Wulston Alderman FCILT explains why having a Mentor can help you accelerate your own career and personal goals and help you achieve far more than you might on your own.

Let’s first have a look at what has changed in the last 12 months. The economy has faltered, and we all have to face many more challenges than ever before. Reduced resources mean increased workloads. The need to be more economic, efficient and effective brings with it additional pressures. This can and does impact hugely on our time. For many that means extended working hours and additional responsibility. This can all take its toll and we get overwhelmed with the day to day work.

In light of the UK Governments Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the task ahead may appear to be even harder than before.

Having the opportunity to “clear some space” just to reflect on what we are doing and how we can approach it from a different perspective is often difficult to do. Having a sounding board to explore ideas, develop solutions or to discuss how to handle an issue can make a huge difference.

What I will cover in this article is briefly the definition of Mentoring, and then proceed on to look at the different types of Mentor relationships. I will talk about the different methods of communication, the frequency and some of the common processes used.

Identifying what makes a good Mentor will be discussed as well as looking at the benefits for both the Mentor and Mentee. The relationship is not without risk so we will also cover some of the potential pitfalls. Mentoring is not for everyone, so I’ll describe some examples where it may be appropriate. Finally I will share a brief case study demonstrating the Mentoring process in action and the outcomes.

A definition of Mentoring?
There are a lots of discussions around what Mentoring is and isn’t. I’ll bypass this topic as it is a whole discussion on its own, and use two of the most relevant definitions to this article.

Mentoring allows “the transmission of knowledge, skills and experience, in a supportive and safe and challenging environment ” according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) definition of Mentoring is “the deliberate pairing of a skilled and experienced member (the Mentor) with another member (the Mentee) with the agreed goal of the professional development of the Mentee”.

Types of relationships
There are different types of mentoring relationships, ranging from upwards (your manager or boss, although this is very infrequent), peer to peer, cross functional and most commonly downwards.

Mentors can be from inside your own organisation be it directly from your department or function, or from another business unit. There are also Mentor/ Coaches available from within some Professional Institutions (for example the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport UK, and the Institute of Leadership and Management.) Other accredited Mentors/ Coaches are available externally.

How to communicate?
There are a number of ways to communicate during the relationship. Any of these can be stand alone, or blended depending on the mutual agreement of the pair.

Face to face: traditionally for an in-house relationship, or where the Mentor is located near to the mentee. In some cases either party may be prepared to travel, however the costs of doing so should be agreed in setting up the agreement.

Telephone: this is a very much underrated approach which allows the Mentor to focus on what is being said and how it is being said. More importantly it is often what “is not” being said that reveals the most. Without the body language the Mentor can tune in and focus on the speed, diction and emphasis of what is being communicated.

Electronically: by the use of email in a regular exchange. Again depending on where the Mentor and Mentee are located, email exchange may be the most effective form of communicating. The Mentor can absorb the communication, ask well formed questions and also respond to requests from the Mentee.

Skype: this way of communicating is becoming ever more popular with Mentors and Coaches alike. It allows for voice and video communication, and is available at little or no cost. It is a much more flexible platform than the traditional face to face. This is particularly relevant where distance or time zones have an impact.

Which way you choose to communicate is not critical as long as it works for both parties. Some will be more comfortable with face to face whereas others will be just as willing to communicate via Skype.

How often?
It is argued that a “one off” session may help bring some clarity to a particular topic or situation, but to achieve lasting change and progress a number of sessions are advised. These might be quite close together in the beginning to define goals and set out strategies (perhaps once a week) leading to a longer frequency such as monthly meetings to review and monitor progress. The CILT Mentoring Programme recommends an initial one year relationship.

The Process
The Mentoring process is one of continued review and feedback, a typical example is shown below
 First meeting – build relationship, establish boundaries
 Mentor/Mentee agreement on goals and objectives - face to face or electronically
 Continued Mentor/Mentee contact – face to face or electronically
 Review – assess progress/ review

Who makes a good Mentor?
When deciding on a suitable Mentor or Coach you need to ensure that they are suitably qualified. This can be both vocationally in the area they have worked, as well as possessing the relevant level of Mentor/ Coach training. They will need to have amongst others the following skills and abilities;
• Listening
• Questioning
• Empathy
• Non judgemental
• Giving feedback

The CILT has its own panel of trained Mentors who are available to the membership. There are also online directories for Coaches and Mentors that you can also approach independently with various experience and costs.

You may want to interview or meet a number of Mentor/ Coaches to see which ones you feel that you are able to work with before committing yourself. In the case of the CILT’s Mentoring Programme details can be made available to you on all available Mentors to review.

What type of Mentor you would like depends largely on your own preferences. Some may favour a Mentor from their own particular sector with expert detailed knowledge; others prefer to opt for a Mentor from a completely different sector who can help bring a breadth of knowledge and thinking to the relationship. Regardless of which type you choose, establishing a good rapport will enhance the mentoring relationship.

What’s in it for the Mentor?
If the purpose of the Mentor is to support the development of the Mentee you may ask what the benefits are. They are briefly summarised as follows;
• Develop your interpersonal skills
• Satisfaction of enabling others
• Become a skilled Coach
• Transfer of knowledge
• Extend you network

What does the Mentee get out of it?
Apart from achieving their professional and personal goals the Mentee can also benefit from the following;
• A safe environment in which to think
• Introduction to alternative perspectives
• Improved networking within the membership
• Learn how to set goals and objectives
• Be accountable for own development
• Accelerates their learning and achievement

Who is Mentoring for?
Mentoring is for anyone who is committed to taking action and recognises that they might need a little help. Another prerequisite is that they are prepared to be accountable for their own development. While a Mentor can help them along the way, final accountability rests with them. Some typical examples are below, but this is not an exhaustive list.
• Newly promoted
• Additional workload
• New ways of working
• Subject to massive organisational change
• Planning to change job/ career
• Looking to improve performance in current role

What are the pitfalls?
It needs to be emphasised that the relationship is not effortless. While participating in such a relationship, there may be situations that arise that will make progress difficult.

Firstly the Mentee needs to be accountable for their plans and actions. When progress is slow or things simply do not happen, there can be frustration between both parties.

Often in the early sessions there may be a failure to build rapport, in this case then a “no fault” conclusion needs to be reached and then look for another suitable pairing.

Other things to look out for are over-dependency of the Mentee who is not able to move on, the Mentor may also become dependant on the Mentee. Both parties need to be aware of this and recognise it if it happens.

Such a relationship is built on trust and it is the duty of both parties to ensure confidentiality is respected on both sides. Lack of trust and rapport are the most common reasons why the relationship is not successful.

Case Study
Dave was promoted within his organisation to Value for Money Officer, responsible for procurement and project management. In particular the procurement programme he was tasked with was targeting some significant savings. New to the role Dave was relatively inexperienced and was trying to learn on the job. He was paired up with a Mentor who helped him set realistic goals and objectives. Between them they also worked through identifying gaps in Dave’s skills and knowledge and then put a structured development plan together to address these.

Dave met with his Mentor on a monthly basis, where progress was reviewed, and where things went well discussed how that could be transferred to other areas of his work. Where things went not so well, they had space to explore how to improve, or do things differently.

At the end of the relationship Dave has exceeded his line manager’s expectations regarding the amount of procurement activities he had completed and the outcome was that the savings were more than 3 times than that anticipated. He had also reached a position of competence in his organisation within 15 months, which the previous Value for Money Officer had not achieved in 4 years. This clearly demonstrates there are multiple benefits to be gained from the relationship.

I have defined what Mentoring is, and the different types of mentoring relationships that are possible. There are different ways of communicating, and a blended approach should cover most restrictions to individual’s geographic location and time constraints.

In order to build a lasting change and continued progress, an initial one year relationship is recommended with the first meetings close together, moving to a more spaced frequency. The process has been described as having regular contact and continually reviewing and assessing progress, or lack of it.

A suitable Mentor/ Coach needs to be qualified and have some key skills and abilities. Mentors are available through the CILT Mentoring Programme or alternatively available through other professional bodies or externally.

There are clear benefits for both the Mentor and Mentee and it is not just a one way process. However Mentoring is not for everyone. Before someone embarks on a relationship they should be quite clear about being accountable for their own development. Some typical situations when Mentoring is relevant is when newly promoted, or experiencing massive organisational change.

Finally there are some pitfalls, which if identified early can be avoided so that the maximum benefit can be gained from the relationship. This needs to be handled between both parties.

The case study highlights when Mentoring can work and what the real benefits are from the relationship. In doing so I trust that I have been able to demonstrate why Mentoring works.

Author's Bio: 

Wulston Alderman FCILT
Founder: Life & Corporate Coaching
Wulston works with clients to improve their business performance, in particular the areas on supply chain and procurement, both in the public and private sector.

He is a qualified Practitioner Coach, and CILT Mentor. He is currently Mentoring individuals in the CILT Mentoring Programme.

Tel: 0779 2045246, Email: wulston@lifeandcorporatecoaching.co.uk
For free copies of 4 special coaching reports, www.whycoachingworks/wulstonalderman