10 Keys for Effective Mentoring

mentoring meeting
Many thanks to Bjorn Wagner for suggesting this topic.
Mentoring is a wonderful way to
  • prepare team members for new, expanded roles
  • demonstrate your commitment to team members (even those who don’t participate)
  • and, for the mentors, to give back from their knowledge and experience

For today, I will gloss over the challenge of matching mentees with mentors (let me know if you want me to cover that aspect in a future post)–and focus on how to make the mentoring relationship work.

  • Define goals. Some mentorship have technical goals (e.g. learn to debug code, learn to create a budget) while others have soft skills goals (e.g., learn to take the lead in technical discussions, learn to interact with executives)–or both. In any case it’s useful to articulate goals, as precisely as possible. Defining goals is a joint exercise between the mentor and the mentee. Mentors usually have a grasp of what the mentees need to learn, but they may fail to properly analyze each component of the skill, or appreciate what the mentees already know.
  • Focus on long-term goals rather than short-term, day-job issues. Mentorship can include tactical problem solving but the real power is long-term development.
  • Prioritize the goals. Some goals may be prerequisites to others, and in any case tackle only a handful at a time. I like to pair relatively easy ones with hard ones to get mentees to experience some level of success early on.
  • Build trust. The big challenges in a mentoring relationship are (1) getting the mentee to be vulnerable with the mentor and (2) getting the mentor to really, really understand how the mentee learns and develops. This takes time. The goal setting exercise is an opportunity to start building some trust.
  • Meet regularly. Everyone is busy but I like to see a monthly schedule. It could be a short meeting but aim for regular, planned contacts. This is in addition to the mentee being able to reach out in Slack or email when needed.
  • Allow the mentee to observe the mentor in action.  This is especially important for soft skills items that are hard to teach formally. For instance, attend a meeting with customers where the mentor presents a solution. Debrief afterwards on what the mentee observed and allow the mentee to ask questions.
  • Make room for practice. Mentors can offer guidance and demonstrate skills but the proof is in the doing: give the mentees a chance to practice, whether supervised or on their own.
  • Check progress at each meeting, and set new goals.
  • Conduct reflective exercises. Every 2-3 months,  talk about what’s working and what could be better. Start with positive comments and be as precise as possible (as is, not “I love our sessions” but “I like the fact that I can bring up issues without judgement”). Both parties get to give feedback.
  • Be open to break up. It’s ok to get stuck once in a while, but if the mentee is not progressing or the mentor is not a good fit, terminate the relationship. It’s got to work for both the mentee and the mentor.

Are you mentoring or have you been mentored? What would you add to this list?

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