In today’s fast changing world, the traditional career ladder has been replaced by increasingly organic and fluid structures. A mentor and mentee learning approach helps employees learn fast. First let’s establish what a mentor and mentee relationship is first, then we’ll explore how to implement it in your business.

What is a mentor and mentee relationship? A mentor is an experienced person offering career guidance and support to a mentee. The mentee is a less experienced person – often one who’s new to the role or business. Guidance is commonly around goal setting, strategising, sharing knowledge and wisdom. Mentoring allows the mentee to learn from the mentor’s experience, taking advice as they encounter challenges towards their career goals.

If you’re not using a mentor and mentee framework of learning, then you may be missing out.

Our friends at McCarthy Mentoring, identify a number of benefits from using a mentoring system. These include:

  • In a 5 year study, with over 1000 companies, 25% of employees who went on a mentoring program, had a salary change. This was against only 5% that didn’t go on a mentoring program
  • Mentees are promoted 5 times more often than those that don’t take part
  • Retention rates were higher for mentors (20% more)  and mentees (22% more) than those that didn’t want to participate

The evidence points to the fact that people tend to be more engaged when their careers are taken seriously by the business and their managers. With engagement comes higher staff retention.

Mentor and Mentee – Benefits From a Leadership Perspective

If you’re leading a team, mentoring can help improve the following critical areas:

  • Teambuilding 
  • Developing people
  • Goal setting
  • Managing change

Each one of the above benefits from better communication, and collaboration. Besides, when people are actively adopting a mentor and mentee learning program, the business is a more personable place to work.. 

There are less barriers to communication and a sense that people really care about their people.

The Mentor can also learn from experience. By providing mentoring, they often develop their active listening skills, build deep relationships, and polish their coaching and questioning skills. 

Not to mention the satisfaction a mentor can get when they see their mentee develop and achieve their learning goals.

Tips to Create Better Mentoring in your Mentor and Mentee Framework

If you’re mentoring someone, try to preempt problems the mentee may have during the time you’re together. Think about how you will answer them now, before they pop up. These challenges can be divided into two areas:

  • Career issues
  • Confidence and self awareness issues

Career Issues

Some of the typical things that you may discuss are:

  • Whether the mentee’s vision and career objectives are relevant and viable – Are they achievable? Are they clear enough and can they be defined better – Think SMART objectives. Can you help steer them towards more achievable objectives? Or even break them down into manageable milestones?
  • How to transfer feedback of their general performance to their line manager’s appraisal – If you are not their line manager, but their mentor, discuss this with their line manager and the mentee together. Agree how you will feedback, in what format, and how often. If you are their manager, then speak directly with them to gain clarity and agreement.
  • What skills need to be learned in the short and medium term – This is a follow on from the first point. Break down goals into more manageable milestones. This allows you to set targets and track performance better. It will also allow you to agree the roadmap of support along the way.

Confidence and Self Awareness issues

  • How the mentee deals with frank and open feedback – Agree and confirm during the sessions that the mentoring programme is less about coaching on tasks, and more about coaching on development. In order to achieve this, it’s important to be open and honest. Tell them how you will provide feedback – what your style is and what to expect. Make it clear that negative feedback is a part of life and when it comes, we move on together.
  • Whether feedback is accurate or not and how to know – agree and reassure them of how you will give your feedback, based on your experience in similar situations. Provide objective discussions on what you see as well. Build trust.
  • How to deal with setbacks and failures during the learning curve – Discuss the process to take when the mentee hits a brick wall. Impart positive coaching and reinforcement. Don’t dwell on the negatives. Focus on what you learned and the silver linings. It will be your job to keep them going, so inspire them and help guide them through with positive questioning and stories from similar situations that you dealt with. 

Golden Rules of a Mentor and Mentee Program

As a mentor, always remain impartial. There’s no room for favouritism. Even if you dislike that person, you should always put your personal feelings aside. Never allow your views to dictate how you react. Work objectively and discuss what you see and hear. Being emotionally intelligent is a skill worth learning.

Focus on a clear goal – Without a goal, how can you achieve anything? With focus, comes clarity. This allows the mentor and mentee to identify what to work on in view of success and development.

For instance, if you’re mentoring someone leading an IT implementation, you may breakdown the mentoring milestones into the following:

  • Discovery stage – brainstorming and leading process mapping and team discussions
  • 1st implementation stage – implementing with a trial team and facilitating lessons learned
  • 2nd implementation stage – Roll out across the business
  • Lessons learned and wrap up stage – how to bring all lessons learned together

Tackling it in milestones, helps you address their needs in smaller, more targeted chunks.

Focus on advice – don’t rescue – Max Landsberg, a Director at Mckinsey, highlights that you should be the advisor not rescuer. If you catch a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day – teach him how to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.

This is true for mentoring. The mentor isn’t there to implement the answers. They are there to guide and challenge. By doing things for the mentee, you’ll be stuck in the rescuer mode, where no one is benefiting and the mentee can’t learn by doing.

Supporting Mentoring in Your Team

As a leader, here’s how to let a mentoring programme flow better:

  • If your reports are being mentored by other people, then you need to be respectful of that relationship.

Instead of asking to be informed of everything, be appreciative of the feedback you’re given. 

  • Don’t try to micromanage the mentor and mentee relationship. Accept that the mentee is your report and he or she is building a relationship that is meaningful to them.
  • Discuss career issues and ideas with your team members, but make them aware of the value of seeking a mentor outside of your silo. If they haven’t one already, encourage them to find a mentor. This can help give them a different perspective on challenges.
  • You can suggest topics that your report can explore with their mentors, but don’t be forceful. If they don’t want to do it, then that’s fine.
  • Emphasise the need for coaching and mentoring to building strengths, instead of focusing on weaknesses and gaps. Make it a positive thing for them to pursue. 
  • Hold a quarterly or six monthly review with your team to see how their mentoring is going.

Link the development plans of each individual with the opportunity for coaching and mentoring. Promote how both can be of benefit to them.

What are the Roles and Responsibilities of Mentors and Mentees? has a good piece on this. They highlight the guiding responsibilities for mentors and mentees. I’ve summarised the key points below:  

Mentee responsibilities

  • Identify what they want to achieve and where they’re going in their career
  • Define measures and milestones, so they can see if they are on track
  • Be open in feedback
  • Take an active role in their own learning
  • Schedule the conversations and stick to the appointments – be committed and a self starter
  • Follow through on commitments and promises. 

Mentor responsibilities

  • Be the advisor and coach: provide advice and guidance. Share experience and challenge their ideas and thinking
  • Be the cheerleader and champion: Encourage and support them. Push them to try new things and learn from mistakes. Encourage them to work outside of their comfort zone.
  • Provide resources and contacts to help them develop their skills. Encourage additional learning outside of the relationship
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: Provide honest and tough feedback. Try not to sugar coat and dilute a message to ambiguity. They need to hear focused and to the point feedback in a similar vein to the 1 minute manager style of communicating

In Conclusion

The mentor and mentee framework to learning helps engage a workforce. If you’re not doing it, then try to find simple ways of mentoring your team members. People generally feel more engaged when they are looked after at work. 

By taking an active interest in their careers, your employees should feel more committed to the cause.

Individuals can have a number of mentors, each helping in certain disciplines and fields. If you can help find a pool of mentors, then that is a great start. 

Use this article to define the framework your mentors and mentees will follow. 

Start small, though. If there is no mentoring program in place, adopt a mentoring approach where you can help develop your team to start with. Read the situational leadership model, to help develop your coaching and mentoring skills and begin to develop your team through reflection and guidance.