Early in 2017 I was approached to see if I would be interested in taking on a contract to provide mentorship to a relatively young female Quality Manager working in a predominantly older and male environment. The brief which was given was to provide her with support ‘on quality related issues because we don’t have anyone to do that’ and through this to help her grow and develop her inter-personal skills. I’d been found via the CQI Management Consultant’s Register – a register which is sadly disappearing.
I’ve worked in Quality for many years now and this work presented me with an interesting challenge – my day to day work is taken up with undertaking 3rd party certification body audits, delivering improvement projects for consultancy clients and developing and delivering training on a range of quality related issues. I thought back to the mentor I’d had when I was in a similar position to Charlotte – a wonderful guy with more experience than I could ever hope to have who made Quality come alive. His name was Dick Fletcher and he was a Quality Circle Guru. I owe him so much and I guess that was the key factor in making me think ‘yes do it’ for this contract – wasn’t it time I did what Dick had done and put something back?
I also recognised that this was going to ‘push me’ to places I’d not been pushed before, or for a long time, and that this would provide me with a great challenge and one which I was ready for. Charlotte and I met up, we got on, the contract was signed and the scene was set.
Our first session saw us working through what Charlotte saw as her biggest challenges – from a quality and interpersonal perspective and making a list. We decided to split our mentoring days into a ‘quality theory’ input session in the morning and to work on skills development and the ‘softer stuff’ in the afternoons. We agreed that each session would leave Charlotte with some projects to deliver ‘between meetings’ so that she could get her teeth into an aspect of quality management and tie it in to the business she was working in.
One of the issues we identified very early on was the way in which a male dominated environment can strip confidence, particularly if some of the behaviours exhibited are on the edge of acceptability. We used Transactional Analysis as a way of exploring ‘the games people play’ and considered how Charlotte could recognize and defuse games rather than getting drawn into them. We looked at how to assert authority and show knowledge without undue emotion, and we looked at how the lack of knowledge in others could cause them to feel threatened by someone so much younger who clearly knew so much more about ‘her chosen topic’. We talked through TA’s adult, parent and child relationships and in our review identified and reflected on those we came across in meetings and audits both in work and home life scenarios.
We took time to consider particular aspects of ISO9001:2015 and it’s impact on the business. We made links between aspects of the standard and drew spidergrams all over the whiteboard as we linked context to policy, policy to objectives, risks and opportunities to interested parties, interested parties to objectives, objectives to competence, competence to customer satisfaction – you name it we found links. We talked through the particular skills needed for supplier audits and I was privileged enough to be able to watch a by now very confident Charlotte present a well thought through and incredibly focused supplier audit.
Tools which I’d not used for years suddenly became vital in our work – we talked through Ishikawa (thank you Dick Fletcher!) and FMEA. We looked at 5S and it’s relevance in an engineering environment. By now it wasn’t only Charlotte who was learning from our sessions – I was being pushed to deliver more each time as her thirst for knowledge grew. Textbooks I hadn’t read for years were dragged out. I am so thankful we didn’t ever get into SPC as that was always a dark art to me! My signed copy of Nevin McMillan’s book sat looking at me balefully from the office book shelf!
We had a trip out to a huge engineering plant so Charlotte could see quality in a very different environment to the Design office based system and environment she was used to. My friend Bob showed her ‘muck and bullets’ and explained the quality controls required and delivered in his industry and we spent our next session talking through the issues it had raised in her mind.
Underlying all of this was Charlotte’s plan to achieve Chartered status and we drew together material and identified gaps which were then plugged. The sheer volume of material which Charlotte was able to bring together amazed me, with some fantastic presentations she’d developed and delivered, documents she’d created, procedures she’d changed. Letter showing her growing confidence as she set out issues to be considered in a contract re-negotiation. Working out which items we were going to use became the big issue, there was so much of value that we just didn’t want to leave aside.
As the summer months came along Charlotte decided she would apply for the Emerging Talent Award being put forward by the CQI. I’d like to say I had a hand in this but by now my mentoree was flying solo and she’d said all that needed to be said in her application. We were both thrilled when she got shortlisted, and even more so when she won the award. At that point it was clear that she was on a journey which was going to take her to new places and that our time working on her development was probably going to come to an end – it was clear to me that she was now ready to ‘fly the coop’ and take on a new role and a new challenge in a new business. Her exposure to the wider world following the CQI award made sure that she was noticed and head-hunted, a well deserved reward for an incredible amount of hard work. Learning she’d gained her Chartered status just before Christmas was the final achievement for 2017 and what a year it had been – for both of us but especially for Charlotte.
We met up in January for our monthly session and I think we both knew that this was going to be the last or next to last session so we spent time making plans – for her to move on with confidence but also to leave her current job with as many tasks done as she could manage.
Good mentors know when the time is right to let go, and it’s now! I shall watch Charlotte’s journey with interest and I know we will keep in touch. It has been a privilege to be part of her journey and a sheer joy to see it take her so far and so soon.