OPINION5 October 2020

Building our community of practice

Opinion UK

Sofie Mallick reflects on the importance of sharing knowledge in the latest in a series of articles focused on mentoring.

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For the last three years I have been an active mentor for the MRS mentoring scheme and have been involved in supporting our members working in consumer and market research roles in the media, retail and finance sectors.

The mentees that I was ‘matched’ with had different motivations for getting involved with the scheme. The conversations held covered a wide sphere: career planning, making a leap from private sector organisations to the public sector (culturally very different, as I found through my own experience), advice on managing and building relationships with line managers, client versus agency work, CPD advice and support with learning and preparing for MRS qualifications.

The sessions with my mentees involved face-to-face meetings in quiet corners of cafes in central London (an activity which today seems like a distant memory), with an agenda agreed in advance via email exchange. The agenda provided a focus for the meeting and gave both parties time to prepare questions, collect thoughts, and reflect.

The MRS mentoring scheme is positive and progressive, giving me the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience from four decades and two vocations of market research and learning and teaching.

In exchange, the mentoring scheme gave me the chance to keep abreast of market research practices, organisational culture in different sectors, business procedures and systems, whilst also providing me with a strong understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing market researchers, both professionally and personally.

To give you a flavour of some of the mentoring conversations here are some of the questions that were reflected on in sessions:

  • “How do I deal with my line manager who does not have a market research background… so doesn’t understand what I do?”
  • “How do I upskill? What sort of CPD or training do you think would benefit me?”
  • “I have a lot of knowledge and skills in the area of qualitative research but less so on quantitative. How do I get experience of quantitative research?”
  • “Can you advise me how to go about learning whilst working full-time?”
  • “What do you think of role A being my next move? Do you think it will give me the opportunity to progress?

The time spent with the mentee is approximately six months, during which time I got great pleasure in seeing how the mentee acts on your advice, see what new decisions they make and how they progress with their CPD and qualifications. One mentee progressed from research manager to director, another achieved distinction in the MRS diploma (Level 7/PG) qualification, and another made a leap from consumer research to data science.

I have met some super professional colleagues through the scheme, with the relationship continuing by inviting mentees to give guest lectures at Hertfordshire Business School on marketing modules like product innovation, marketing research and understanding customers.

For me, the journey continues with the mentoring scheme. I apply knowledge gained and built from industry mentees, to mentoring senior leaders on our public service management degree apprenticeship. Students on this educational programme work in the NHS, police and local government organisations. One element of the programme requires students to produce an e-portfolio of reflective narratives mapping work-based evidence to standards relating to knowledge, skills and behaviour as defined by the Chartered Management Institute.

The MRS mentoring scheme operates an excellent support scheme for new mentors with annual training workshop and other events organised where mentors exchange experiences at CPD events or contribute to speaker evenings at MRS offices in London.

People often ask: “What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?”. Mentoring tends to focus on the bigger picture career goals whereas coaching is about the achievement of very specific goals in the current work environment. Mentoring is: longer term in focus, career oriented; support with access to networks and resources; a confidential 1:1 relationship.

For me, the MRS mentoring scheme is useful in enhancing and developing our community of practice both professionally and personally. So while many continue with remote working, support from a ‘professional friend’ will become ever more relevant, be it via email, MS Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom or good old-fashioned telephone… oops, mobile!

Sofie Mallick is a senior lecturer of marketing and enterprise and an academic board member at Hertfordshire Business School

For more information on mentoring, visit the MRS website.