How much time do organisations spend agonising over their ‘straplines’? And how much of an impact does a strapline really have? The strapline for Charity Mentors Oxfordshire is ‘clarify, explore, plan’. These 3 words, and the order in which they appear, sum up our approach to mentoring and the time spent by us agonising over them helped us to establish what our approach to mentoring is all about.
The order of the words was more contentious than our choice of words. Surely you need to ‘explore’ with a mentee, before you can ‘clarify’? And once you’ve clarified, you can plan. Shouldn’t it be ‘explore, clarify, plan’?
The answer to that is no! A CEO/manager or chair is probably exploring options, mulling over challenges and juggling with various issues on a constant basis. The day-to-day demands of running a charity often leave little head-space for getting a clear picture of where the organisation should be heading, what you want to achieve in the long run and what the priorities should be. Many of our potential mentees approach us with a ‘funding issue’. But that needs to be unpacked. It’s like a business saying, “we don’t have enough customers”. What’s behind that? And what are the most important factors contributing to the lack of customers (or the lack of funding)? What is within your control? What is not? Achieving clarity from the beginning is vital. It is where a mentor (particularly because they are an ‘outsider’) can be really useful and stop you going around in circles.
It was really helpful to step back and get independent support to reflect and plan. My mentor used his mentoring skills to help clarify my thinking, and his previous experience of being a CEO as well as chair of trustees was very helpful. He helped me see the necessity of prioritising to reduce/avoid being overwhelmed and I am now being much more boundaried in my approach to the work.
Oxford City Farm
It’s only when the scope of a mentoring project has been properly identified, that you can start to think about the options. These might involve ideas for solving a problem, although mentoring isn’t only helpful in solving problems. Many of our mentees use our help to develop opportunities, to grow and to think about effectiveness. There is usually no shortage of ideas but, in a world of scarce resources, the issue is where the focus should be. So, exploring the various options with a mentor helps to narrow things down on a rational basis. Again, the presence of an ‘outsider’ can be helpful in so many ways. They can question long-held assumptions that might be redundant, they can challenge prejudices, trigger new approaches, encourage you to call-on support from other stakeholders, to use your existing resources more effectively and also help you to hold on to what is working.
Working with a mentor allows time to reflect on where you are, what needs to be affirmed and what needs changing. The mentoring was very informal and yet very effective. Each time we met we found fresh ways to explore and tackling issues as well as keeping hold of the original aim. I appreciated the listening ear and the way in which my mentor asked the right questions and allowed me to think aloud.
Blackbird Leys Adventure Playground
‘Plan’ is about putting it all together. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a written plan. It’s the ‘getting it done’ part. Sometimes, our mentors work with an organisation that has already developed a plan, but something is blocking the execution. It might be that the plan is unrealistic, or not properly understood or believed in. It might be that the ‘day-to-day’ keeps getting in the way, in which case, a mentor might be able to help ‘unblock’ whatever the problem is and help you to hold you and your organisation to account. A regular meeting with a mentor can be a great way of setting the clock ticking and moving things forward.
Our mentor helped us develop a clear plan and focus on the areas that were important in a coherent way. We now know what we need to achieve and how we may do this. Before we had ideas but nobody to bring them all together and highlight the priorities for our vision.
Red Kite Family Centre
Mentoring the Charity Mentors Oxfordshire way
Our strapline ‘Clarify, Explore, Plan’ not only helps us explain our approach to mentoring, but the exercise to come up with one stimulated discussion between us about what we are trying to do.
Does your organisation have a strapline? If so, how does it help you achieve your aims? If you don’t have one, why not? Let us know in the comment box below: