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Banking on experience

Since the announcement of Lawrence Tomlinson and Rekha Mehr as Government’s “entrepreneurs in residence” at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the topic of enterprise mentoring has been gathering momentum. Jackie Jenks, Enterprise Mentoring Manager, Lloyds Banking Group, reports.

Tomlinson and Mehr will act as a direct line of communication to the Government, allowing business leaders to voice their opinions on the economy and discuss the type of issues they face as SMEs. Notably, Mehr has stressed a key priority for her is to promote the benefits of enterprise mentoring and bring the initiative to the forefront of economical regrowth.

Aiding the development of UK businesses is of course a key priority, and as an organisation, our support extends way beyond traditional banking facilities. Enterprise mentoring has been a key initiative for the bank, since the introduction of the national mentoring scheme in 2011, and we have seen significant results amongst the businesses we have worked with to date. Not only is mentoring proving beneficial to the entrepreneurial, once paired with a business, mentors set up regular meetings and phone calls where they can discuss any issues their mentees are dealing with, endeavour to answer any questions they have and use their own skills and experience to provide guidance and support which will ultimately aid the business’s success and expansion. The programme also involves a series of regional events including sessions where members of the local business community can find out more about the scheme, participate in interactive workshops and sign up for mentoring support. Volunteers have also run activities in Universities, sharing information about the banking industry with the next generation of potential business men and women, as well as actively meeting current business leaders at industry shows to discuss with them mentoring and its benefits.

A business that has benefitted from mentoring support is graduate digital design company, Mutant Labs. Mutant Labs was established in 2009 by joint founders Alex Ryley, Andrew Sargeant, Ben Reynhart, Chris Mayoh and Richard Searle who started the business after meeting on the Digital Art and Technology course at the University of Plymouth. The business specialises in the design and development of innovative mobile apps and games as well as websites, motion graphics and animation. Since its inception, Mutant Labs has worked for clients including MindCandy, Absolute Radio and North One Television and also represented the South West at last year’s Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. In order to help the business develop further, the founders joined their local mentoring agency, Business Mentors South West, where they were partnered with Audit Manager at Lloyds Banking Group, Duncan Webster. Duncan, a trained mentor who also has completed both the level five workshop in Enterprise Mentoring and the Continuing Professional Development course, called on years of experience at the bank, to help support Mutant Labs in a range of areas including the improvement of their business plan, the creation of a marketing strategy and the diversification of their product offering. Commenting on the mentoring scheme, Alex Ryley, co-founder of Mutant Labs, said: “As a digital design company, it is crucial we remain at the forefront of innovation and continually develop our products to ensure we are one step ahead of our competitors. We decided that a business mentor would be able to help us with that as they can look at our business objectively, as well as pass on their own skills and expertise. The most valuable aspect Duncan has helped us with is developing a long-term strategy for growth as we now have a clear idea of where we want to take our business and some of the steps we can take to ensure we reach our goals.”

Mutant Labs is a prime example of just one of the growing businesses that has benefitted as a result of mentoring support, but beyond that, there has also been a significant impact felt within our own organisation. Mentoring has played an instrumental role in engaging the workforce and it has contributed to increased motivation and self-development amongst our mentors. For many, banking is their forte and their knowledge and experience in providing financial support and guidance is extensive, so mentoring gives them the opportunity to play to their strengths and really add value to the business they are helping develop. The regular face-to-face meetings provide mentors with the opportunity to directly immerse themselves in an organisation completely different to their own, understand how it operates and gain a real understanding of what their mentees’ aims and ambitions are, an on the ground experience that provides an insight into all aspects of running a business. But interestingly, it also requires mentors to step away from their day jobs too and instead take on a new role where they are required to act as a springboard for ideas rather than just suggesting financial products.

Many of our mentors are used to spending a substantial part of their working life listening to business owners and hearing positive things about their organisations, mainly when they are seeking to borrow money. And as part of this, their role is to draw out the risks and discuss the challenges, in order to make a measured assessment and recommend the financial products that might be suitable. Mentoring, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, as all the risks and issues are brought up straight away, and it is the mentor’s job to discuss the strengths, and break down the weaknesses, allowing the mentee to define their own way forward. Since the scheme’s inception, over 420 employees from within the bank have signed up to become volunteer mentors and, as part of our continued involvement with the scheme, we have contributed to the development of two new mentoring qualifications including the Level Five certificate in Enterprise Mentoring, created in conjunction with Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI), and the Continuing Professional Development course, also launched with SFEDI and Business Mentors South West (BMSW). A number of our mentors played pivotal roles in developing the content and format of these courses following their own experiences working with mentees, and both programmes aim to train volunteers to develop their knowledge and skills so they can provide practical and relevant support for entrepreneurs. However, the skills gained through the training programmes are not exclusive to a mentoring relationship and can be transferred back to the mentor’s own role within the bank. Indeed, a significant number of volunteers have expressed how useful the training programmes are in developing their own leadership skills and how it has allowed them to enhance their roles as internal mentors for other employees looking to develop their careers. Feedback from our mentors goes beyond simply gaining new skills. We’ve heard from many who have indicated that they’ve taken a lot away from their mentoring sessions, both in terms of the pride and invigoration that it helps to bring to their roles through sharing knowledge and experiences, but also that it helps bring a new perspective to their day-to-day life – frequently mentors will be teamed up with mentees from completely different industries to what they’re used to, as it helps them to step out of their role as ‘banker’. We’ve heard from many mentors who have said that being able to interact with business leaders in a completely different way from that of a banking perspective has helped them to get an insight into the challenges and the realities which are facing the country’s enterprises.

This is something that they can transfer back into their everyday roles, and ultimately helps us as a bank to better understand our customers, and be able to tailor our services to ensure we are meeting the needs of the UK’s businesses. It is clear to see that mentoring is an effective way to help support SMEs at all life cycle stages from start-ups to businesses looking to grow as well as established companies, and there are many tangible benefits for business leaders and mentors alike. The introduction of the Government’s ‘entrepreneurs in residence’, coupled with the fact that they are really championing the benefits of enterprise mentoring really goes a long way to demonstrate the importance that is being placed on the scheme. Set up in conjunction with the Business Finance Taskforce and the British Banking Association, the mentoring scheme aims to help the economy return to sustainable growth by training industry professionals to impart their own skills and experience onto entrepreneurs. As part of this, the bank works with a number of mentoring organisations including BIS, and SFEDI amongst others, through which employees from across all areas of the bank can volunteer to work as mentors with businesses that have requested support.

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