Guest post: Small agency mentoring — a mentee’s journey

Ewan Perrin
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Ewan Perrin is the chief information officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. He participated in the Small Agency Mentoring Program, as discussed by Glenn Archer in a previous post. Late last year a band of small agency CIOs commenced the second AGIMO-sponsored Small Agency Mentoring (SAM) program. This program pairs us up with experienced large agency CIOs and senior IT leaders as mentors. SAM wrapped up recently. This is the story of my journey.

I was a little sceptical when we started. After all, when was the last time a development program delivered tangible results? And to be honest, when I discovered who my mentor was, I wondered why I didn’t get allocated one of the better-known names in the program, like Glenn Archer or Tony Kwan. What could I learn from a guy who had been CIO only a year longer than I had? That ‘guy’ was Brett Greenshields, CIO at Austrade. And I found I could learn a lot. Our first two meetings were a little lacklustre and unfocused. One of the key messages we received at the beginning of the program was ‘you only get out what you put in’. As in so many other areas of our lives, this message is true. So we both persevered, formed a social contract, and I got myself organised. The turning point – and one of the key success factors for me – was when I put together a monthly schedule of topics to discuss at each of our meetings. These included IT leadership, budgeting, IT strategy, whole-of-government issues and team development. I timed each meeting and topic to coincide with what was happening in my workplace. Then everything clicked. Suddenly we were both getting great value out of our meetings. We started meeting over lunch. Our meetings would go over time and we’d both stay a little longer. It became more a true exchange of ideas and experiences than a one way ‘wisdom-stream’. I learned about how other agencies work, how a more experienced CIO operates, and a few things about myself. For example, CIOs face the same issues across agencies and only very few are unique to our own workplace. The strategies for dealing with these issues are also common and a good CIO (or any leader) learns which ones to apply in each situation. I also learned that I really didn’t know everything after all! The other key to the success of our mentoring relationship was our openness. We were both honest from the beginning, which grew mutual trust and respect. We were also open to criticism, to risk and change – we were prepared to be wrong. As a result of SAM and the investment that Brett made in me, I am now better at my job than before, and also a little more humble. Key messages:

  • you get out what you put in;
  • persevere, it’s worth it;
  • challenge yourself and your mentor – take the leap into the abyss and find out something new;
  • be prepared to be wrong; and
  • be honest, open and respectful.

Ewan Perrin – AMSA

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Last updated: 28 July 2016