Dear Aunty B,
My young staff have suggested at a staff meeting that we introduce a mentoring program. Senior managers were non-committal but told me afterwards that they are far too busy meeting targets to be part of a mentoring program.
Do I need a formal mentoring program, and what are the attributes of a good mentor?
Why would you scrap the idea because of grumpy old managers? And stop talking formal programs, because young people don’t want formal systems either.
Start talking to the people who make natural mentors (see below) about how easy it is to mentor.
Point out that basically, mentoring is about giving younger people constructive feedback from a senior manager who is interested in their career, who follows their work and knows their interests and long term goals.
The young staff should also be encouraged to seek out mentors; people further up the food chain with whom they feel a natural affinity.
Lastly I would announce at the next staff meeting that there is an informal, voluntary mentoring program. (However participation is looked upon favourably in performance reviews.)
As for what makes a good mentor:
The latest Harvard Business Review (January edition) says interviewees say a good mentor:
- Is someone absolutely credible whose integrity transcends the message, be it positive or negative.
- Tells you things you may not want to hear but leaves you feeling you have been heard.
- Interacts with you in a way that makes you want to become better.
- Makes you feel secure enough to take risks.
- Gives you the confidence to rise above your inner doubts and fears.
- Supports your attempts to set stretch goals for yourself.
- Presents opportunities and highlights challenges you might not have seen as your own.
It also recommends writing down the characteristics of your own best mentor.
Not all managers want to participate or know how to – but point out that they have great skills with clients; why not apply those to dealing with younger staff.
And there are also huge benefits. Those who are being mentored will often enthusiastically work for mentors on special projects.