The Basics of Mentoring

Using mentoring in your organisation

Mentoring is often clouded in mystery and regularly placed in the workplace ‘too hard basket.’

Essentially it’s a one-to-one relationship between a more experienced and a less experienced employee which is based upon encouragement, constructive comments, openness, mutual trust, respect and a willingness to learn and share.

A mentor is seen as a “wise guide” who doesn’t have to be an expert in the field of interest, but is able to ask useful questions that help the mentee explore their situation.  It is more about asking the right questions, rather than giving the right answers.

Mentoring helps the mentee approach situations with confidence, having talked through the various options and possible consequences.

Formal mentoring is a planned activity that focuses on specific challenges facing the mentee and the setting of goals to address them.  It needs an allocation of time and commitment from all parties (including the employer) to support the mentoring relationship.
Mentoring must be voluntary to ensure that participants are committed to the mentoring process.  Either party should feel free to withdraw from the program at any time.

Mentor/Mentee relationships
Mentoring can only be based on a supportive relationship.  Without a common understanding of that relationship, any mentoring involvement will not succeed.

A successful mentoring relationship is based on:

  • Mutual trust and respect
  • Willingness to learn and share knowledge
  • Openness and supportiveness
  • Constructive feedback

Established relationships may not exist in a formal mentoring program.  Mentors from outside the mentee’s usual network may be needed to meet the learning objectives of the mentee.

Time and effort must be spent to identify a mentor that will meet the needs of the mentee and to establish a mutually rewarding relationship at the beginning of the mentoring association.

The benefits of mentoring

Mentees will benefit from:

  • The structured approach to planning and reflection for learning
  • Access to a “sounding board” to try out new concepts and ideas.
  • A supportive environment where they are encouraged to take risks and learn constructively from failure

…leading to

  • More knowledge and skills in a particular area of interest
  • Increased confidence in undertaking their daily work
  • Understanding the responsibility for their own learning

Mentors will benefit from:

  • The satisfaction of helping another person grow and further develop by sharing their knowledge and skills
  • Being challenged to think about their perspectives and viewpoints
  • The challenge of having to explain often complex principles which then improves their own understanding

…leading to the

  • Honing their own professional skills
  • Recognition and respect for their knowledge

The organisation will benefit from:

  • ‘On the job’ learning of skills and knowledge for staff
  • Expanded support networks for employees and the organisation
  • Staff with increased communication skills and able to effectively talk through and analyse problems

…leading to

  • Improved delivery of services through better informed and skilled staff
  • Increased staff satisfaction.

Management commitment
For any formal mentoring program to work, there must be visible support and endorsement by the organisation’s management, including an allocation of time for mentoring within staff work-plans

Managers play an active role in promoting the program and giving the mentoring program credibility and value.

The mentoring process
Successful mentoring programs have:
1.    A clearly defined purpose
2.    A clear set of expectations from the mentor and mentee, that are clearly understood by both parties
3.    An agreement (and commitment) to the frequency and duration of mentoring interactions
4.    Agreement on when the relationship will end.

The mentee should have clear goals that they want to achieve from a mentoring program.  This should include areas in which they want to grow and develop.  They should be as specific as possible.  This will help them find a mentor, or assist the organisation in finding and matching them with a mentor.  It will also help the mentor understand the needs of the mentee better.

Steps involved
1.    Mentors and mentees meet face-to-face and formalise their relationship by completing a mentoring agreement
2.    Mentors and mentees continue to meet and work together on a mutual learning journey.
3.    Midway through the mentoring time frame, both parties should review their progress and satisfaction.


PS – want more detail? Download a copy of the Mentoring Guide that I developed for the Western Australian State NRM Office

PPS- the more you reflect on this article, the more you’ll get excited about having access to practical information that you can apply to help you manage workplace relationships.  Make sure you subscribe to my newsletter – you can also download a copy of the current newsletter right now!

PPPS – be warned – this ain’t no ordinary newsletter! Don’t expect it to be super-duper politically correct and slickly produced – but you can expect it to be full of information that you can apply!

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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