'4 ways mentoring and productivity are linked in the creative industries'
The idea for Creative Mentor Network (CMN) first came about when I was working as an English teacher in a London Academy. As a school, we focussed on making sure students passed exams and supporting them into university. We seldom explored what happened after graduation and discussions about careers were limited to a narrow spectrum of traditional jobs - lawyer, banker, engineer, accountant, through the outdated prism of a ‘career-for-life’.
I worked at an ‘Outstanding’ school, and the careers provision was good. But interactions with the world of work were few. It was only when my year 12’s started looking for work experience, and struggling to find decent placements, that it dawned on me how successful careers are in large part the result of good networks. How often do we get asked about our A Levels or degree results? And how often do we find out about opportunities through family, friends and our wider network? Many of the students at my school would go on to get excellent exam results and study at top universities, but they would still be at a huge disadvantage once they graduated.
In October, the charity Teach First released a report calling for improved careers education. The report found that university education is not a panacea to poor social mobility, noting that ‘Nearly half of the most-advantaged young people found work experience through family and friends, compared to less than 1 in 5 of the least-advantaged.” The result? A lack of diversity across the country’s top jobs.
Nowhere is this more so than in the creative industries. Not only is this unfair, but for an industry whose bread and butter is engaging the public, it is also a worry. The Work Foundation recently produced a skills audit of the UK film and screen industries commissioned by the BFI. The report highlighted that shockingly only 3% of the sector’s production workforce is from BAME backgrounds. Why? Because those from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less able to rely on well-connected family and friends to help them access the opportunities they need to get ahead.
As a teacher, many of my students were creatively talented, interested in the world around them, in the internet and in pop culture and trends. They were good at solving problems, sociable and entrepreneurial. All skills that made them perfectly matched for the kind of creative industry jobs that they would have found so exciting. It was a constant frustration then, that out of date careers information and parents who were disconnected from ‘the right’ network of people meant their perception of the creative industries was that of a precarious route for employment; something they could and should only pursue as a hobby. And it was this frustration that lead me to set up CMN.
At the time, most of my friends were working in the creative industries. Many of them either suffering bad managers or taking on management positions themselves without feeling equipped. Meanwhile as a teacher, working with a class full of young people to ignite their interest while at the same time making sure they pass exams, I was learning a lot about managing people. When you work with young people, you get instant feedback. If you plan a boring lesson and your class is misbehaving because they’re bored, you know about it. And if you don’t communicate a task properly and your students don’t complete the work you’ve set them because they haven’t understood what to do, you know about it.
With a marriage of theoretical training and practical work with young people, the CMN mentoring and mentor training is designed as an exploration of leadership.
Two years on and I’m pleased with the way things are going. We’re working with over 30 companies across the creative industries including Wieden + Kennedy, Rapha, M&C Saatchi, Airbnb, Pulse Films, IDEO, Passion Pictures, Assemble Studio and XL Recordings amongst them. We have also just signed up Havas which is a big group of agencies and they have committed to sponsoring 20 mentors from January. All this means that in 2018 we’ll be doubling our delivery to work with 150 young people and the same amount of mentors.
The impact we’re having on students is clear. As we enter our third year, and some of them move into jobs in the creative industries, we know we’re achieving our mission. However, perhaps one of the things I’m most proud of, and something I don’t often stop and think about is the impact mentoring can have on mentors. And on the organisations who sponsor their employees to be CMN Mentors. There are so many ways of exploring so-called ‘reverse mentoring’, but I think it’s interesting to look at the tangible benefits mentoring brings to companies.
Here are 4 ways mentoring is linked to productivity.
1. Good leadership isn’t innate.
Many creative businesses comment on the need to avoid the Peter Principle (employees promoted to managerial positions beyond their expertise, on the basis of their success in creative and non-managerial roles). It’s important to recognise that for the most part, good leadership isn’t innate, it develops over time, with practical opportunities to try things out and to evaluate their impact. Through our coaching training, CMN mentoring offers a the chance to do that.
So often we tend to focus too much on maintaining control in the work we do with others. But that approach can often block other people’s ideas and, in the long run, their development. As Creative Director at iris and CMN Mentor, Gareth explains, “When we started, if Michael had a question then I would just give the answer. As I learned more, I took more of a guiding role. I learned a different way of working with people - you want to help them progress and develop and not just tell them what to do.”
Everyone should have access to leadership training, not just those at the top. Bad managers at every level affect productivity and employee retention.
2. Uniqueness in the creative industries is a highly sought after commodity.
But diversity is poor, and as a result, so is diversity of thought. From a business perspective, having a diverse workforce has a big, very positive impact on an organisations success and profitability. And there’s evidence to back this up. Harvard business Review found companies with a diverse workforce to be 70% more likely to capture new business.
Part of the reason diversity can have such a positive impact is the emphasis it places on good communication. People have to work harder to understand and be understood by others around them. It may slow things down at first, but there are rewards. When we work with others who are very like us, we have a similar field of experience, similar strategies and we get stumped at the same point. Conversely, if we work with teams of people who are different to us, collectively, we will have a wider field of associations, drawn from a wider field of experiences which results in a greater variety of solutions to solving problems!
Senior Strategist at M&C Saatchi and CMN Mentor, Jasper, summed up this benefit; “I've learnt that it’s a real two-way process. It gives you a different perspective on your own work. It's very easy, I think, when you work in the creative industries, and you’re a middle class white man, to think everyone shares the same views - you end up advertising to yourself. Having a fresh younger perspective on stuff has been really interesting to me. If I've got Mark to road test ideas on then I'm sorted.”
Unique thought is difficult to come across in a homogenous workforce.
3. Talent needs nurturing.
To be truly inclusive, companies need to develop a culture of learning and support. I sometimes hear the argument that “true creativity will out!”. I couldn’t disagree more. Some creative talent bursts forth with energy and the need to be heard. Other kinds need to be nurtured and coaxed into existence.
Fresh talent is the lifeblood of all successful businesses. With a mentor, young people are supported at the beginning of their careers, as opposed to being thrown in at the deep end and expected to figure out how to float, an approach that benefits those with a strong existing network of family and friends who can support and advise.
Prizing the confident and self assured over the shy and self aware has an impact on the organisations we create.
4. Today’s workplace relies more on intrinsic than on extrinsic motivation.
Studies show that inspired employees are twice as productive. Real organisational growth comes from innovation, not simply applying more human capital to every hour in the day. But those who think laterally and come up with truly innovative ideas need to feel inspired.
What’s more, today’s workforce is much more mission driven. Millennials want to work for organisations whose values chime with their own. Mentoring can be a great way to drive growth and to attract and retain talent.
Through mentoring, the chance to partner with someone very different, for whom support and advice can be so transformational can offer mentors a renewed value of their capability and the work they do. As Sophie, Rapha Product Developer and CMN Mentor explains, “There were times when I questioned what I could offer Ava but surprised myself when I thought about practical ways in which I could support her. Visiting shows, talking about the work and speaking about our favourite pieces supported Ava to develop her own opinion and understand that there is often no right or wrong answer. Ava always carried big sketchbooks from Art class with her when we met but was reluctant to share and show me the projects that she was working on. One afternoon at the Fashion and Textiles museum I introduced her to a Designer so they could speak about portfolio building and talk about her work. It was on this occasion that Ava started to show us school projects and some of her sketches, it was a small but significant example of her confidence growing.”
All that said, our main aim is to level the playing field so those from all backgrounds can access the most exciting and influential jobs. Far more important than any link between mentoring and productivity then, is mentors understanding the barriers those from low-income families face when entering careers in the sector, and ways they can help their organisations be more open and inclusive.
Words by the amazing Isabel Farchy, founder of Creative Mentor Network.