Being mentored by our CEO

Steve Birch and Anna Oliver at our Cycling Sportive in 2021

We’re taking steps towards creating a more equitable society and place to work, amplifying different voices and experiences that haven’t always had the chance to be heard.

Through our Inclusion Pledge our Leadership Team are taking tangible actions to solidify their commitments. One of which is taking part in a mentoring scheme.

On the scheme colleagues are mentored by a member of our Leadership Team for six months. Colleagues learn from our leaders and can get help/advice. We’ve also designed the scheme to be two-way so our leaders are reverse mentored. This means our leaders have the chance to learn what the world is like from someone else’s perspective that’s different to them.

Our leaders and potential mentees answered a selection of questions so we could successfully match people.

We caught up with Steve Birch, CEO and Anna Oliver, Senior Marketing Executive, who were matched for mentoring to find out more about their experience of mentoring.

Anna, tell us why you wanted to be mentored by a member of our leadership team, inluding what you wanted to gain from the relationship.

I thought it was a great opportunity to…

  • build a strong relationship to discuss ideas, challenges and experiences
  • help to develop confidence
  • gain an outside perspective on development opportunities and get more insight into what a path towards leadership might look like
  • gain more exposure to leadership focuses and challenges to broaden my understanding
  • cultivate leadership skills
  • share my experiences from starting on the grad scheme and the challenges that can be faced working in a male dominated industry

Steve, what were you hoping to share with Anna?

I have had mentors throughout my whole career and they have been a massive part of my career growth and so I always take any opportunity to try and help other people out with what they want to achieve. Selfishly I also know I have a very narrow view of how I see SBG and so I really wanted to see how the SBG experience was from someone else’s view point.

Since you started the mentoring scheme back in spring, what have you learnt/taken away from it?

Steve: Firstly it was massively reassuring that we have great talent in the business, I was so impressed with the quality of questions Anna asked on a range of topics, she definitely didn’t hold back! Overall it was a great insight into what it can be like to work in SBG, I wasn’t surprised by all the positives but there are definitely areas we could improve to make the SBG experience better.

Anna: Overall, I’ve learnt to think bigger and build a longer-term mindset, dedicating time to understanding the wider picture and how we achieve goals, rather than solely focused on short-term strategy.

I’ve developed more confidence and have a better understanding of what good leadership looks like and areas I can work on to develop these skills, with a better understanding of my own strengths and how I can use them.

Understanding Steve’s thoughts on progression opportunities has also been eye opening and changed my perspective on how I perceive progression. I’ve gained more understanding around diversity and inclusion and the importance to the leadership team, and it’s been great to share experiences.

Did you have any expectations when you started the mentoring relationship?

Steve: I had a few worries of whether I would be able to be helpful, walking into a completely new situation where you don’t know someone its hard to predict if you will have thoughts or ideas that will be useful. My main expectation though was to try and understand more about how someone else views SBG, I love the culture in the business, but I’m sure people experience it differently to me.

Anna: I was nervous! I was hoping I’d develop a strong enough relationship to go to Steve with questions, ideas, challenges and advice. I think it’s important to have someone who you don’t regularly work with as an external voice to help guide, support and inspire you. It’s been great to pick his brains!

Has there been anything you’ve learnt abour each other or each others experiences which have maybe shocked/surprised you?

Steve: I have definitely learnt a lot from Anna about how she has experienced SBG. I am pleased that at SBG there is an environment that has allowed her to progress but I’m definitely disappointed with some of the experiences she has had at times, and I’m sure others in the business have had. It does highlight we have improvements to make in our culture especially as a male dominated business, there is more understanding and common sense needed amongst our colleagues and we need to find ways for teams to talk about this and improve.

Anna: I’ve really enjoyed delving into inclusion and understanding each other’s experiences, particularly working in a male dominated industry, and it was great to understand Steve’s path to progression. It’s been interesting to hear the range of different teams he’s worked in, some I have also worked in so it was nice to relate and share experiences. In terms of what shocked me, Steve modestly claimed he was a very average cyclist, and after the charity cycling sportive I’d say that’s a lie… he has some speed.

Since starting your mentoring relationship with anna, have you learnt anything that’s made you change your attitueds or behaviours?

It has definitely shown that although SBG does have a great culture we are not perfect and have work to do to make sure we are more inclusive and everyone gets to enjoy their experience working here. Without the mentoring experience I wouldn’t have got to understand that as well and so it will help shape how we approach our D&I initiatives in the future.

Anna, do you have any examples of how you’ve taken something from your mentoring relationship which has been successful?

One of the key things I’ve taken from Steve has been developing a different mindset and applying that to how you work by understanding the importance of being able to separate from micro level detail to think about what you’re aiming to drive at a macro level longer term. It can be so easy to get tunnel vision when you’re working towards weekly/campaign plans and reacting to performance, but I now set aside time in my diary to think holistically about our long-term objectives and what we need to do to get there. Being new to the world of Racing, this has pushed me to ask questions and challenge more to understand where we’re hoping to take the product.

Steve has also challenged me to be more mindful of my own development and what I need from my role to succeed.

After being a mentor, what tips would you give others when starting a mentor ralationship?

Definitely go for it! You need to make sure you create the time and space to get the most out of it. Then make sure you know a couple of things that your mentee wants to achieve or develop at (hopefully there will be a lot more as you get going!).

Finally you need to listen and ask lots of questions to make sure you understand the challenges your mentor faces and to give the best advice, but also the act of asking questions often helps your mentor work things out for themselves – it also did when I have been mentored in the past!

Author: Marion Duncan