MAKING ROLE BASED MENTORING WORK
I’ve interviewed and worked with literally hundreds of people on mentoring and when I ask them about what they think of mentoring, they consistently think of and describe very distinct roles; specifically as a mentor, or a mentee. Which to me implies a very strict, defined relationship; are you giving or are you receiving, and the exchange has an implicit direction of benefit. This is a clean and simple structure, but I don’t think it reflects the variety of experiences nor does it reflect the changing behaviours and expectations of different generations. Regardless, it is a tried and proven arrangement that almost everyone I talked to reflected on it as a very positive experience and for some it was life changing. The only caveat I heard was about 35% of those I talked to didn’t get past the awkward getting to know you stage, and graduate to the making a difference stage.
When I talk to people who manage and run mentoring programs their descriptions and comments
are typically about qualifying mentors, how we scope the role, the required expertise (ie. 10,000
hrs), mentoring skills, mentor training, etc. When we talk about mentees, it was also about
qualifying them, preparing them for their role as well. Ultimately it seems that the perceived key to
success of most mentoring programs I’ve researched is finding the best match, which is done usually
by the organizers who’s role is as a 3rd party facilitator to the mentor/mentee relationship.
The prequalification is really the first step in the matching process, which is the first step in the
mentoring process. Once that is done, the next phase is the ice breaking phase, this is the first
critical junction and can be very difficult without guidance or a process. Just connecting people leads
to the meeting where the first question is “what shall we talk about?”. Not an auspicious start.
The most effective role based mentoring programs I’ve seen in practice have a very structured
process that enables both parties to set expectations and work through the process to achieve a
much more consistent outcome. There is still the relationship aspect, are they able to make a
personal connection, is there chemistry between them in their interactions, but even for these I find
it happens more often when the process guides them toward exploratory conversations to build
mutual understanding. So having a topic of conversation to set the tone for each meeting is crucial
and I like starting the discussion around exploring each other’s past. My definition of mentoring is
helping someone else succeed, therefore I find it works better when the discussion topics thereafter
focus on understanding the mentee’s ambitions, goals, needs, issues and challenges. As a mentor I
think listening is the most important skill. I personally find that when I truly understand another
person it is only natural for me to care and trust them, and my relationships are always constructive
when it is based on this foundation.
In terms of a detailed structured process, there are many organizations that support role based
mentoring and I’ve included links below to some that will get you started:
Mentoring.org – http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_418.pdf
IACTM – http://www.iactm.com/about/mentoring-methodologies
MIT Venture Mentoring Service - http://vms.mit.edu/outreach-programs
Hayes Group - http://www.thehayesgroupintl.com/mentor_process.pdf
Chronus / HRU.gov