job functions. People I refer to as valuable citizens, people who possess good sound values. These are staff who continually check in on their colleagues, who support them, who are loyal to the organisation, who are team players, and create positive work environments. They deal in the intangibles, building relations, developing communities building within the organisation and outside. They are the ones who steer the organisations moral compass. They are the ones who allow stakeholders and shareholders to sleep at night.

With reference back to Anna Karenina, what are the traits of an “unhappy” organisation?

When I perform an organisational effectiveness survey, it always the case that one, a combination of, or all six of the abovementioned characteristics are absent.

The most common one in alumni organisations (as it is in schools) is the absence of effective measurement and feedback system.

I conducted an audit at an independent school recently and began by saying, “why is it that the quickest way to empty a staffroom is to talk about appraisal/performance review systems”?

Staff went swiftly on the defensive, “because we fear the commoditisation of education”, came one answer. “We have no control over the calibre of student we receive”, came another. “Some of our greatest successes come from getting the most difficult student to simply pass”.

There were many other reasons given. I responded by asking the question, “do you measure your students?”, “yes of course”, came the answer, “why” I asked. “So, we can evaluate their performance, give them positive feedback in the areas where they are doing well, asses areas for improvement and put in place measures to help them develop to their full potential”. The school has a comprehensive record of every intervention, every test, every exam and every assessment with a pupil that follows the progress of the student through the school.

“Well it may surprise you that this is exactly what an effective staff review system entails”, I replied, you measure the aspects of your job that are within your control. You do not measure the “uncontrollable”.

The purpose of an effective set of key performance areas is in order to assist the employee in performing their function optimally, provide the support they require, the assistance in terms of mentoring and training to do so, and the opportunity to receive what I call “feed-forward”. A concept based on Marshall Goldsmiths concept of always looking forward in an attempt to become the best version of ourselves we can become. It has a strong element of mentoring and is a co-created, collaborative relationship.

In short, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. The best organisations build the striving for excellence into the DNA of the organisation. It becomes built into the processes and policies. It becomes more than just an outcome, it is a way of working.

My experience of having worked in and evaluating alumni departments leads me to believe that the successful ones are successful because they are run along the lines of successful organisations.

Where they are unique is in that they operate in an environment where there are multiple stakeholders – the university [including current staff and students], the alumni [who range from last years graduate to a 99-year-old farmer in the Karoo], donors, and future alumni.

Furthermore, they have had to evolve rapidly [as Robert Forman commented], from “ex-coaches who are good at golf, fine story-tellers, and know lots of people to professionals required to operate in a highly competitive field of work as executors of strategy, event coordination, liaising between the various constituencies and delivering on strategy. How one measures them is critical to the success of the organisation.”

As Bill Gates who battled initially when establishing the Gates Foundation commented, “In philanthropy I see people confusing objectives with missions all the time. A mission is directional. An objective has a set of concrete steps that you are intentionally engaged in and actually trying to go for. Its fine to have ambitious objectives, but how do you scale it? How do you measure it? I think its getting better though. Philanthropy is bringing in more people from high performance business environments, and they are tilting the culture.”

When we measure the effectiveness of an alumni relations department, we look at the following:

Is there a purpose or a vision? Is there a clear concise strategy to achieve the support the purpose and achieve the vision? Is this known to employees? Are employees absolutely clear as to what their roles and responsibilities are in delivering the strategy? Are there a clear set of metrics to measure an evaluate progress and performance of employees in achieving delivering on the strategy? It is this final point I wish to elaborate on as it is the single biggest short-coming in alumni relations organisations.