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Katherine Stone - Unilever global mentoring

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Katherine Stone reveals how Unilever launched a global mentoring programme to identify and target groups of mentees ripe for accelerated career development.

Building pipeline of talent

To drive competitive advantage and secure a strong pipeline of talent for the future, it has become increasingly important that we create a diverse talent pipeline, especially for senior leadership positions.

Early last year, Unilever launched a global mentoring programme with the aim of providing leadership support to aid the development and accelerate the readiness of a target group of mentees for their next appointment within Unilever. We hoped that good mentoring relationships would be established that would enable our organisation to build leadership capability.

Mentors would guide and support mentees by having regular mentoring sessions and working with them on their development needs and priorities. Each mentee would create a development plan setting out their development needs and priorities and the mentoring sessions would focus on these development areas.

Who were the target group of mentees?

The first wave of the global mentoring programme was launched in March 2009 and there were 23 female mentees who participated. It was decided that the first wave of the mentoring programme should focus on our high-potential women at director and vice president work levels, due to Unilever wanting to see more women in its senior leadership roles.

The second wave of the global mentoring programme was launched in September 2009 and this time there were 32 male and female mentees that participated (19 males and 13 females). It was decided that the second wave should be opened up to our high-potential male population at director and vice president work levels, as we didn’t want to just focus on women.

How did we set it up and pair mentees and mentors?

It was agreed that the programme needed to have senior sponsorship due to its objectives and also the fact that we wanted the mentors to be our senior leaders. We managed to get the President of Western Europe, who is one of Unilever’s Executives to be the business sponsor of the programme and the Senior Vice President (SVP) HR Categories and Global Functions, as HR the sponsor.

The first stage was to identify the mentees, which we did by getting the SVPs HR for each part of the business to nominate them. The second stage was to identify who their mentors would be. Again we got the SVPs HR to help identify suitable mentors to pair the mentees with.

All the mentors were to be chosen from our most senior leaders (senior vice president) population, as they have the most experience plus they are in our most senior leadership roles within Unilever. Some of the mentors were female, but the majority of them were male, due to the small number of our senior leaders who are female.

Where possible, we tried to pair the mentees with mentors who had experience in areas where the mentees have developmental gaps.

Once the mentees and mentors were identified we notified the mentees’ line managers that they were going to be invited to participate in the mentoring programme and the President of Western Europe sent each of the mentees and mentors an invitation letter to participate in the programme which included details of the launch event.

Furthermore the mentors were invited to have 1-2-1 briefings with their relevant HRBP to prepare them for the mentoring sessions.

How did we launch the mentoring programme?

The first wave launch for the 23 female mentees and their mentors took place in March 2009 via video conference, due to the global nature of our business, the mentees and mentors were spread all over the world and it wasn’t feasible to get everyone in the same place just for the launch event.

The President of Western Europe introduced the programme and talked through the objectives of the programme and gave some really nice anecdotal examples of how beneficial he has found mentoring from both the mentee and mentor perspective.

The SVP HR for the Categories and Global Functions set out the scope of the programme, how long it would last and what would happen over the next 12-18 months.

The second wave launch for the 32 female and male mentees and their mentors took place in September 2009 via video conference and followed the same format as the first wave launch.

What materials were prepared?

We created a mentee guide, a mentor guide and a guide to creating your development plan. The mentee guide consisted of some pre-work that we gave to mentees to complete before their first mentoring session, to get them thinking about their achievements, what they felt their development gaps were, what their development goals were and what areas of leadership they needed to develop.

The mentee guide also consisted of information to help mentees prepare for their mentoring sessions and how to get the most out of them, what their roles and responsibilities were and what should be covered in their mentoring sessions.

The mentor guide wasn’t as detailed as the mentee guide, but consisted of information to help mentors prepare for the mentoring sessions, how to get the most out of them and what their roles and responsibilities were. We also made the mentors aware of the pre-work we had given mentees to prepare prior to their first mentoring session.

The'guide to creating your development plan' was to help mentees create a development plan consisting of their key development areas. The development plan was crucial to the success of the mentoring sessions, as the mentor would not only work with their mentee on their development needs and priorities but the development plan would be the focus of the discussions in the sessions.

To ensure everyone agreed with the development goals, we created a process to ensure there was agreement on the final development goals between the mentee, the mentee’s line manager and the mentor.

INSEAD research

INSEAD were conducting some research looking at how men and women transition to bigger leadership roles and the differences between men and women and wanted to interview our female and male mentees as part of their research. They conducted two rounds of face-to-face interviews with the mentees: the first round focused on their current and anticipated roles and the second round focused on specific issues arising from the research and explored the mentees evolution towards the next role.

The result of this research is that INSEAD provided feedback from the interviews that highlighted three specific issues for Unilever to target and focus on.

The research also contributed to a recently published article in the September 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review on “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women”, where the Unilever global mentoring programme was mentioned in the article.

Follow-up sessions

For both groups of mentees and mentors, we organised a 3 month, 6 month and 12 month follow-up. The 3 month follow-up was just with the mentees which consisted of group or 1-2-1 calls to check-in and find out how their development planning was going and whether they had managed to have their first mentoring session.

The 6 month follow-up consisted of sending out an online survey to both mentees and mentors to get their feedback on how the mentoring sessions were going, the process, the guides etc.

The 12 month follow-up consisted of Helen and Doug emailing both mentees and mentors to acknowledge that they had reached the 12 month mark and to check-in with them on how their mentoring relationships were going.

Has mentoring been successful?

The main criteria we have used to measure how successful the programme has been are the survey results, but most importantly how many mentees have been promoted to the next work level roles. The overall survey results were good and positive and where people provided feedback we have listened and made the necessary tweaks and changes to the programme.

Since the programme launched in March 2009, there have been 5 promotions from the first wave of mentees and 4 promotions from the second wave of mentees. Although we cannot take all the credit or attribute the sole reason for these promotions as participation in the global mentoring programme, we do think that mentoring has played an important role in these individuals getting promoted and will continue to play an important role for their transitions into future senior roles.

Future of mentoring at Unilever

We have recently launched another wave of the programme focusing on our 5 top high potential women who are being mentored by either a senior vice president or a one of Unilever’s executives. One of the mentors is our CEO, Paul Polma,n which is great.

We are also planning on launching a third wave of the global mentoring programme before the end of the year which will focus on our high potential female director work level population.

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