A Team Manager’s Guide to Mentoring

I swear by mentoring as one of the best ways to teach your team members what they need to know to be productive and send the message that you think they’re important and care about their growth.

Obviously, an official mentoring program is great to have, but what if your company hasn’t gone down this road before?  The Mentoring Group says that before implementing a formal initiative, you should consider how much support mentoring has from executives and employees, the time and resources people have to spend, and the overall health of the organization.   The following are preparation musts:

  • Plan ahead. Take several months to plan your initiative and get senior stakeholder buy in.
  • Link goals to the mission and values of your organization. As organizational and mentoring expert Kathy Kram has emphasized, mentoring efforts that aren’t linked to the goals of the organization will not be taken seriously and will fail.

  • Don’t do everything yourself. Create a dynamic task force that’s excited about mentoring. Be sure everyone has a key role and set of tasks.
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel. Good materials for designing programs and for training mentors and mentees already exist. Do a Google search.
  • Provide structure. If you opt for a program with mentor-mentee pairs (or mentoring circles), plan a great deal of structure. Have a formal application process, clear roles for participants, a training course, materials, and scheduled ongoing activities. You can always loosen up, but it’s harder to tighten up if a formal program begins with a too-casual approach.
  • Start small. You want to be successful in all respects, so focus a pilot effort on a group that is likely to do well. Two good targets are new hires and budding leaders.
  • Evaluate everything you do. Don’t wait until the year is over and try to pull together some results to decide if you’ll do it again. Go beyond feel good data that say the training was enjoyable. Try to get some baseline data before you begin on mentees’ competencies, knowledge, attendance, and satisfaction with the organization.

Selecting appropriate mentors for your program will be one of the most critical parts of your process.  According to Harvard Business Essentials’ Hiring and Keeping the Best People, you should seek mentor candidates who can empathize with an employee facing special challenges, have a nurturing attitude, exemplify the best of the company’s culture, and have rock-solid links to the organization.  I also believe that the best mentors tend to be people who are just a few years ahead of the mentee on the corporate ladder, because they can relate to the mentee’s current situation but also have enough perspective to provide concrete and workable advice.

Once you have your volunteers and are ready to begin, get your mentor/mentee relationships off on the right foot by advocating The Mentoring Group’s process:

  • Build the Relationship: The focus here is on getting to know each other and establishing a foundation of trust. Begin to explore the experiences and goals of both the mentee and the mentor.
  • Negotiate Agreements: After you’ve become acquainted, you’re ready to create a set of operating agreements for your mentoring relationship. For example, define your role as a mentor or mentee, determine your schedule and meeting logistics, and clarify any limitations or preferences in the relationship.
  • Develop the Mentee: During this step, the mentoring partners will choose objectives to reach the mentee’s goals, select development activities to achieve these objectives, and maintain regular contact with each other.
  • End the Relationship: A formal ending prevents the relationship from dwindling without focus or disintegrating from inactivity. It also gives each mentoring partner a needed sense of closure and a transition into a less formal partnership or a new mentoring arrangement.  It’s an excellent time to evaluate your work together, celebrate your accomplishments, and plan for the future.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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