Good to talk

Senior Lecturer Jenni Jones is celebrating after receiving a top national award in recognition of her work on a mentoring scheme for West Midlands Police. She was presented with the prestigious British Association for Women in Policing (BAWP) Special Recognition Award 2011 at a ceremony in June.

Jenni joined the University seven years ago as a Senior Lecturer in the HR Department at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, specialising in Learning and Development, Leadership, Coaching and Mentoring programmes.

Prior to that, she worked in the private sector, initially for the Prudential as a Human Resources Manager and Training Manager and then for drinks company Britvic as Performance and Development Manager. She later worked for a consultancy in Shrewsbury offering training, development and mentoring.

How do you feel about winning the British Association for Women in Policing (BAWP) award?

I feel very honoured and surprised! It is nice to see the Police are valuing mentoring within the force. It is great that they have invested the time of the mentors and mentees and allowed me to go in and work with them, on an ongoing basis.

Speaking to both the mentors and the mentees, there is a surprising amount of learning coming out of it for both parties, in terms of increased awareness and personal development, particularly in the area of coping strategies during times of change.

The project you won the award for was with West Midlands Police – could you tell us a bit more about what this involved?

One of my Masters students in Coaching and Mentoring worked for West Midlands Police and asked me to come in and share a bit of knowledge.

They felt there was a need for a programme targeted at supporting women in the Police, and as this was an area I was studying for my PhD, it seemed sensible that I could advise them and so I ended up doing the training.

The project gave women in the force the opportunity to be trained as mentors and they were then matched with women who identified themselves as requiring someone to support their personal development and career progression. I delivered two days of training for the mentors and a half day session with the mentees. I also created a handbook, and I met up with the mentors and mentees every couple of months for over a year to see if they needed any extra support.

The mentees mainly talked about the positive impact it had made on their motivation. Often the mentors were surprised at the learning they had gained, above and beyond what they expected. Mentoring is often seen as an altruistic activity by mentors but there are hidden benefits: they learn new things about how to support each other and also reflect on their own career. It makes a difference for both parties in their role with the general public and also the teams they work with.

It is encouraging that the Police are rewarding learning and development activities and that goes to show the changing culture. It is still a male dominated profession but there are a growing number of senior women now and the purpose of the mentoring was for women to see the opportunities that exist.

What interests you about Coaching and Mentoring?

I have worked in various HR, training, development and consultancy roles and it is amazing how having a conversation with someone can make such a difference. A chat about where someone is up to, how they are feeling and showing an interest in someone can have a massive impact on their confidence levels.

All the different roles I have taken have been about helping people realise their potential, and often the simplest things reap the biggest rewards. Mentoring is about encouraging someone to see what the future might hold for them.

You teach modules focused on Coaching and Mentoring, what is involved in these?

All our coaching and mentoring teaching is a mixture of theory and practice. We discuss the theoretical underpinning, such as what works and what doesn’t work, but also teach the practical aspects too. These are popular optional modules at the Business School.

Some Coaching and Mentoring practitioners may be sceptical about university courses because they feel it might be too theoretical but we recognise the importance of the two things together.

What characteristics make a good coach or mentor?

If you asked West Midlands Police about what makes a good mentor, they would say someone who listens, cares, shows empathy and empowers the mentee to do it for themselves. Most of those would be good skills for a coach too.

In West Midlands Police, it was important to have mentors that understood the workplace and would listen, encourage and support the mentees to make changes for themselves.

I would say a poor coach or mentor would be someone who told people what to do or did it for them.

What sorts of benefits are there for people taking part in a mentoring scheme?

The benefits are for the individual, their teams and the organisation. On an individual level, it is beneficial in terms of personal development, skills and attitudes. There is always surprise from both mentors and mentees about how much they have learnt about themselves, their job, their views and aspirations.

For the mentee, it is more obvious as it is focused on them, but the mentor can gain a lot of self awareness and satisfaction too. There are also benefits for the team or department in terms of the skills and new knowledge they can share. An example would be ‘active listening’, which can become a normal part of your working day rather than just something you do in a mentoring scenario.

The impact is beyond the individual and that is often a positive surprise to people at senior levels. People understand not only about themselves but also how they work and behave and what impact this has on others, and that has got to be a good thing.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Seeing people learning and growing.

I have worked here for seven years on both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and it is so satisfying to see people in their first year and again in their final year and the difference being here has made for them. Mentoring is a bit like that too.

You start building a relationship and a rapport and often the person is not sure what they want. You work together and over time the student or mentee becomes more able to recognise what they want, plan towards it and then do things for themselves. They become independent of you and that is very satisfying. It is about giving people the tools to do it themselves – you do not have all the answers but are helping people to find their own way.

Picture: Sponsor Michael Cullen from Cooneen, Watts and Stone, Jenni Jones from the University of Wolverhampton and BAWP President and Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Service Cressida Dick