Are you familiar with the expression, “building the plane as you fly it”? It’s an analogy used when we are implementing something new while still making improvements and additions. If that sounds bold and brave, that’s because it is.
Back in December 2020, The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) launched the Mentorship Plus program. Currently, there are 40 departments and agencies who are already implementing the program. We’re still building the plane but it’s climbing higher into the air at the same time.
Two of the departments that are implementing Mentorship Plus are TBS and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC). We sat down with Rohit Samaroo from TBS and Annick Villeneuve from PSPC to find out how the sponsorship element of Mentorship Plus is progressing. In our interview, we also discovered the success they’ve seen the program achieve so far.
Sponsorship takes the lead
Rohit Samaroo, Departmental Lead for the program at TBS says, “TBS was one of the first four departments to jump into this program and started the sponsorship element because it is a quicker way of improving diversity.” Over the past year, the program grew before Rohit’s eyes, and now boasts 20 sponsor-protégé relationships in which conversations are happening.
When it comes to creating a federal public service that is more representative of the people it serves, mentorship alone isn’t enough. Senior leaders volunteer to act as sponsors, advocating for the individual “protégé” that the program matches them with.
Over at PSPC, Mentorship Plus got the management team so excited that they have branded it as their L.E.A.D (leading, elevating, aspiring, and developing) program. Annick Villeneuve, Acting Director of Talent, Performance, Leadership and Career Management at PSPC is excited to launch the sponsorship component of Mentorship Plus because PSPC already has a long-term vision for employees having access to sponsorship. So, this is a great way to get started on employee development.
Finding the right people
With any new program, there needs to be interest and participants for things to gain momentum. TBS began with a few ADM sponsors and through a rigorous process, which included assessing against key leadership competencies, identified the first set of protégé.
Over at PSPC and for its pilot, the Executive Feeder Group (EFG) is the overarching strategy for the launch of the L.E.A.D. Sponsorship program. As a first step, senior leaders in each branch and region identified high-performing employees at the EX minus 1, EX minus 2, and EX equivalent levels who aspire to become an EX.
Over 200 employees deemed to be high-performing were identified for the EFG, and these applicants then received the call-out to apply to become a protégé in L.E.A.D. Both PSPC’s Executive Feeder Group (EFG) and the L.E.A.D. Sponsorship program are in support of high-potential Indigenous, Black, and other racialized employees to increase representation in executive and management positions.
As Annick shares, “We received an overwhelming number of applications to become a protégé! So many, in fact, that we needed at least two whole weeks to review them! It was very exciting.” Annick continues, “With the amount of interest we received, we increased the first cohort from our planned 11 protégé to 15 and decided to launch a second cohort of 15 protégé and 15 sponsors in winter 2022.”
Navigating the challenges
Like any other new initiative, the program has not been without its challenges. The first challenge encountered by Rohit was the systemic discrimination that existed in the current process. He asked himself, “How do we get beyond these processes to make sure we don’t have the same built-in biases?” At TBS, they did not get as many applications from Indigenous public servants as they were hoping, so bringing more Indigenous people into the program is a goal that Rohit is working on.
Annick faced similar challenges. The PSPC team has invested a great deal in making the L.E.A.D. work. Much effort has been put towards the matching process to ensure that it is as accurate as possible, and that it has a solid foundation for building strong relationships between protégé and sponsors. Over at TBS, profiles of protégé were made anonymous so sponsors could choose who they were best placed to support.
To make sure the matches are as strong as possible, PSPC has created profiles for both protégés and sponsors and met with each participant to try to gain insight into the protégés’ career aspirations and goals.
The importance of professional development
In both departments, once a match has taken place between a protégé and sponsor, they come up with an agreement to kick off their relationship. This includes questions they can ask to prepare for their meeting and clear objectives on the areas they want to focus on. As Annick shares, “PSPC has taken this a step further by creating a journaling book for protégé, which allows them to capture each meeting and log issues. It is for personal use, but the protégé can share it with the department if they choose, to help improve the next cohort.”
Workshops are another way PSPC supports protégé, including those focused on career advancement and reflection. To date, they have completed a 360 exercise combined with the Hogan Personality Inventory, to capture key behavioral tendencies relevant to their personalities as leaders. More workshops are on the horizon, including one that focuses on how to apply for an EX job and prepare for an interview.
By helping protégé to grow their network and find an acting assignment or promotion, the program will have been successful. As Annick shares, “An individual who developed personally and professionally is a gain for both the individual and the organization!”
Backed by stellar feedback and support
Any new initiative will have a tough time thriving unless management gives it credibility. With the Mentorship Plus program, Annick has seen an incredible amount of engagement and excitement around the program from senior management. Three respected members of senior management and strong EE advocates have accepted to Champion this initiative, which has set the program up for success. “I have over 20 years of experience in Human Resources, and to be part of such commitment from senior management is amazing,” she says.
Rohit has been in the diversity business for 15 years and is happy to see that the time to capture and benefit from what he calls “the wisdom of diversity” has arrived. His hope is that other sectors will benefit from this program and will follow the example set by the public service. As they solidify the relationships between current protégé and sponsors, TBS is already looking to roll out a second cohort for the EX minus 2 level. A request for sponsors went out across the department and over 30 executives have volunteered, so in a few months time, Rohit hopes that the number of relationships will double.
Do you want to make sure your department is on board with Mentorship Plus? Visit the GCConnex group for more information on how to get involved.
For more information about the Mentorship Plus program, visit our page on Canada.ca.