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State Rail Train Crewing Pilot Mentoring Program

A Live Mentoring Case Study - State Rail Authority of N.S.W. (Australia)


Success Factors of the Pilot Mentoring Program

Among the many reasons for Train Crewing's successful pioneering of formal mentoring for the organisation, the main factors for modelling in future program design and management were:

  • consultative design and planning
  • dedicated project team
  • open and continuous communication
  • responsiveness to feedback
  • trained mentors and mentorees

Consultative Design and Planning
The initial pilot mentoring program design was based on world's best practice principles and successful experience in Australian organisations. A transparent process, maximum involvement of stakeholders, choice for, and responsiveness to, participants and open communication were core features of our approach.

Consultation included:

  • interested discussions with and support of the Secretary of The Rail, Tram and Bus Union and a representative of the N.S.W. Transport Services Branch of the Australian Services Union.
  • facilitated focus group with cross section of Train Crewing management and staff, and State Rail Human Resources.
  • briefing meeting with Train Crew PTU delegates.
  • partnering with the State Rail/Train Crewing project team through a series of planning/co-ordination meetings.

Specific elements were tailored to Train Crewing's needs following the focus group and there was an extensive and thorough planning phase.

When the invitations to all Train Crew to volunteer as mentors were distributed in the CityRail mentoring booklet, an understanding of the mentoring process and support for it already existed in Train Crewing. This participative design phase provided the pilot with a positive foundation and was one of the factors in its success.

Dedicated Project Team
Another key factor was the quality of the CityRail/Train Crew team who managed the pilot internally. The core team of the Human Resource Project Manager and the Manager of Train Crew Assignment Centre when he moved, was an excellent combination of central administration and coordination and local knowledge and action. It ensured that the mentoring program experience was developed for wider use in CityRail/ State Rail as well as within Train Crewing for their management of ongoing programs.

Open and Continuous Communication
In addition to the discussions, briefing meetings and focus group as many avenues as possible were utilised to inform:

  • all of Train Crew about mentoring and what was happening
  • participants in the program about what was involved.

Articles were written for State Rail "Way to Go" detailing the process, people involved and progress of the pilot mentoring program. Focus group participants and later, mentors and mentorees, were encouraged to talk about the pilot to their work colleagues. The project team stayed in close touch with mentors and mentorees throughout the pilot to monitor progress and deal with any difficulties that arose.

Where there was a problem with one mentor, it was identified and handled quickly and effectively. Contact was maintained by telephone, small focus groups and a mid-point workshop after the initial training.

The two-way communication was a feature of this pilot and was highly valued by the mentors and mentorees.

Responsiveness to Feedback
The close involvement of The General Manager Human Resources for CityRail and The Train Crew Managers meant that, throughout the pilot, decisions were made in response to participant feedback to fine tune improvements to the mentoring program.

One change that had a major impact and overcame the area where the pilot participants had most difficulty - meeting face to face - was to allocate Trainee Guards to their depots at the beginning of Guard School. This enabled the project team to select mentors from the volunteer pool to cover these depots for Schools 1 and 2/98.

This management responsiveness added to both the positive outcomes of the pilot and the widespread support for mentoring to continue in Train Crewing.

Appendix C shows the results of this in meeting mentor and mentoree expectations. It also illustrates the inventiveness of the two pilot groups in meeting and contacting each other despite being in distant depots and often on conflicting shifts. There was a strong message that a learning journal was not useful in this pilot! This has been dropped from future programs.

The different, more personal style adopted for managing the pilot and on going mentoring is consistent with the nature of mentoring and is a response to the type of desired working environment described by the focus group. This style is now being modelled in day to day work by the mentors and mentorees in their dealings with people.

Trained Mentors and Mentorees
The mentoring workshops were designed to achieve a number of outcomes:

  • develop a shared understanding of mentoring relationships
  • build a consistent approach to mentoring
  • provide an essential step in the selection of mentors by Trainee Guards
  • develop rapport between mentors and Trainee Guards, and between mentors
  • distinguish the mentoring role from other roles ie Trainer Guard, Inspector etc.
  • enhance interpersonal communication skills and practice key mentoring techniques
  • handle logistical considerations, answer all questions, provide a forum for open discussion of issues/concerns/what works and what does not in mentoring.

Pilot participants suggested the training sequence be changed to "back to front" training. School 1/98 experienced the redesigned format of mentors reviewing mentor issues and mentor skills, Trainee Guards working on why they needed a mentor, what to look for, what they wanted to learn etc. and the two groups joining together last to get to know each other and work on common issues and skills. It worked very effectively and was retained for future groups.

All groups requested training to take place outside ART.

The workshops launched the mentoring programs, after which mentorees chose their mentor and began to meet. Emphasis was placed on the element of choice during the training : it was not compulsory for Trainee Guards to select a mentor. The benefits to be derived were however compelling and it was unusual for a new guard not to want a mentor.

Other learning from these groups on this aspect included:

  • maintain voluntary mentors and mentorees
  • mentor relationships work because they are outside the area of reporting line and additional to it
  • mentors developed increased status in Train Crewing and were subsequently approached by other colleagues for help. This was and the mentors stated that they enjoyed this enhanced role
  • mentors and mentorees from the pilot groups made presentatitions to new mentoring groups and shared their views and experience during the workshops
  • pilot workshops were addressed by the Chief Operations Manager and the Chief Executive Officer.

All workshops have been addressed by the Chief Operations Manager, Train Crew and supported by Train Crewing personnel. This access to management is valued extremely highly by both the mentors and mentorees. These Trainee Guards commence their careers knowing who their management is, 'in the picture' about what is happening in Train Crewing and State Rail and with a very positive attitude towards State Rail as a result. It is planned to retain this aspect of the workshops.


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