There is a general acceptance that most people achieve better levels of professional success if they have the guidance and help of a mentor; someone with whom they can discuss their career plans, evaluate options and achievements, and work through issues.
A mentor is as ‘a suitably experienced person, who is willing and able to act as a confidential helper and guide to another, to stimulate professional development and make it more effective’.
Many organizations have successfully adopted mentoring in order to help selected employees to develop more effectively.
MAKING MENTORING WORK
Mentoring programs can help new employees acclimate to your company or propel high-potential managers to the next level. But effective programs require careful planning as well as a good amount of time and resources to manage.
- Have a clear goal. Most companies are reactive rather than proactive about mentoring – they may be trying to reduce turnover in a certain part of their organization or improve their diversity strategy, for example. It’s important to treat mentoring as one of many tools for developing employees. And it’s critical to know what the program’s goal is. If the goal is to reduce turnover, that’s relatively easy to measure. But how do you know if your supervisors are more effective after getting advice from mentors for a year? What skill sets are they expecting those supervisors to have? What would success look like?
- Decide who will be mentored. You don’t need to choose participants early on, but you do need to know what kind of people you want to have mentored. The goals of the program define the mentee pool, and the mentee pool defines the mentor pool.Is the target new employees? If so, what’s the definition of “new”: someone who has been with the company for six months to two years? If the plan is to provide mentors to frontline managers, how will mentees be chosen, or will everyone at that level get a mentor? As tempting is it may be to simply offer mentors to everyone, it may not be practical
- Develop a pool of mentors. Once you know the type of people who will need mentors, you can identify potential mentors. Mentors should generally be two levels above the mentees, so they can give their mentees a more strategic view of the organization while still understanding the mentees’ jobs. This also ensures that the mentor and mentee would not be vying for the same job. Once you have a group of possible mentors, it’s important to assess the skills of the individuals in that group. They need good communication skills — and the ability to keep conversations confidential. They also need to have a solid reputation within the company. Most importantly, mentors have to want to take on this challenge.
- Give the program a structure. Most formal mentoring programs last one year. Yours can be longer or shorter, but it should have an end. One reason for a defined time period is that it’s easier to get people to sign up for a limited commitment. Also, you’ll want to be able to have another group of mentees start the program, perhaps using some of the same mentors. Some mentors and mentees will continue their relationship on a less formal basis after the official end of the program. Although each mentor-mentee team can determine exactly how often to meet, it’s helpful to give some guidelines. Monthly in-person meetings are common, but phone calls can work as well. More frequent meetings early on may help the relationship get off to a good start.
- Prepare mentors, mentees and their managers. The program will work best if everyone understands its goals and the ground rules. Make sure everyone knows how much time the program will take and who is responsible for setting the agenda for the conversations. Review what subjects mentors are prepared to discuss. If the program is focused on supervisory skills, then conversations may begin with a discussion of management techniques. But they can expand to include how to handle disagreements with colleagues, how to reduce stress and how your personal life can impact your career. Finally, make sure the mentees’ managers understand the program and give their workers adequate time to meet with their mentors. Some managers may be nervous about their staff members having confidential discussions with higher-ranking supervisors. It’s not meant to replace the manager’s role in developing their employee – It’s just another tool.
- Follow up. Once the program has run its course, try to assess how well it worked. Since conversations between mentors and mentees are usually confidential, it may not always be easy to find out. But you can get general feedback from both mentors and mentees on whether the program was valuable and how it could be improved. Don’t ignore another source of feedback: the managers of the employees who participated.
Mentoring for professional development
Planned professional development is essential for all practicing professionals. The responsibility for development must always lie with the individual, but the active support of a wise colleague, in the role of a mentor, can be extremely helpful, for example in the early stages of a career or in times of change.
A mentor can help you to assess your needs and establish a development plan. Regular review meetings can then be arranged to consider progress and review learning. Knowing you have a forthcoming meeting helps you to focus on achieving targets. Your mentor will also give you the opportunity to try out, in confidence, a range of ideas and methods of working before having to make final decisions on the way ahead.
Many professionals wish to focus development on gaining professional recognition. Part of achieving this is satisfying a number of requirements laid down by your institution. Obtaining help and guidance from a senior colleague who is knowledgeable about the requirements and the level of achievement expected is very strongly recommended, and will prove to be a tremendous help.
Making mentoring work
Whatever your particular needs, the role of the mentor should be clearly defined by both parties at the start of the relationship. The boundaries of the mentor’s involvement and influence should be agreed, and you will need to take into account the interests of everyone concerned, including your employer (particularly if confidentiality is an issue).
You may want to define a time-span for the relationship. Experience shows that effective mentoring partnerships usually last for a relatively short time and you may get help from different mentors at different times of your career.
If you are provided with a mentor through your employer then that is fine. However, sometimes you may find someone from outside more helpful. Your mentor does not have to be in the same profession as you, and at times you may have more than one mentor.
The relationship between mentor and ‘mentee’ should be personal and confidential. Your mentor should challenge and support you, but should not tell you what to do. A good mentor will want to ensure that you gain confidence and independence as a result of mentoring, and that you are enabled to take full and effective responsibility for your own development over the next career stage. Long-term dependence on one influential person is not helpful, although some mentoring partnerships have led to lifelong friendships.
The structure and frequency of meetings can be decided between you. However, it is good practice always to arrange a subsequent date before the close of a meeting to make sure that a regular review of progress is maintained. It is also helpful if the mentor can be available for consultation earlier than planned if an unexpected need arises.
Both members of the partnership should find that they gain personal satisfaction and experience personal growth during the progress of a mentoring relationship. If mentors approach the undertaking with open minds they will find they learn from the other person and recognise development opportunities in their own careers.
Benefits of mentoring
People who have been mentored report that mentoring:
- enhanced their training and career development
- significantly influenced their attitudes and professional outlook
- guided them round major procedural obstacles and pitfalls
- improved their results by challenging their assumptions
Mentors report that mentoring has given them:
- satisfaction from helping others and seeing them progress
- deeper and broader knowledge of their own and other organisations
- opportunity to practice and develop management skills
- job enrichment and the chance to build wider networks
- increased self-confidence and higher visibility within the company
Organizations also benefit from mentorships:
- faster, more effective induction
- retention of quality staff
- enhanced transfer of skills
- gains in productivity and the performance of individuals
- increased on-job learning that reduces off-job training costs
- better communication, commitment and motivation
- a cost-effective method to enhance staff development
- a stabilising factor in times of change
The successful mentor is someone who:
- volunteers their time to take a personal interest in others
- actively listens
- questions and finds out what is important to others, exploring their skills, aptitudes and aspirations
- challenges assumptions and acts as a sounding board
- creates an open and candid relationship, to encourage the growth of trust and confidence, which assists the learning process
- regards all that the person being mentored says as confidential
- helps someone less experienced to learn by allowing minor errors, but will endeavor to prevent them making major errors
- avoids mentoring those in a direct reporting line, and may influence, but does not ‘step on the toes’ of, other line managers
- brings a rigorously professional approach to the mentoring relationship
- uses imagination to overcome own limitations as well as those of the person being mentored
- recognizes when the person they are mentoring should be identifying a need for other sources of help (such as from an institution)
- has appropriate training and experience for the role
- gains significant personal and career development from mentoring
The person being mentored
The success of a mentoring relationship depends also on the attitude and commitment of the individual being mentored. He or she should:
- understand that the role of the mentor is to challenge and encourage but not to provide answers
- guard against becoming dependent on the mentor
- approach each meeting fully prepared
The mentoring relationship
- conflicts of interest must be avoided, so it is usually considered inappropriate for a mentoring relationship to exist between manager and subordinate, or close colleagues.
- it is important that ground-rules are established at the beginning of the relationship, to avoid misunderstanding later on. These may include the timings and format of meetings, the expected length of the commitment and methods of communications.
- responsibilities and expected outcomes may be discussed at an early stage. For instance, it is important to state any specific results the person being mentored hopes to gain from the relationship, and what the measures will be for these.
Company mentoring programs
Company mentoring programs are found to be more effective if they:
- have the support of top management
- use carefully selected volunteers, who are well-matched to the employees being mentored
- start within a limited pilot mentoring programme, which can be extended as it becomes established
- operate as part of a wider scheme, which is unobtrusively monitored
- are supported by an able co-ordinator, usually a manager or Human Resources professional, who maintains the program and ensures that its standard (and thus its reputation) remains high
- take care to distinguish between the roles of line managers and mentors, to avoid conflicts between concern for task completion and the training and development needs of the person being mentored