Exploring the issues that shape today's business world.
Corporate Minds

5 Ways to Make Mentoring Work

Mentorship can be an incredibly valuable experience, not only for mentees, but for mentors, too.
Rose Cammarata VP & Controller, Mattersight

That said, many corporate professionals I talk to struggle to establish a mentoring relationship. Newly minted young professionals can find it daunting to ask someone to be their mentor. And more seasoned professionals can be put off by the perception that mentorship has to be a formal, committed arrangement.

Mentorship, which is different than sponsorship, doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply, it works best if you have a goal in mind in terms of what you want to learn.

Consider these five tips to help get you started.   

1. Anyone can be a mentor. A mentor is someone you respect and trust, and who is able to serve as a role model for a particular skill or  to provide objective advice on a particular topic—irrespective of their years of experience relative to yours. Last year, for example, I had an opportunity to participate in a formal mentoring arrangement with a recently graduated journalism major through a mentor program at work. Technically, I was her mentor, but as I helped her learn to navigate our company, she introduced me to a different perspective on how to conduct research (along with a few new text acronyms I hadn’t seen before, SMH). We both benefitted from the mentoring relationship, which leads me to the next point.

2. Be ready to contribute. The best relationships are mutually beneficial to at least some extent. If you’re not that far into your career, you may not feel that you have a lot to offer a mentor. However, one of the most valuable things you can contribute is your time in return for theirs. If your mentor supports a charitable cause, for example, you can donate your time to that cause. If your mentor is interested in a particular topic, you can research it and provide articles and other resources on that topic .... You get the idea.

3. Establish a mentor network. The popular term is “advisory board,” and it’s a concept that’s really gained popularity in the past few years. This isn’t a board in the traditional sense. Rather, it refers to how we naturally seek advice, namely, asking a friend or two, a sibling and maybe a parent, depending on the subject. This, in essence, is your “mentor network,” with the addition of a few impartial members. Your mentor network can be large or small, but the best ones are diverse and include at least one or two people who know you on a personal level. One of the most important benefits of having a mentor network is that you can get perspectives from people with diverse expertise and experiences.

4. Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal. Some people may disagree, but I don’t believe the word “mentor” ever has to come up in order to have an effective mentoring relationship. I believe in letting the relationship grow naturally. Many of my mentoring relationships, in fact, had their start with an offer of Starbucks and a shared interest in a topic that I knew the other person was experienced with.

5. Mentorship doesn’t have to be ongoing. The situation you need advice on may not necessitate a yearlong schedule of monthly meetings. The entire mentoring relationship can happen over a one-hour lunch if you simply want insight into a particular situation.

My advice: Take advantage of the opportunities mentoring offers, whether formal or informal, whenever you can.