Mentoring Awareness Month

As January 2021 is Mentoring Awareness Month, Tom Charlton (Senior Associate) and Simon Vanstone (Consultant), two members of CHR’s training and onboarding working group, wrote this short piece about mentoring and training at CHR. From what an associate can expect on their first day through to the mentorship that goes on between the most experienced staff.

Mentoring Awareness Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on the role mentoring plays in our organisation. Many of CHR’s associate consultants join the company from academia or industry, and consequently training and mentoring is a critical factor in developing their abilities and empowering our teams to deliver the high-quality work that is the cornerstone of the CHR brand.

When we joined CHR (1.5 and 2.5 years ago), training sessions were delivered in person by the partners. Over time these sessions, alongside others developed by consultants within the company, were consolidated into an onboarding program. In addition to these sessions and on-the-job training, new starters were paired with an experienced colleague to act as a mentor and offer advice and support. As the company continued to grow, we decided to examine and improve the onboarding process by forming a training and onboarding working group composed of staff with various experience levels. One of the working group’s first actions was to conduct a survey of the CHR team to identify gaps in the onboarding process. The team’s experiences were used to create an onboarding program tailored to new starters’ needs, providing both the essential skills for the job and an environment that supports learning.

A cornerstone of the new onboarding experience was to ensure that an associate’s first two weeks are devoted to training in the core commercial skills needed and an introduction to CHR’s internal processes and core values. Additionally, time is dedicated to the specific projects the associate is joining, ensuring a thorough grounding in the relevant therapeutic areas. This training is led by both the project manager and a project mentor, one of the more experienced members of the project team. The project mentors help welcome them to the project and answer all the small questions you get in a new role. CHR has continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic and with many of our new starters joining remotely these connections have become more important than ever. The first two weeks therefore feature plenty of opportunities for new starters to get to know their colleagues. This includes informal catchups with project and line managers, coffee meetings with the wider team and lunch with their mentors.

After those first two weeks team members start contributing on client projects, conducting secondary and primary research. Ongoing mentorship from the project manager and project mentors is essential, whether it is guidance on how to write an alert, how to build quality slides for reports or how to conduct phone interviews. As well as granular feedback on day-to-day tasks, project managers will set up regularly calls to discuss the project and help our associates improve their core consulting skills. Centralised onboarding continues with training sessions on communication, client relationships, workshops, and conference coverage spread out over the first few months.

A key mentoring relationship is that between the associate and their line manager, who will support their overall development and progression. With new associates often receiving guidance from 4-5 experienced staff across the company in a week, they quickly build up a comprehensive understanding of the areas they work in and become an expert in their own right.

As our associates continue through their first year, they become mentors themselves to new team members and may lead workstreams or smaller projects guiding those reporting to them. As a project manager you receive mentorship and guidance from multiple engagement managers and in bi-weekly peer-to-peer project manager forums, where we share best practice in approach and methods.

There is also a bi-weekly company-wide platform for a team member to present key learnings from recent projects, whether it is an update to regulations in a certain geography, a research technique that can be adapted for other projects, or a run through of a new database or piece of software to make our daily work easier.

Mentorship and learning continue throughout the company, no matter how experienced the member of staff is. Experienced joiners find themselves reporting into the most senior members of staff in the company who guide on the “CHR way”. The curiosity and commitment to quality of the team means that informal knowledge sharing occurs every day across reporting lines to find solutions to better support our clients. Overall, CHR is a great place to be if you are seeking ongoing mentorship and professional training whether you are moving from academia into a commercial role, or someone with industry experience looking to move into an agile role with exposure to a broader range of the therapeutic areas.