When the opportunity arose at the start of the pandemic to work with Be the Business and help it expand Mentoring for Growth, its small business mentoring programme, it was an obvious activity for BAE Systems to support. The Mentoring for Growth programme takes executives from some of the UK’s leading firms and matches them with ambitious small business owners and leaders to help take their business to the next phase of growth, or to help them to deal with a particular business challenge. Volunteers sign up to act as mentors to a small business for a period of 12 weeks or 12 months, depending on their availability.
According to Nigel Whitehead, BAE Systems’ director of external affairs: “Sitting in the heart of communities, small businesses are vital to the UK’s economy and society. In this pandemic, I believe big businesses have a crucially important role to play in helping SMES navigate through the crisis and into the future. BAE Systems’ employees didn’t hesitate to volunteer their skills and expertise and we have over 100 leaders currently mentoring small business owners from a wide range of sectors across the UK.
The programme not only aligns well with BAE Systems’ commitment to the UK’s small business community, but it also enables the company to meet another core business objective, which is to support the development of employees through giving them different experiences to learn and reflect with businesses outside the defence sector. As Sarah-Jane Penman, a business improvement manager at BAE Systems’ maritime business in Edinburgh says: “I was naturally drawn to mentoring because of my interests in people and shaping best practice – things that are part of my job,” she explains. “I thought this would be a great way of discussing problems with different businesses, of different sizes, in different sectors, and to learn about the nuances.”
The Mentoring for Growth programme has become a valuable way for BAE Systems to develop and nurture its own talent. The experience BAE Systems’ employees have gained from working with a small business leader has proven to be a great way of broadening their perspective on business matters, exposing them to new ways of thinking and problem solving, and building confidence in relationship-building. The feedback has been very positive, and volunteer mentors have a deep sense of pride at the positive impact they are having for small businesses, particularly at a time when so many are struggling and hugely benefit with an external perspective and advice.