CGA Strategy, a data, research and insight consultancy, was determined to not let the coronavirus pandemic put paid to plans to develop its workforce – despite the challenges of remote working. The Rapid Response Mentoring programme from Be the Business provided the support needed – and more.
Business growth for CGA Strategy has been steady since it was established in 1992. It works across the globe from its headquarters in Manchester and offices in the US and, before coronavirus struck, employed around 150 people. Its immediate concern was how to facilitate remote working during lockdown but, keen not to put the brakes on its plans, was also looking for ways to translate some programmes it was already working on into a remote context.
Be the Business felt CGA was the perfect candidate for its concentrated 12-week Rapid Response Mentoring programme, which was designed to help SMEs through the critical months of lockdown and its aftermath. The programme matched Fiona Speakman, client director for the food and retail team at the consultancy, with Sarah-Jane Penman, business improvement manager at BAE Systems.
Sarah-Jane had been drawn to mentoring “naturally” she commented. “I’m interested in people, culture, and shaping best practice – things that are part of my job.”
For CGA, speed was of the essence, and the programme didn’t let Fiona down. “They did lots of the pre-work, in terms of understanding what I needed, and matched me and Sarah-Jane quickly,” Fiona said. “We looked like a good fit on paper, decided to try it, and hit it off immediately, which meant we could launch straight in rather than having to ‘build a relationship’.”
Adapting and adopting
Sarah-Jane helped Fiona by suggesting how CGA might adopt and adapt some of the tools and techniques she uses in BAE Systems. “For example, BAE have a staff consultative committee to facilitate cross-departmental communications, with members elected from every part of the business,” Fiona explained. “We can adopt the principle of that here. It would give us early insights on what staff are thinking rather than waiting for any concerns to get to a point where issues are difficult to address. I’ve raised that with my peers on the senior leadership team to see if they think it would be a good idea to implement.”
Fiona drove the agenda from the outset, setting the topic for each mentoring session in advance, which gave Sarah-Jane time to think about her response. As well as the organisational benefits, Fiona also gained personal development – particularly as the relationship between the two women evolved.
A developing relationship
“Our relationship feels very comfortable and easy, and we communicate well – despite the fact that, given lockdown, we haven’t even seen each other,” said Fiona. She found the sessions “increasingly enjoyable”, adding that some of the most productive conversations involved them sharing and reflecting on their own and each other’s experiences. “We are both women operating in largely male environments, so we’ve had some interesting discussions about how to ensure we get our voices heard,” she added.
The mentoring programme has delivered even more than Fiona hoped. “I wanted an objective and more mature-business perspective on our challenges, and I’ve certainly got that,” she explained. “The validation Sarah-Jane has given me for things that I was already doing at CGA boosted my confidence too.”
And the benefits are sustainable: not only is Sarah-Jane now part of Fiona’s network, but both women expect the mentoring relationship to continue, at some level, beyond the end of the formal programme.
Learn more about the Mentoring for Growth programme, find out how you can become involved or get access to an experienced mentor.