Making the Most out of Mentorships

By | April 16, 2012

It is no secret that the workforce demographic is changing, adding a host of new concerns for both employers and employees. As organizations examine their talent pipelines for incumbent leaders, workers struggle to stand out among their peers as the obvious choice. Career and leadership development have taken center stage.

Skilled employees are finding that options are opening up as the industry shifts to a candidate’s market. Meanwhile, businesses are realizing the importance of retaining and cultivating a fruitful workforce. Employee engagement and retention strategies are top of mind as organizations prepare for the future.

With so much on their plates, many will overlook the power of mentoring. Yet those who understand the importance of mentorships in the workplace will enjoy the many benefits.

Mentoring can take on many forms. In the quest to form meaningful mentorships, many will find that there is no right or wrong way. The responsibility is on the mentor and mentee to take the initiative and develop beneficial relationships. It does not have to be difficult; proactive players will likely come into it naturally.

There is no denying the power a mentorship can have on both parties involved.

Grow Relationships

When it comes to initiating mentorships, some struggle with where to start. The key is to develop the relationships around you and understand what you are hoping to get from the experience.

While formal mentorships have certainly worked in the past, today’s workforce will likely flourish under a more casual arrangement. By growing these relationships, you can naturally gravitate in the direction that makes the most sense and get the most out of the experience. Ignore convention and adapt to an arrangement that makes sense. Mentoring programs should be unstructured; otherwise, they can feel forced.

When you think of mentoring in a traditional sense, you likely picture a formal relationship between a junior employee and a senior employee who holds a role that the junior employee aspires to. Career moves in today’s market are more lateral than in the past; many will not choose a linear path to the top. For this reason, it is okay for the mentee to assume relationships with several advisors. In essence, the employee creates a network of support to assist in exploring career growth options.

This is not to say that a formal one-on-one mentorship is a bad choice. It certainly will benefit some people to sit down for formal meetings with their mentors. But it is recommended to explore options before a relationship is formalized.

Make it a Two-Way Street

The great thing about mentoring is that it is a symbiotic relationship; it is one in which both parties benefit. Even those who have already claimed success in their fields can find value in mentoring. Outside perspectives are helpful in every role.

Those that will excel the most in the role of mentor will understand that the relationship is an opportunity for them. For one, it provides a chance to sharpen leadership expertise. Listening, explaining and teaching on a one-on-one basis allow the mentor to hone in on those invaluable skills. Further, a strong mentor will accept it as a learning opportunity. By teaming up with a less senior member, the mentor can pick up on cultural cues to keep up with an evolving corporate culture. Make the value proposition clear. What are you hoping to get out of the relationship and what can you offer?

Get the Most Out of It

What exactly can a mentor do to provide guidance? Mentoring can happen in a variety of forums. It can be interactive or observational in nature. Mentors and mentees must figure out together what activities will be helpful, but here are some ideas to consider:

  • Shadowing: The act of simply watching a mentor execute critical parts of their job is very revealing. Mentees can get a feel for the daily demands of positions they aspire to, as well as the traits required to get the job done. Further, viewing interactions between higher-level employees offers great insight on communication techniques.
  • Reviewing goals: As with any business venture, set goals. Schedule time to regularly review the goals and the tactics for getting there. Re-evaluate the goals for changes in direction and adjust accordingly.
  • Networking: An invaluable resource that a mentor can provide is his or her personal network. If the mentor is personally unable to help the mentee out on a particular issue, he or she can likely provide the name and email address of a trusted industry connection.
  • Conversing: We can’t forget about the simple act of holding a conversation. Set aside time to discuss successes and failures from both mentee and mentor. Discuss emotions and actions involved, what could have been done differently, and how to move ahead.

There is no denying the power a mentorship can have on both parties involved. Those who engage in mentoring are granted invaluable career insight, while organizations receive assistance identifying the next generation of leaders. Remember not to put the emphasis on structure or processes, but on the relationships that naturally develop. Mentorships don’t have to be permanent and are likely to change as both parties explore and take advantage of the opportunities today’s market provides.

About David Coons

Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: dcoons@jacobsononline.com. More from David Coons

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Insurance Journal West April 16, 2012
April 16, 2012
Insurance Journal West Magazine

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