Mentoring - Is it Old Hat?
A recent article in Harvard Business Review put forward the notion that mentoring was ‘old hat’ - indeed it went so far as to say to forget about mentors. Just the title of the article was enough to get my fingers dancing along the keyboard with some thoughts.
So - is mentoring old hat? Is it a fad? Is the game over for mentoring?
Well personally - I think not!
Mentoring is not old hat—it’s been around a variety of forms since ancient Greece and will always be a integral part of our development—whether it be in the informal or formal settings. What is old hat is thinking that there’s only one way to be involved in mentoring and perhaps that is where the problem lies.
Over the past 5-10 years, there's been a big focus on formal mentoring programs, and sometimes, I think this focus has been at the detriment of growing the naturally occurring mentoring that happens in an organisation or as part of the network of an individual.
Often, formal mentoring programs are started with the best of intentions BUT ultimately the wrong drivers. What I mean by drivers is the impetus or reason for starting mentoring. Take this scenario:
Your organisation has some money left over for the financial year OR there is some funding available through a grant. Someone (with good intentions I might add) suggests that you implement a mentoring program while the funding is available. So - the 'driver' for the implementation of a formal mentoring program is the availability of money! Ultimately, when the money runs out very often so does the mentoring program. This leads to comments such as:
- 'Yeah - we gave mentoring a try - but it didn't really work for us.'
- 'We started the program but ran out of money so couldn't afford to put any resources to it.'
- 'We can only resource the program for this year - so can't commit to any ongoing activity.'
You get the picture huh?
These sorts of results only serve to dampen the enthusiasm of people towards mentoring and ultimately 'give' mentoring a bad rap (and hence 'fad status') - which then leads to the sorts of articles on the downfall of mentoring.
So what to do? Here's five key thoughts to consider as you discuss mentoring in your patch!
1. Before you leap into formal training for mentors - take stock of how mentoring is 'conducted' and perceived in your organisation. Get a feel for the tone of the organisation with respect to how people understand mentoring. If you like - a mini-survey or audit to begin with is a great way to get your finger on the pulse of how mentoring is perceived, understood and needed within your workplace. Ultimately for mentoring (that is formal mentoring) to 'stick' in your organisation there must be a clear demand or need for it (even if this demand/need is small to begin with).
2. Be prepared to walk away from conducting a formal mentoring program. You know - you don't have to have a formal mentoring program! Perhaps your needs are more about orientation buddies, better induction programs etc. Perhaps what you need is to be more supportive of the naturally occurring relationships in the workplace and provide opportunities for engagement and learning about how to enhance what is already happening naturally. For example - why not pop up some mentoring related literature or resources on your company intranet, provide some information/training to line managers about what's on offer, and communicate broadly about how the resources can help the organisation. You might find that a formal mentoring activity might come from firstly enhancing what is happening naturally.
3. Consider the variety of formats that mentoring could take in your organisation. Aside from whether it happens formally or informally, don't forget that mentoring is not just a 1:1 relationship anymore. With the advent of a more socially networked world, group mentoring can be a great way to provide additional developmental support for your team. For examples, consider new managers in their first management role. This can be daunting time for anyone with the transition from a senior technician to a manager. How about getting a small group of new managers together to be mentored by a senior manager in a group environment (eg. one mentor with multiple mentees - say 3-5 at the most). This is a great way for new managers to 'share the load', learn from others, gain confidence from individuals in the same 'boat', build their own management peer networks, and at the same time be guided by a senior manager who can role- model the leadership and management values of the organisation.
4. Be really clear about the position for mentoring with other developmental, training or management related activities. There's been so much literature about the differences between mentoring and coaching as if it's important to have a competition between the two activities. I think we all need to get over this topic! Both activities are developmental with one (coaching) is normally focussed more on the performance of an individual and one (mentoring) is normally focussed on the more general career and professional development. BUT - both help an individual to develop and grow. The more important aspect of this conversation is to ensure that mentoring, coaching, managing, training and counselling are seen as a suite of ways in which to develop, grow and support your team. All can be complimentary to one another NOT in competition with one another. So - do have the conversation as to how mentoring is positioned so that your team understand this. And - you'll then avoid mentees who say 'what have I done wrong to deserve a mentor?' (eg. this mentee thinks that having a mentor is some sort of punitive action!).
5. Remember that mentoring is not a profession or science. Over the past few years there has been a 'trend' towards making mentoring into (in my opinion) something that it is not. You don't need to hold a PhD or Masters in mentoring to be a mentor. This trend starts to make mentoring exclusive instead of inclusive. Now - don't misread me here. I'm a strong advocate of having certain criteria that individuals need to demonstrate to be a mentor eg. evidence of interest in developing others, sound communication skills, emotional and social intelligence etc. But we can't forget that essentially mentoring is about one (or a network) of people helping another person for the good of it! And, sometimes those people that you knock back from being in the mentor role may be just the person that one of your mentees needs. So as part of this aspect of your own mentoring conversation - think about being inclusive of mentoring rather than making it an exclusive role for only a few in your organisation.
So - is mentoring old hat? In short my answer is NO. What is old hat is doing things the same way and expecting different results. Before you dive into mentoring (or if you've already dived in - come up for some air) - take some serious time to mull over what mentoring could and would look like in your organisation. And for the sake of the 'reputation' of mentoring - err on starting small OR enhancing what is already happening and learning from this. It's about getting mentoring right for your workplace culture so that it enhances your team, contributes to your workplace, and ultimately helps your business outcomes.
I'd love to hear your questions and thoughts on this topic - so do email to email@example.com.
Yours in mentoring
Director & Founder