Updated: Nov 17, 2020
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
– Denzel Washington
Mentoring is more than sitting down for coffee with the office newbie or offering up some random advice that might be helpful. It’s a personal one-on-one partnership to help the individual across the table become a better employee, while taking into consideration the aptitudes unique to them. The relationship provides invaluable learning opportunities for new and established employees to hone skills and perfect them to fit their role.
In some ways, mentoring acts as a microcosm of the workplace culture—showing a co-worker you care about their success and well-being. Giving team members the chance to continue learning and growing also helps reduce employee turnover. With 94% of workers stating they would stay longer at a company if these opportunities were available. (Guider)
At The Odigo Group, it’s important to us that we provide one-on-one mentorship opportunities. To do this, we pair a more experienced employee with someone newer to the industry, creating a safe place to talk about professional goals, ideas for projects, and overall, a fresh perspective.
If you want to initiate a mentoring program but have little-to-no foundation, here are a couple ideas to get you started.
Establish goals for growth
The main purpose behind a mentoring program is to foster professional growth for employees. Establishing goals is the first step in mastering new skills. Perhaps someone in a junior position wants to be promoted to a senior position. How do you plan to reach that goal? What skills will help you get there?
As a mentor, it’s important to keep in mind that professional growth looks different for everyone. Two people could share the same job title but lead two different careers. Proper assessment of an individual’s goals, personality, and talents should happen before offering advice. For example, a project manager focused on advancing to a higher position might struggle with organization but is great at talking with clients. They need guidance on filing documents and converting their communication skills with small business clients to enterprise-level clients.
The best way to reach a goal is to break it down into consumable pieces, feeding them a little bit at a time so the employee is able to completely digest the knowledge in order to grow. There will be moments during professional growth, where an employee might feel stuck in a project and ask to talk through a solution. Then the role of mentor shifts to meet their need as a sounding board.
Listen to show support
Lending an ear to a mentee sends an unspoken message of support. Being attentive to their concerns shows you care about what they say and adds a layer of trust to the mentorship. By keeping the conversation open to ask them about their day and not keep it strictly about work, instinctively, it creates open communication between mentor and mentee. The mentor is able to show empathy and give better advice if they see the whole picture. It results in both people feeling more comfortable to use each other as sounding boards. You’re able to exchange ideas freely to figure out what’s going well and what’s not going well in a project or in reaching a professional goal.
As mentioned earlier, if the project manager is having a hard time effectively communicating with clients, the mentor gives the mentee an opportunity to verbally express their issues and work through them. More than likely the mentor has been through the situation themselves and they are able to offer some clarifying insight. But sometimes, all a mentee needs is affirmation that they know what they are doing. It helps bring them back down to earth and pushes them through any lofty ideas about perfection they might be reaching for.
Openly communicating ideas and offering honest advice does not naturally transpire between just any two people. The mentors and mentees who most benefit from this relationship have already formed an authentic connection.
Seek authentic connection
Most companies set up mentorship programs based on job title and availability, but some of the best relationships happen organically. It’s usually two people who work together on a regular basis—even if they have completely different roles. The mentoring might occur between a project manager and a design director or a project manager and a writer. Those relationships end up benefitting both parties as the outside perspective allows them to poke holes in each other’s tunnel vision and shine a light on the areas that may be overlooked. It can help them understand their area of expertise and support the other person.
If the mentor and mentee are struggling to connect, don’t try to force it. Instead, make a suggestion that might work for both of them. Re-assigning isn’t always easy, but if the mentor doesn’t have a clear vision for the mentee’s long-term goals, it’s time to switch.
Maintain the relationship
The road to a successful mentorship is like keeping in touch with a dear friend. Keep a regular cadence of communication, continue talking openly and honestly with each other, and make sure they know you care about them. Hopefully, the mentorship will start to feel less like work and more like chatting with friend—if you’re lucky.
About the Author: As a program execution pro, Danielle Hatt loves taking on complex projects in her role as Program Management Lead. With her unique ability to manage ambiguity well, Danielle coaches teammates on the complexities and nuances of project management. When she’s not busy anticipating client needs, you can find her wandering among the trees with her family and dogs.