Mentoring the mentors

I have struggled to bring you this post. We’ve had sketchy broadband and HimIndoors can’t make up his mind whether it’s a dodgy router, dodgy Zen or dodgy BT. On Friday I tried tethering the netbook to my phone but it wouldn’t find it. It’s been running slow for weeks now so today HimIndoors tried installing Ubuntu on it and it’s now as dead as a Python parrot. Luckily the broadband is up again so this post is brought to you via a wing and a prayer.

On Friday I was on the bill with Leah Lockhart at Falkirk Council facilitating a discussion with a group of graduates and modern apprentices, all working in local government comms teams. This was a follow-up to the panel discussion we took part in at the LGComms Scottish event in Perth at the end of March.

We had been tasked with teasing out of them what they thought was going well and what we comms teams could be doing better for them. There was seems to be some really good mentoring going on but in some places no real direction at all. Mentoring can be a hard gig unless you’ve had a good mentor yourself at some point in your career. I have done a coaching course and I think that would stand me in good stead but mentoring takes coaching up a whole level. It’s about passing on knowledge and skills but it’s also about how to conduct yourself and being a role model. I suspect that those graduates/apprentices who feel they are floundering have mentors who haven’t had mentors themselves.

I consider myself lucky. I’ve had three great bosses in my life. None of them had or has ever been described officially as a mentor but I guess they have been. Anyone can teach you the mechanical bit about a job like deadlines, contacts, how to top and tail a press release, how to book a photographer or how to use a content management system. A mentor will pass on the nuances of the job like how to get an editor on side, how to stage manage a photocall to get more than a line-up of suits, how to conduct yourself in management meetings. They will help you gain the confidence in yourself to step into their shoes when needed. They may not even recognise themselves as your mentor – they’ll just be getting on with their job but giving you the insight as asides, a chat over coffee or taking you along to meetings as back-up. If there’s someone you admire at work, watch how they go about their business and work out what it is about them that gives them the edge and the respect of others – what makes them tick. Can you weave that into your job at your level?

Photo by the State Library of New South Wales under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

Photo by the State Library of New South Wales under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

I’ve had one official mentor in my life and boy, is he a difficult act to follow. David Holdstock has a formidable track record but it’s difficult when your mentor is 340 miles away. I don’t really know how he operates in his daily life but I do know that he commands respect but still manages to have fun at work. I also know that if I ever have a question I can text or call him and if I’m ever in London or he’s up here we can meet up. When we do get together we chat about what I’m up to and about my future and the questions he asks generally get me thinking.

Overall the chat with the graduates was positive and we’re going to get a community set up for them on the Knowledge Hub so that they can link up with others around the country. The whole thing did make me feel ancient though. I started working the year most of them were born!

On Saturday I had a quick visit from John Fox who was travelling back down south from a holiday up north. We chatted about Socitm, task-centric websites, business processes and customer journey mapping. I pointed him in the direction of work done by Sarah Fogden and Gerald Power when they worked at the Cabinet Office. I met them when they spoke at a channel shift event and they were excellent. After that event I tracked the documents down to the National Archives but they now seem to be disappearing so I’ve saved them and put them here. These documents are invaluable if you want to get your head round business process re-engineering, how to make services Digital by Default, task-centric websites and customer-centric tasks. They are simple to understand and give you a step-for-a-hint if you have any senior management to convince.

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping 2

This weekend I have learned:

  • non-working tech drives HimIndoors insane
  • I really should defrost my freezer more often

Today’s track

Heard this guy for the first time on Craig Charles’ show and was blown away. There’s no video but have a listen – the lyrics and the horn section are the video.

Today’s recipe

Double chocolate cake

wpid-20130428_184421_LLS.jpgI made this for John and Marion coming to visit on Saturday and even Molly the dog had a piece.

Chocolate cake


100g self raising flour

40g cocoa powder

1.5 tsp baking powder

150g softened butter

150g soft brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 tbsp milk

3 large eggs

For the frosting

100g softened butter

175g icing sugar

40g cocoa powder

1 tbsp milk

Sprinkles to finish

Method: Grease and line a rectangular tin. Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar in another large bowl then mix in the vanilla and the milk.

Crack an egg into the butter bowl and beat in till smooth. Add a big spoon of the flour mixture and beat till smooth. Repeat till the eggs and flour mixture are used up.

Tip into the tin ans smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes till a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave till completely cool.

For the frosting: Put all the ingredients (minus the sprinkles) into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer. Put on top of the cake and smooth out with a palette knife. Add the sprinkles.

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