Mentoring others is good for your career. A 2013 study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior found that mentors enjoy greater job satisfaction and career success than non-mentors. But what does it mean to become a mentor and how do you make it work?
First, remember that the heart of mentoring is a relationship between you and a colleague. And no two relationships are the same. So there is no blueprint for guaranteed success in mentoring. You have to figure out what works best for you both.
If your company has a mentoring program in place there will be guidelines to help you, but if not, you’ll need to set out some guidelines to get started. Here are 6 basic steps to a rewarding mentoring experience.
One: Determine what the business purpose of your mentor relationship will be.
Are you helping your mentee build a business network, gain useful skills, adapt to a new position, or something else? You don’t have to confine yourself to one focus, but if you want to help someone move ahead, you need to know what goal they’re trying to reach.
Two: Plan how you’ll communicate.
Decide whether you’ll meet in person or on the phone and how often. Commit with each other to prioritize your meetings. If you or your mentee keeps rescheduling, you’ll never make any progress.
Also, determine how you want to contact each other outside your regular meetings. Is it ok for your mentee to text you with a question any time? Do you prefer email or a phone call? Would you rather save up all discussion for your next scheduled meeting?
In the area of communication, you may need to try a few strategies and adjust to find what works best. So make it clear from the beginning that you will check in with each other on whether the plan is working as intended and make changes if needed.
Three: Listen at least as much as you talk.
Yes, you’re the mentor in this relationship, and you have the experience to share, but the biggest part of your job is listening to your colleague. You have to find out what’s going on, what the real problems are, where the real roadblocks are before you can offer useful advice. Never assume you know what the issue is until you’ve explored it thoroughly.
Four: Follow up.
You’re helping your mentee reach a specific goal, and that usually means you’re helping another person grow, learn and change. It takes practice, persistence and focus to achieve a goal. It’s tempting to get side-tracked on the “problem of the day.” But you’re working together on a long-term goal and if the mentoring relationship is going to be effective, you need to move a little bit toward that goal between every meeting.
So at your mentor meetings, focus on actions your mentee can take to move forward and follow up on previous results. What were last week’s actions? Did they work? What are the next steps? What still needs to be done to reach the goal?
Five: Stay open to learning yourself.
A study by Sun Microsystem in 2006 found that mentors were 20% more likely to get a raise than non-mentors. Money is awesome, but even better, you’ll find that you learn and grown along with your mentee. You two may tackle some challenges that you haven’t seen. You can even ask for your mentee’s input on your own goals. The successful mentor relationship may well develop into a valuable partnership.
Six: Set a time for review and evaluation.
Although you may become life-long friends, you and your mentee may not need to continue regular meetings or focus on a particular goal for more than 6 months or a year. Depending on your goal, your mentoring engagement could last just a few weeks.
When you set your business goal, decide with your colleague when you will re-evaluate the mentoring. After one quarter or six months, you can determine whether the process is working and whether it makes sense to continue. Keep this evaluation focused on your business goals and tangible progress toward it. Leave out personal issues, but if your personalities clash and that’s keeping you from making progress, it’s time to end the project.
Most mentors get personal satisfaction from helping a newer colleague succeed. You’ll likely get a boost to your career and great contacts out of mentoring as well. And even though most of us don’t get training in how to be a good mentor, if you stay focused and commit to working out an effective process, you and your mentee will love the results.