Informal learning has become an accepted strategy for improving performance in the workplace; and mentoring is one of its key techniques. Mentoring,which provides ongoing performance support from an experienced person to a less-experienced person, can be formal or informal. Until recently, my experience with it has been informal.
I'm a huge proponent of the value of mentoring. In the early years of my first career (broadcasting and communications), I benefited from the wisdom of experienced veterans who were willing to help me develop my skills. One of the most valuable — and most memorable — pieces of advice I received in those early years was from the general manager of the TV station where I worked. He told me, "You've got a lot of talent, but you've got to get balls, kid!" What he meant was that I needed to be more assertive. I was pretty quiet back then.
Several colleagues I met through my involvement in professional organizationsalso formally mentored me. When I went out on my own as a freelancer, almost all of my projects came from these contacts. One client, who apparently saw something in me to be developed, mentored me into my transition to the training and performance improvement. Interestingly, my capstone project for my master's degree was working with a volunteer mentoring organization for troubled youth; my project was to help them recruit more volunteers from local businesses.
Throughout these years, I've strongly believed in "paying it forward." I have mentored and supported professional associates and friends, whether helping develop resumes, informing them of job openings, coaching through onboarding, collaborating, etc. There's a great sense of satisfaction in helping someone develop and grow.
So, now comes the Greater Detroit ATD Chapter's new formal mentoring program. Since I recently joined ILG and was still acclimating to the new environment, I didn't initially volunteer. But when a mentee with a music background signed up and our CEO, Lisa Toenniges, became aware of this, she asked me if I would become a mentor (my B.A. is in music history). Since this is a formal program, I did some research to learn how it might be structured and how to be most effective. I found nothing revolutionary; however, what I did find has helped me be more effective. Please allow me to share.
- Successful mentoring requires both parties to share responsibility for learning and sustaining the relationship. They need to be clear about what the relationship is going to look like and how it will be managed.
- Mentor and mentee should treat the relationship with formality and professionalism. You need to discuss topics such as confidentiality, focus, feedback, goals, and accountability.
- One of the first things to do is set regular mentor meetings (away from the work environment, if possible) if you're at the same organization.
- Discuss what each partner hopes to accomplish through the mentoring relationship and what outcomes you'll work toward.
- Work toward sustainable improvements. Use the mentoring meetings to exchange views and provide guidance through smart questioning, active listening, and value-added feedback.
- And perhaps most important, be honest and open. This is about mutual trust and respect. If you don't have that, you aren't likely to be successful.
It's still early in the program, so I don't have much to report in terms of progress or accomplishments. My mentee and I are still getting to know each other, and uncover our strengths and weaknesses. But I'm already impressed by her skills and drive, and look forward to working with her to help her achieve her goals.
I'd love to hear about your experiences as mentor or mentee.