Is Mentoring Right For You?
We've written the introductory guide below to help you evaluate if mentoring will help accelerate your performance and who might best support you in a mentoring capacity.
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What is mentoring?
Mentoring is typically a professional relationship where an individual - or mentee - is able to seek counsel and advice from someone more experienced in their domain of expertise to help accelerate their development and impact in their role. A mentor may be within the same organisation (outside the mentee’s reporting line) or external, depending on the size of the organisation, size of that function and what the mentee and business want to achieve.
What can it focus on?
It’s ultimately up to each mentee, the development stage they are at and what will add most value for them in the shortest period of time. A good mentor will help address any questions, scenarios or challenges that a mentee might be facing operationally or strategically in their role, whether domain or people related, in addition to acting as a sounding board and coach for broader and longer term career development. Whilst usually advisory in nature, it may also extend to programmatic design support if desired by the mentee and the business given their specific circumstances and challenges.
What to look for when choosing a potential mentor:
Can the mentor draw upon first hand experience in a similar industry and culture in order to understand the challenges and environment you might be navigating?
Do they have considerable past experience in your role domain? Are they familiar with the scenarios and functional outcomes you’re likely to want to discuss and are they able to help you quickly identify root causes, possibilities, preferred options and advise on how others might approach this situation?
Are they experienced in developing others through the use of mentoring and coaching techniques to raise competence and confidence? The best mentor flex their style to meet the mentee's needs in a given situation.
Do they demonstrate that they’re able to help you think smarter, clearer, faster, helping you assess various options, identify key variables for consideration and help you choose a course of action with confidence?
What are the benefits of a mentor?
Even the world’s best performers - whether sports or business - engage coaches and mentors to help them perform to their full potential. The best mentors ultimately should help you stretch your thinking as to what’s possible and enable you to build competence faster so that over time you have the confidence and capability to achieve more.
Specifically you should expect:
Faster insights, advice and customised action plans from someone who has experienced the same challenges previously in their career to save you time, resources and reduce risk
To develop competence and confidence to take action faster and accelerate the impact you can have in your role
The opportunity to learn directly from someone more experienced that can help you identify and deepen your strengths whilst helping close development gaps in domain expertise
With external mentors, additional benefits include:
A neutral perspective and thought partner detached from any organisational relationships who can help you consider options and action plans objectively and dispassionately
In small, high growth teams lacking more experienced internal colleagues or a functional head to learn from, a “coach on call” who can provide 80% value for <20% of the cost of a full-time experienced equivalent that may be beyond the operational budget for the company size and stage of growth
How to get the most value from a mentoring relationship
Before you meet with a mentor for the first time,
Create an initial list of potential topics and goals (immediate, short and long term) you want to discuss with them in an exploratory call to gauge their suitability as a mentor and assess if and where they can help.
During your initial exploratory meeting with a mentor,
Ask for an overview of their career, areas of expertise and run through your initial topic list and goals to see if they have the expertise to help. Also take notice of their style to see if it's good fit for you.
Define with them your immediate, short and long term SMART goals and success metrics for a mentoring relationship so you can set and align expectations and assess effectiveness throughout the relationship.
If you choose to formally engage a mentor,
Decide the frequency and nature of the mentoring relationship - will you find it more helpful to meet regularly or ad-hoc/on-call as needed?
What costs are involved? Are there any cancellation or rescheduling considerations?
Discuss and agree how you prefer to partner so that you can maximise time invested before, during and after each mentoring session (eg maintain a shared live document for capturing draft agendas, notes and action items so that your mentor can review in advance)
What does your business expect from the investment they'll be making in supporting the mentoring relationship? Who should be kept informed of periodic progress and/or whose approval is sought?
What does mentoring cost / return as an investment?
Whilst some mentors may provide advice freely, like professional coaches most experienced mentors will likely charge for the ongoing development and support they are asked to provide, for which you should expect to see a significant return.
A high quality mentoring relationship is invaluable if it accelerates the development, confidence, engagement and - most critically - impact of the mentee in their business at their career stage. It should save both the mentee and the business significant time and resources whilst also reducing the risk that comes with addressing challenges they might otherwise not yet be equipped to tackle efficiently or effectively.
If you’re considering engaging a mentor in a professional capacity, the above guidance is intended to help you begin to determine if mentoring is right for you before making a commitment. Ask a potential mentor to walk through the business case for your circumstances so that you’re clear and confident of the tangible value they can add not only to you but the underlying business should you choose to proceed.