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Giving business insights and personal guidance

Published on Friday, 12 Aug 2011
Joyce Yap, HR regional head of Societe Generale, says the firm does more to train and retain staff.
Photo: Edward Wong

What approach do you take to mentoring and coaching?

Since January, Societe Generale's mentoring programme has been steadily expanding in Hong Kong and across the region. It began as a pilot scheme early last year with the CEO agreeing to give business insights and personal guidance to three hand-picked employees - a recently promoted manager, a woman with boardroom potential, and a seasoned banker at a career crossroads.

The success of that initiative led to a fully-fledged scheme benefiting senior executives and up-and-coming staff.  


We believe strongly in doing more to train and retain staff because of the intense competition for talent in the banking sector. Classroom training is not enough for sophisticated employees who want more exposure and to understand how senior management works. Our aim is to make mentoring available to as many people in the organisation as possible. It is a good way for senior staff to get closer to the junior levels and allows them to pass on the bank's collective intelligence to the next generation of managers.

We will use mentoring along with peer co-development, on-demand coaching and training through electronic means.  


SG's culture is quite informal so we don't give out a detailed handbook to follow, just a few high-level guidelines. There is an initial half-day training session to point out what's necessary to encourage discussion and bring out talent. The key to this is explaining the need to really listen, not talk too much, and to understand the difference between mentoring and coaching. One is more general, the other focuses on a specific topic or issue.

After that, mentors are essentially left to manage things. Human Resources (HR) will check on the progress periodically, but tries not to "interfere". We do suggest that meetings take place every month to six weeks and we also stress that mentees must play their part fully. That means being well prepared before each meeting and up front about their concerns or what they need to improve. Every employee should jump at the chance to learn from someone with more experience in the business.

Because we want to build gradually, not take a "big bang" approach, there are now around 20 mentors and twice that number of mentees. Getting executives involved comes back to the managerial culture. Senior bankers or specialists have to lead and manage people, so by default they must be ready to take part in a programme like this. We expect them to bring value to the organisation by mentoring colleagues, and point out the benefits of having a sounding board that keeps them in touch with the grass roots.  

Results and feedback 

For me, the most important thing is to see behavioural change. As a sign of that, we now have managers volunteering to be mentors and staff queuing up to take part. Those already involved as mentees are proactive and good at coming up with topics to discuss. For example, they might bring up concerns about "silos" that limit exchanges between departments or the internal ownership of different business strategies.

Feedback indicates mentees feel there is visible, tangible progress in their careers. Retention rates among those in the programme are high, and people sense better communication between senior managers and other staff.

In the past, we have had criticism of only rolling out certain programmes for staff in Hong Kong. We are therefore rolling this out for Asia too, with managers mentoring staff in other countries. There is the added complexity of distance, but we want to be more inclusive. I originally thought that HR should just co-ordinate and oversee the programme, but then I was asked to be a mentor as well. I really like doing it and am personally learning a lot from the experience.

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