Although I have been working in teams for quite some time now, I officially started getting involved in people’s development and career growth process a couple of years back. Even though all of us at some point or the other formally/informally mentor or guide other people, taking responsibility for it officially is a slightly different experience. The ideology behind official mentoring is to cultivate a culture where everyone has got a success path in the organisation figured out and also guidance available for them to help navigate the path!!
In my experience, a successful mentoring journey is where both the mentor and the mentee establish trust so that the mentor can empower the mentee to accelerate on the success path. Even though there is no standard rule book for mentoring, whenever I get involved as a mentor I follow a process to make the journey fun and outcome oriented.
- Ice breakers — The first thing that I have seen working in any kind of mentorship is getting to know each other. It is extremely important for a mentor and a mentee to be upfront with each other so that an initial trust can be built. So, how do we do this? I am sure everyone will have a different answer to this. In my case, I usually set up weekly catch ups(even if it is just for 15 minutes, just enough time for small casual conversations, if there is no set agenda) for the first month so that a platform can be set up, trust can be built and sharing can start. It is important for a mentee to be convinced that the mentor can add value to their career, also, it is equally important for a mentor to be convinced that they can add value.
- Active Listening — I have usually seen that as a mentor , one of the key things is to understand the perspective of the person that you are mentoring. I usually apply the ‘0 judgement — 100 listening’ logic here. The mantra is to listen to them, analyse what they are saying and offer suggestions if needed, without any judgement. This second step helps in establishing a safe environment for a mentee so that they can share without the fear of getting judged!! When people are comfortable speaking and receiving suggestions then is a good time to start pitching in with smaller suggestions.
- Confidentiality- If people have to trust someone in an organisation with their valued information they would only do so, if they know that we have established confidentiality. Usually, I explicitly call it out whenever I start the mentoring cycle.
- Finding out the interest areas — There are times when mentees are very clear about what their interest is and what they exactly want to do but many times they are not. After the ice-breaker period is over one of the first things that should happen is to talk to them or do a small exercise to figure out the interest area of the mentee. Mentor is usually a little more experienced person who would have been around in the organisation for a little more while. Based on the interest of the person, mentors can point them to different opportunities. There are a lot of available templates to do this. I do this exercise with the help of a whiteboard where we talk through the future aspirations of a person, map these to strengths and opportunities to figure out the opportune journey. This whole process then is converted to an action plan with milestones.
- Showing them the path — One of the prime responsibilities of a mentor is also to show the mentees their path to success in the organisation. As a mentor, after spending some time with the mentee and figuring out the interest area; it is important to explore the path available for them to succeed in their career. Personally, I lay down the whole organisation structure in-front of them, with all the initiatives and opportunities listed there. We started from the top(where a to-be can be chosen), then we take a step back and each time we do so we list down what is required to be there. When I reach the level where we started we have a list of things to do in order to navigate till the top.
- Sharing feedback — This is one of the most important aspects of the mentorship. A cycle of continuous feedback should be given-received between the mentors and the mentees. It may not always be a formal conversation but if the intent is clearly understood even, an informal conversation is powerful enough to convey the right feedback.
- Handling the low points — Everyone at some point in their career experience situations where they might be feeling low or where the things might not be going well with them. This is another very important aspect of mentorship where the mentors might be required to listen, observe, be patient and show trust in their mentees. Usually, if I come across this situation I start with listening, then talk about the issue, share my take on the problem without being judgmental. Though there is a golden rule that I always follow, I give feedback, even the difficult ones, but I make sure that I let them know I am with them to help them sail through the difficult times and trust me, it makes a lot of difference!