ArticleNovember 7, 2022 · 4 min read time
Nitor launched a mentoring pilot in spring 2022. Six pairs were selected for the programme, consisting of interested mentors and actors, i.e. persons to be mentored. The four-month pilot produced excellent results as well as lessons learned to tap into in the future – the mentoring programme will be adopted as a permanent part of competence development at Nitor.
The idea of a mentoring programme had been around for quite some time, but the conference vacuum brought about by the pandemic finally signalled the need to introduce new means of learning. A company the size of Nitor has a tremendous amount of different kinds of expertise, the sharing of which is very useful – not only for the actor, but also for the mentor participating in the programme.
"My goal was to contribute to Nitor’s culture of information sharing and continuous professional development, and I feel that it was definitely fulfilled. However, I ended up getting much more out of the process: my passion for the topic I was teaching was rekindled. I was able to build closer relationships with my colleagues and I learned useful things to support my own professional development. My mentee also reached their goals."
– A mentor from the anonymous feedback survey
“Our design team expressed an interest in mentoring at just the right moment, so we decided to launch the pilot with this particular group. Some wanted to learn more about service design and some about, for example, frontend programming,” says Senior Designer Heidi Holm, who was involved in organising the pilot.
People Partner Tiina Vanala, who was responsible for the pilot together with Holm, says that the goal is precisely to provide concrete ways to develop one’s expertise. Vanala works in the Academy team that focuses on Nitor employees’ professional development.
“We don’t want to go about proclaiming that Nitor provides opportunities to develop one’s skills if we don’t have anything concrete to offer and actively encourage people to seize different opportunities to learn. It’s one thing to just let everyone be responsible for their own development to the extent they want, but it’s quite another to actually come up with ways to engage and involve people. At Nitor, the emphasis is on the latter.”
Good planning guaranteed the success of the pilot
For the mentoring pilot, a questionnaire was used to map out topics in which those interested wanted to improve their skills – or on which mentors would like to provide guidance to their colleagues. Based on the responses, suitable mentor-actor pairs were formed for the first round.
“It was important to find persons with compatible wishes for the results and goals of the mentoring. This ensured that the experience would be rewarding for both the actor and the mentor lending their support. The goal was for both parties to gain new insight into their activities,” Vanala says.
Other important aspects in mentoring are the ability and willingness to commit to a project lasting several months and the meetings and sparring sessions involved in it. At Nitor, the pilot entailed a kick-of session where the general principles of mentoring were discussed. The participants were also offered support in planning their own schedules and the use of the time reserved for mentoring. The goals for and observations about the progress of the mentoring process were written down with the help of the Workbook for Mentoring published by the University of Helsinki.
“After the kick-off session, the programme comprised a midpoint meeting and a face-to-face closing ceremony. We also arranged weekly Slack support meetings for any questions or tricky situations that might crop up. Still, each pair was responsible for scheduling the actual mentoring sessions,” Holm says.
"My personal goals were more than fulfilled. With the help of a good mentor, learning React was easier than I’d thought. Before the mentoring pilot, I couldn’t have imagined I’d advance so quickly in my studies."
– An actor from the anonymous feedback survey
Mentoring to be established as a permanent part of professional development at Nitor
Every pair’s mentoring journey was unique. For example, actor Merita Lemmetty and mentor Mervi Rauhala sought insight into service design through a real-life customer project. This is precisely where the advantage of in-house mentoring lies: some things, such as design, are difficult to learn without an actual case. In a real customer project, the actor also gets direct customer feedback that is valuable for their development.
“Learning frontend programming is different from mastering more abstract themes such as service design. It’s definitely an advantage that you can improve your service design skills with the support of your colleagues through hands-on work. At Nitor, you can work on customer projects that you are genuinely interested in,” Holm says.
The pilot project received complimentary feedback: both sides found the mentoring worthwhile. Nitor is already using Core time, which allows everyone to spend 10% of their working hours on professional development. The Kamu model, on the other hand, is aimed at providing peer support in an organisation where hierarchy is conspicuous in its absence. Following the pilot, a goal-oriented mentoring programme will be established as a permanent function alongside these two to boost competence development.
“What resonated strongly with the mentoring pilot participants was self-determination theory, which describes the three factors that create motivation. The will to do and learn, the feeling of competence as well as the social side of things and the sense of belonging all fuel motivation. The theory also reflects well the Nitor way of operating and developing. It’s great to be able to offer it to a larger group of people in the future,” Vanala says.