Mentoring greatly helped my career. How to make it work for you.

ARTICLE BY MARTYN DRAPER, HEAD OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES, FINANCE, ACCOUNTING AND BUSINESS SUPPORT AT AMBITION

At the beginning of last year I stepped into a new role. When I had previously taken on new positions at Ambition, they were quite similar to roles I had performed at other firms. However, this new role was a step into the unknown for me.

I am fortunate to have a very supportive senior management team and a candid, honest relationship with my manager. However, as my new role was quite different to any that I had done previously, I felt that I would benefit from some additional input and guidance from an external source who could also act as a sounding board for my ideas. 

Having discussed this with my manager we agreed that having a mentor could be a really useful way to provide this input.

Finding a mentor

I have seen organisations set up and operate mentoring programmes in various ways, but for my own purposes I wanted an objective point of view from someone whose opinion would not be tarnished with too much prior knowledge of the individuals I work with or the history of situations I was looking for advice on how to handle.

The person who I approached was someone known by my manager but not a friend or colleague, allowing me to feel free to discuss matters in a candid manner without concern about my opinions being fed back to anyone in Ambition. This “safe place” environment has proved to be a key element to making the relationship work.

The first meeting

At my first meeting with my mentor we ran through what I was hoping to get out of our meetings and the professional goals I was hoping to attain. In turn he set out how he had worked as a mentor previously, what his background and experience was and what he believed would be the key skills and expertise he had that he would be able to use to help me.

We also discussed the format of the mentoring sessions and the preparation we would both do beforehand. Although this sounds like quite a formal arrangement the sessions in practice have often been quite relaxed (the last one took place across a table tennis table!).

The impact I have had from this input has been invaluable, giving me a fresh perspective of how to approach situations and manage both my own teams and the teams above me. I think that my experience can be successfully mirrored in most industries with any type of profession.

How to make mentoring work for you

Here are some of the key points I think you need to consider to make your mentoring relationship as useful as you can.

1. Have a clear idea of what areas in your skillset you want to work on with your mentor.

You may need some input from your manager or peer group with this. Examples of areas you might want to develop could include technical ones that require a more senior, qualified individual who has more experience in a similar sector to you. 

Alternatively it might be managerial skills that you require advice on, and input from someone with a different background might prove very helpful.

2. Consider internal and external options.

It may be preferable if a mentor is be able to offer an objective viewpoint for you. This can be muddied if they work for the same organisation as you and are already aware of the situation you want to discuss and the people involved in it. 

However, an internal candidate for the role of mentor shouldn’t be automatically discounted. They are a known quantity and will be able to empathise on the culture and corporate structure of the business which may mean they are able to offer better insight than that of an external mentor. Make your choice relevant to what you want to achieve from the relationship.

3. Set out your goals and objectives at the start of the relationship and review before each meeting.

It is really important to know what you want to achieve from the relationship and to make sure that your mentor is aware of these goals as well. Set out SMART goals in the initial meeting, giving yourself a timeline and define how you will measure success.

4. Give your mentor prior notice of what you want to discuss in the next meeting.

Before every meeting, it’s a good idea to send your mentor an email with the points you want to cover so that they can prepare themselves. They may want to bring along case studies of their own experiences that relate to your situations or have at least the opportunity to have some relevant anecdotes rather than having to think on the spot.

5. Be prepared to be challenged.

One of the main points to having a successful mentor / mentee relationship is finding someone who is going to push you to make the less obvious or easy decisions. There is no reason in having someone who will simply validate your own assumptions or opinions so expect to be told that you are either wrong or that you could approach the situation in another way.

6. Recognise when the relationship has come to an end.

Mentor relationships are not forever and a point will be reached where you have garnered all the hints, tips, opinions and advice that can be offered by your mentor for the time being.

This point may not be obvious so it is a good idea to have a review every few months to discuss whether you are still getting as much benefit from the meetings as you would hope. But bear in mind this is not an excuse to end the relationship because they are pushing you too hard!

The above is my personal take on how mentoring programmes have either worked for me or that I have seen successfully work for others. I know that there are lots individuals who play mentor roles or have been successfully mentored who will have very valid and valuable points to add that I have missed so please do add any comments or additional thoughts that you may have.

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