Mentoring scheme pays forward

Just one year after launch, Specsavers’ partner mentor scheme has 120 mentor relationships, exceeding its target of 100.

The voluntary scheme, which launched in 2018, matches Specsavers mentors with mentees from the company. While anyone can offer mentorship or request to be mentored, the mentors who have signed up are typically experienced partners and the mentees are mainly new partners, less experienced partners, or partners-in-waiting.

From January 2020, mentoring will also be offered to colleagues on the Pathway programme, Specsavers’ partner development and learning scheme.

Jack Ismail, Specsavers partnership director for UK and ROI, came up with the idea for the partner mentor scheme. He said: ‘The best way to learn is from others who are already doing the job. We’ve got 1,500 UK partners in Specsavers, many of whom have phenomenal experience and knowledge. It just seemed an absolute no-brainer for us to leverage all that knowledge and see what we could do with it via a mentoring scheme.’

The scheme fits into Specsavers Pay it forward initiative, in which partners across the group help each other out by offering best-practice ideas or solutions to specific problems. Jack said: ‘Pay it forward is about helping others out without really expecting anything back, and the concept of being stronger when you support people around you.’

He believes the scheme benefits mentors as well as mentees. He said: ‘Most of the mentors run stores themselves, so the skills and self-awareness we give them on the mentoring scheme helps them improve their own businesses, lead their own teams and mentor their own people. Everyone wins.’

Colin Ducker, retail director at Specsavers Grantham, signed up to be a mentor in January 2019. He attended a day’s workshop with other partners and was matched up with Pathway candidate Rajiv Pancholi, who is a store manager and dispensing optician at Specsavers in Melton Mowbray.

Colin said: ‘My primary motivation for mentoring is to give something back. In my 30 years in retail, I’ve always had an inclination to develop people. I love building teams and seeing people succeed.

‘During the mentoring, Rajiv and I met up every few weeks. We also had lots of online chats and I’d try to help if he had a problem. For example, one time he was apprehensive about a difficult conversation he needed to have. I gave him some ideas and we role-played a bit, which he said gave him the courage and confidence to have that conversation.’

Colin said he benefited from the mentoring relationship, too. ‘It was very much a two-way street. There were a couple of occasions when Rajiv was talking about a customer service element and I thought, “I’ll do that!”’

Rajiv was offered mentoring as part of his Pathway journey. He said: ‘As there are two ophthalmic directors in the Melton Mowbray store, I felt it would be useful for me develop my retail leadership skills and have a retail director as a mentor. We communicated by phone, text and email, but face-to-face meetings were invaluable as we could go through the store’s KPIs, [key performance indicators], financial figures and openly discuss colleague matters that might have otherwise been difficult to talk about in a normal busy day. 

I also talked to Colin about challenges and things I wanted to improve or implement in store. His knowledge and guidance really helped. His reassurance that I was making the right decision – for example, when recruiting, helped me gain confidence. 

‘Thanks to Colin, I completed Pathway and was approved as a potential partner. 

‘My mentoring experience has all been positive and I would encourage other people to sign up for the scheme. I not only gained a mentor throughout my Pathway journey, but also a friend and future advisor for when I become a retail partner.’

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