700addea6e42bd3Standards Australia

Young Leaders Program

 

Business Challenge

Standards Australia is this country’s peak non-government standards organisation.  The Commonwealth Government charges Standards Australia with the development of internationally aligned standards across all sectors of the economy and the community.  To do this the organisation relies on sector specific technical committees, run by volunteers from key stakeholder groups.

At the beginning of the decade Standards Australia identified the aging of technical committee members as a major business challenge.  Unsurprisingly, given their wealth of industry and standards experience, the over-60s age group was disproportionately represented on technical committees.  As these members approached retirement there was no formal process in place to facilitate knowledge transfer and no clear pathways to committees for the next generation.

 

The Solution

In 2012, Standards Australia introduced the Young Leaders Program to prepare the next generation of technical committee members.  Now in its fourth year, the program has been rolled out to five groups of ten young leaders, the most recent commencing in August 2015.

The 12-month program consists of training sessions in key communication, leadership and international standards skills, and opportunities to observe and participate in technical committee meetings.  Formal instruction is overlaid with a mentoring program designed and managed by Art of Mentoring (AoM), pairing young leaders with experienced technical committee members.

The program is open to anyone in his or her mid-20s to mid-30s currently working for a business, association, educational or government body involved in standards development.

Applicants must commit to attending all scheduled training events, meet with their mentor every 4-6 weeks and act as champions for Standards Australia within their industry.

Once selected, participants are paired with a mentor that has experience in developing standards and working within a technical committee.  While training is sporadic, mentoring is consistent throughout the full year of the program.

Graduates join the Young Leaders Alumni group, establishing a cohort of young Standards Australia champions across a wide range of sectors.

 

Results

The Young Leaders Program has successfully prepared a cadre of young people for technical committee membership.  To date, roughly 40-50% of program graduates have been nominated by key representative organisations to join technical committees.

“Some of our young leaders even end up chairing a technical committee or subcommittee,” said Standards Australia Program Manager, Alison Scotland.

Along with these individual mentee successes, the program has established a growing young cheer squad for Standards Australia.  Plus the organisation benefits by strengthening its existing members.  “It’s a learning experience for mentors as well,” says Scotland.  “They cement their own knowledge by teaching someone else.”

Standards Australia has benefited as an organisation from their involvement with young professionals.  Scotland says the program has provided fresh perspectives.  “We’ve had some really interesting insights that we would never have had otherwise.”

The program has put Standards Australia in a leadership role globally.  “It’s one of the first young generation programs implemented by a standards body in the world,” says Scotland.  “Other organisations are looking to us for guidance in developing their own programs.”

 

Key Learnings

As with any good program, the Young Leaders Program adapts and changes as time progresses.  The following summarises the key learnings that inform ongoing program development:

 

Mentoring Strengthens Formal Training

The mix of mentoring and formal training has been successful in preparing young leaders to step into committee positions.  While training is valuable, access to first hand experience helps participants reinforce formal learning and better grasp the political and communication skills required to be a strong committee member.

 

Confirm Mentee Buy-in Before Accepting

In the first couple of programs mentees were accepted into the program without having to confirm their commitment.  This resulted in unexpected drop-outs when employers refused to allow participants to miss work to attend events.

Subsequently all mentees have been required to submit a letter from their employer prior to acceptance into the program, virtually eliminating drop outs.

 

Mentor/Mentee Matching Best if Industry Relevant

Mentor/mentee matching has been particularly difficult in this program.  Not only do technical committee members come from diverse geographic locations, they represent extremely varied industries.

Matching pairs from divergent industries sometimes created communications difficulties.  Some mentors found it difficult to impart relevant learning to a mentee in a completely different industry.

For future programs, Standards Australia proposes to manage the program on an industry specific basis (see Where to Next), which will avoid this problem.

 

Careful How You Define Program Parameters

With the objective of the program being to prepare the “next generation” for technical committee membership, participants expect that they will join a committee once they have completed the program.  Yet less than half of graduates have so far been nominated by representative organisations.

Currently, the program is open to participants in their mid-20s to mid-30s.   Despite the leadership training, many organisations are overlooking participants in favour of older, more experienced nominees.

The age specific program parameters do not wholly align with the “next generation” objective.  Some participants are simply too lacking in industry experience to be considered for immediate committee nomination.  Meanwhile people in their 40s and 50s with considerable industry know-how, but limited standards experience, are excluded from the young leaders program.

For future programs, Standards Australia proposes to redefine its parameters, targeting “next generation” without specifying age limits.

 

Where to Next

Standards Australia is working with Art of Mentoring to develop a revamped “next generation” program designed specifically to address some of these learnings.

The program will be industry specific and operate through member organisations within a selected sector.  The expectation is that each member organisation will put up 3-4 “next generation” mentees and experienced mentors for the joint program.

This approach ensures that mentors/mentees are from broadly the same industry, offering improved communication and career development opportunities.  Most important, by allowing member organisations to select the participating mentees, it ensures that those viewed by these organisations as “next generation” will participate, increasing the likelihood that graduates will be rapidly nominated to committees.

Preliminary scoping has been completed and nominating organisations have indicated an interest in conducting a pilot.  Standards Australia and Art of Mentoring are now working on program structure.  It is expected that a pilot program will launch in 2016.

 

Art of Mentoring can help any organization launch, run or evaluate a mentoring program. For more information please contact us or take a look at our website.

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