Taking part in a formal mentoring program in the workplace can be a rewarding learning experience, not only for the mentee but also the mentor. Improving interpersonal skills and building leadership abilities are just some of the potential professional development opportunities for both parties.
For the mentor, there is also the personal satisfaction that comes with helping a colleague to achieve his or her full potential in the business world, or from helping a new employee to succeed in the organization. Formal mentoring relationships can create positive benefits for companies, as well. Some examples include:
- Increasing knowledge transfer between employees
- Furthering succession planning efforts
- Motivating employees to pursue more professional development
- Increasing teamwork, including across departments
- Improving employee retention
While executives and managers are most commonly viewed as strong candidates to serve as mentors, titles are not the key criterion. The most effective mentors are people who are naturally empathetic and enjoy the role of helping, listening to and sharing information with others.
If that describes you, and you’re thinking about taking on this important responsibility, there are several things you can do to make sure the mentoring arrangement is a success — and earn a reputation as a great mentor. Here are a few tips:
1. Choose your mentee carefully
The purpose of a mentoring relationship in business isn’t always for a seasoned employee to impart knowledge to a new or less-experienced employee. That is a traditional arrangement, certainly, but there are others, too. For example, you might have an opportunity to advise a more senior executive in a reverse mentoring arrangement. There’s also peer mentoring, where colleagues who work at similar levels in the organization pair up to share professional feedback and advice.
Whatever option is available to you, take the time to select a mentee who you know would benefit from your insights and guidance. Ask potential candidates, either in person or through a survey, about their professional interests and long-term goals. Also, ask your colleagues to recommend people — including those who work outside of your department — who might be a good match for you.
2. Stay engaged in the process
Mentoring is a commitment, and making the experience a positive one for the mentee requires that you keep your responsibilities as a mentor in focus. You’ll probably find that's easy to do during the initial weeks or months of the mentoring arrangement. But over time, as work demands rise, it can be all too easy to de-prioritize your mentoring duties.
Avoid this problem by planning ahead. Set aside time in your schedule for specific mentoring activities. For instance, choose a day every month when you and your mentee can grab lunch or have a one-to-one meeting to discuss progress on career goals or simply chat about work. Depending on how busy you are, you might want to get a little more granular with scheduling — such as setting a reminder to send a quick email to your mentee every other Friday just to check in and find out how things are going.
3. Hold each other accountable
Part of becoming a great mentor involves opening a two-way channel for communicating feedback. So, whenever you provide advice, make sure to watch for improvement and follow up when appropriate. Ask your mentee to do the same for you. The more equal your partnership, the more mutually beneficial the mentoring relationship will be.
Also, it can be valuable to set clear goals and discuss expectations from the outset of the arrangement. For example, consider questions such as:
- What type of professional development does the mentee hope to get from the mentoring experience?
- What knowledge, skills and advice do you hope to impart to your mentee?
- How will you teach or otherwise share that information? (And, just as important, how would the mentee like to learn information from you?)
- How will success on both sides be measured?
How detailed you want or need to be when outlining priorities and objectives depends on the purpose, structure and expected duration of the mentoring program.
Whether the arrangement is formal or informal, the mentor-mentee relationship ultimately should be a growth opportunity for both people involved. It should provide a way to help a colleague advance or build more confidence as a professional or to learn the ropes of a new job and ease into the culture of the organization. It should also give the mentee an avenue to share his or her own wisdom — and unique perspectives — with you.
Establishing mentoring programs is just one way that businesses can help staff members to develop professionally. For more ideas, see Robert Half’s Workplace Research page. There, you can access a wide range of resources on topics ranging from how to maximize employee productivity to creating a leadership pipeline of millennial talent.
This piece was originally published in 2014 and has been updated to reflect more current information.