MENTORING: helping enterprising people leap ahead

Businessman jumping over gap

Business mentoring is, without doubt, playing an increasing part in helping businesses build successful, sustainable organisations. As Jackie Jenks of Leapfrog Mountain Ltd explains, mentoring is not just a recent trend, but a valuable 21st century business tool that facilitates both individual progression in the workplace, and corporate success

Leapfrog Mountain is one mentoring organisation that helps individuals and organisations achieve practical implementation of their strategic goals. It is a learning academy (recognised and accredited by the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs) which offers a variety of one-to-one support and flexible training solutions using expert trainers.

This includes creating and supporting specialist, bespoke mentoring programmes; new mentor programmes; new business support programmes; leadership training; and enterprise training. Leapfrog Mountain is led by erstwhile banker Jackie Jenks, who has just been nominated as Ambassador for Mentorsme, the UK’s enterprise mentoring hub, by the British Bankers’ Association. She also won the UK Enterprise Ambassador award for the UK in 2014 from the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs; and led the Lloyds Bank Enterprise Mentoring Programme which had more than 500 mentors.

Jackie Jenks (Leapfrog Mountain)

Jackie Jenks (Leapfrog Mountain)

Financing Growth caught up with Jackie, who explained the challenges faced by businesses and entrepreneurs, and how Leapfrog Mountain helps them achieve their goals through mentoring.

What problems are currently facing SMEs and entrepreneurs?
Firstly, there is the general level of uncertainty in the economy; and secondly, how smaller businesses remain adaptable and flexible to that. That’s a huge challenge. It is easy for any small business to feel isolated: you need to be the expert in all areas of your business, which can be quite demoralising.

To gain an external perspective from somebody that is experienced but without having a stake in that business (who wants the business to do well), gives you an amazing sounding board for support, reflection and challenge, so that any entrepreneur can be sure they are on the right path for them – and not feel on their own.

What about Brexit?
Whilst Brexit provides an added dimension, it comes back to the fact that there are things in business that are outside people’s control. It’s a case of maintaining your business confidence and strategic planning, and then moving the business forward with these known factors. It’s a case of not taking no action, but still using your standard business disciplines – even though these are uncertain times.

So what does Leapfrog offer?
On the mentoring side of the business, we support organisations to set up mentoring programmes. As part of that, we train mentors, mentor managers and mentor ambassadors. We have training programmes for anybody who is interested in mentoring, from introduction level right up to advanced, professional development modules.

The enterprise side is for any entrepreneur or enterprising person. We often talk about ‘Intrapreneurs’ – which is having an enterprising attitude within an organisation. If you use the qualities of an entrepreneur within an organisation, it’s proven that you become more engaged in your role and obtain benefits for yourself and your organisation. The courses we cover on the enterprise side are suitable for either entrepreneurs, ‘intrapreneurs’ or leaders. They cover areas such as business strategy; business resilience (particularly important right now); emotional intelligence; and the traditional business disciplines that you would expect, such as marketing and IT strategy. Recently, there has been particular interest in our professional networking courses. We have tailored these for one-to-one sessions as well as the traditional courses.

What type of individuals and organisations value your offering?
We’re really lucky in that we have a very broad range of clients that we work with. That’s hugely important to us, because we are able to help people in a tailored way. For example, I’m working with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to deliver a mentor training programme, and a Champion mentor training programme. This enhances a mentoring programme we already have in Scotland.

I’m also working with a charity called School of Hard Knocks. This charity has years of experience in dealing with people who have gone down the wrong track in their lives, and has the resources to help them. We help them use their resilience and innovation skills, transferring them to leadership teams with courses on innovation and entrepreneurship.

As far as individuals are concerned, we’ve worked with professional accountants, looking at their networking skills and getting them to use all the tools that they can, for instance, their personal use of LinkedIn. We find that some individuals want to enhance their careers, and they invest in themselves.

We help both sole practitioners, and employed individuals. A lot of SMEs don’t have the resources to have their own in-house training or in-house expertise. Where we come in is to offer a tailored approach via one-to-one training or small courses. We can pick and choose the combination of the subjects that are relevant to those individuals. For example, we have a big course on business confidence over a full day. We can run that as a one-hour mini-session with somebody and then couple it with professional networking for half-an-hour. We can tailor it to whatever the need is.

How much of this is one-to-one?
Business organisations quite often do this as a team course, and then have individual follow ups. It’s good to have some one-to-one time to discuss how the individual staff member will put what they’ve learnt into action. We do that with the mentor qualifications as standard. But the enterprise side of the academy works on a flexible basis. With mentor qualifications, a lot of the follow up is one-to-one assessment of their portfolios and management discussions around how they can put their training into practice.

The minimum we would normally do is an hour one-to-one session in professional training. With the Level 5 qualifications, there is quite often a year’s follow up. This is a face-to-face course, followed by an assessment of their evidence over that period of time – with touch points to help them on their journey.

Do you have an online offering?
We have the initial part of our mentor training online with Proversity, which is a foundation level introduction to mentoring for those who have very little experience of it. This went live in October 2016.

What’s next for Leapfrog Mountain?
Much of our future offerings are going to be individual to the clients. At the moment I’m working with a social enterprise that has incubators in a couple of Indian universities and we’ll be defining it according to what they want – it’s very bespoke (I’m lucky in that I have a team of associate teachers).

I’m also working on something called ‘Enterprise Energy’, which is about how different behaviours can drive different ways that businesses can best perform from the people side of things. It’s partly about resilience, and partly about confidence. It’s understanding the impact of your behaviours in the workplace on yourself and your team, and how you can improve that. This is personal behaviour in leadership that will impact on business behaviour, which is why it’s enterprise energy rather than individuals. I’m pooling resources with wellbeing expert, Adam Shaw, so it is a joint project.

CASE STUDY: Adam Collar, practice accountant, Karrek Accountants

“What a true insight into the power of networking. Jackie Jenks has provided amazing guidance and follow up to professional networking, including LinkedIn. Utilising the wealth of knowledge available, and following the guidance given, I feel more at ease with online networking. Two weeks in and the followers and views have boosted, and my approach to introducing myself to new people is far more relaxed – providing a great platform to discuss business.”

CASE STUDY: Jack Lewars, Director of Operations at School of Hard Knocks

School of Hard Knocks is a young charitable organisation which uses rugby and boxing to help people who are marginalised, disenfranchised and, particularly, the unemployed. Lewars’ role is to look after the delivery side of the organisation, as well as the charity’s strategy and vision.

Lewars says: “School of Hard Knocks is a young, dynamic organisation that is driven by the passion of the people who are its staff. What that means is we don’t always have the best systems in place. We sometimes venture into new areas of business, or new ways of conducting our activities in the organisation. Mentoring has been absolutely crucial in helping us to think through how we can do things better, how we can become more efficient and, ultimately, how we can help more people on the ground.”

He first met Jackie around two years ago, when he wanted to set up a mentoring programme within the School of Hard Knocks for the people that they work with. They have been working together ever since.

He says mentoring is about providing a safe, critical voice from someone outside the organisation: “I take challenges for me in my role at a personal level, and those that the School of Hard Knocks charity faces, and Jackie can help me to see those from a different angle; or to think about other ways of approaching the problem, so that I can find effective solutions.”

He says a good mentor has to be “someone with whom you have a level of personal rapport because you are going to be very honest with that person, you’re going to discuss things that might be uncomfortable for you or where you might feel vulnerable professionally”. He says you need to trust that person and their judgement.

CASE STUDY: Ian Harris, founder, ID Security Systems Ltd

ID Security Systems designs, installs and maintains integrated security systems such as CCTV, intruder alarms and card access systems. Leapfrog Mountain has helped Harris through with their mentoring programmes. He says:

“Mentoring is about finding someone with a specific set of skills who you can tap into to help assist you in your business, or in your personal life. Good mentoring is when your mentor asks more questions than they answer – so they answer a question with a question which makes you think about why you are asking the question. A lot of the time you had the answer within you!

“It’s all about having someone at a level of expertise who can help you get to where you want to get to. Sometimes you’ll have a situation or challenge that you think ‘this is a mountain’. But by speaking to a mentor, you can understand how you can break that down, move forward, and overcome that challenge.”

CASE STUDY: Liz Cameron, CEO, Scottish Chambers of Commerce

“We have developed our approach to business mentoring over the last 10 years, adapting it to suit the needs of Scottish business. Over the years, we have supported more than 8,500 businesses through our pool of more than 800 voluntary business mentors who pass on their experience, expertise and connections to support businesses. Business mentoring is all about putting something back, and adding value to our local communities and economy.

“Our people are a key part of its success and we are absolutely committed to investing in the skills and training of our people; and we recently partnered with Leapfrog Mountain, who delivered an energetic and dynamic training programme.

“Scotland is very much leading the way in mentoring, supporting growing businesses, banks, third sector organisations and community organisations and it’s this unique mix that makes business mentoring so great!”