Every new apprentice at Norwood now gets teamed up with a mentor for up to two years. As well as obvious benefits for the apprentice, this initiative is set to also have benefits for the mentor, and the company as a whole. To get the programme going, Norwood enlisted the help of an expert from outside the organisation.
Vic Hewson has had an illustrious career. He was in the NZ Police for 25 years then national training manager at a major bank, before contracting for 14 years running leadership and culture change courses for organisations like Outward Bound.
Now ‘retired’ he didn’t need too much persuasion when he was asked in 2021 to have a look at delivering training for the new mentoring programme at Norwood.
“I said yes because I think it is an amazing programme on so many levels,” says Vic.
“Somebody has to teach apprentices what they need to know. But nearly every organisation I’ve ever seen leaves it pretty much to chance. Maybe the foreman, or some other dude will help out from time to time, but it’s not planned.
So the first thing about Norwood’s mentoring programme is I think it’s really strategic.
You’ve now made someone responsible. You’ve given someone the title of mentor which automatically they’re going to feel good about, because it’s recognition of the value that they’re adding to the apprentice and the organisation which didn’t exist before.
And if they have a good mentor, the apprentice will also feel valued. So at the end of their apprenticeship, instead of looking around for the best dollar, a lot of them are going to say, ‘I’ve been looked after here, I feel like family’ and they’ll want to stay.”
Leadership by stealth
“The second thing is, I regard a mentor as a leader. A small part of their role is directing and instructing, particularly around health and safety, and around specific learning outcomes, but the rest of it is about leadership. It’s a collaborative effort to get the best out of the apprentice.
Too often all we do is deal with people in the moment as we see them. A mentor deals with the possibility of who they’re going to be in two- or five-years’ time.
So if you can turn the mentors into leaders, suddenly you’ve all these people in the organisation getting leadership training that they weren’t getting before. “
Turning theory into practice
“Another thing I really loved about the programme is that Norwood allowed me to teach it in bite-sized chunks.
When organisations run leadership programmes, often they’ll run, say, a two- or three-day programme where they might cover a lot of interesting and powerful material. But in most cases the attendees will go back to work after those two or three days and carry on behaving in the same old way. Because no one ever says to them, ‘If you want to be inspirational and influential here’s one practical thing you can do when you get back’.
So each of the four modules is short and punchy and at the end of each module there’s something for each mentor to go back and do.
One of these tasks is to choose somebody you respect, preferably someone who reports to you, talk to them about who they could be, and get them to believe it.
Because if you talk to somebody about who they want to be and you get them to believe it, they will try and become it. And when they try and become it and they succeed, they will look back and go, ‘Wow, that person was inspirational’.”
Aiming for greatness
“I think people would rather be great than ordinary. And all we need to do with the mentoring programme is show them how to be great.
There are some awful stories about how some organisations have treated apprentices over the years. Not because they are bad people, but if all you have known is your own experience of being an apprentice and you’ve turned out OK, then that’s what you keep doing.
And Norwood is trying to change that. They want their apprentices to feel more valued, more supported and less threatened in the first months of their career.”
Philippa Dawe, Executive Leader Customer Relationships at Norwood, concludes “We are very grateful to Vic for the work he has done setting up the mentoring programme for us. We believe it will help strengthen the expertise of this highly specialised group of employees, as well as helping provide ongoing support for NZ agriculture for years to come.”
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