A successful career involves constant self-improvement and development. Along the way, it’s easy to feel lost, unsure, or out of your depth. This is why mentoring is so important: having someone neutral to turn to and bounce ideas off can give us the confidence to realise our true potential.
To celebrate National Mentoring Day, I caught up with some of our own mentors and mentees to discuss what this process means to them.
What does being a mentor involve?
Mentors are typically senior employees with sufficient experience and expertise in a role to offer reliable advice and insights. For Nigel Sadler, Global Partner Manager at People First, there’s more to mentoring than passing on information:
“Mentoring for me involves a monthly informal meeting where we can discuss career goals. I then align elements such as training, including soft skills. I also advise on a personal level; if there have been any difficult events in the month, we will talk them through and analyse how they were or weren’t dealt with to make a positive experience next time.”
This is essentially a human process; a chance for the mentee to confide in their mentor and connect on a human level, as Andy Hames, Vice President for North America, points out:
“For me, being a mentor involves making time for an individual, on average once a month or when needed, where they can have a real conversation, talking freely and in confidence, and where I can listen and try to provide guidance or help where I can.”
According to Andy, the point is not for the mentor to tell the mentee what to do, but rather to guide them in the direction that is right for them:
“I don’t believe it’s about giving people all the answers; it’s about helping them think through and arrive at their own answers by providing a different perspective and exploring other ideas.”
What skills does a good mentor need?
For this dynamic to work, it is critical that the right type of people become mentors. Being successful in business is not enough to qualify someone as an appropriate mentor; they must also have excellent people skills and a real desire to nurture the next generation of talent.
Andy says: “The biggest thing is listening. Finding a way to talk to who you are mentoring in their terms, having a good memory and spotting patterns helps too – you can often have a conversation where something that was discussed months ago may be relevant to what you are discussing currently.”
Mentors are trusted by the organisation to positively influence and guide the leaders of tomorrow. For the right kind of person, this can be a hugely rewarding process.
Nigel adds: “I’ve learned that I can make a difference to someone else’s life. I really enjoy doing it, as each time I can see the progress we have made. This also enables the business to grow otherwise non-identified leaders.”
For Paul Sandey, Commercial Marketing Manager, trust and openness are central to a successful mentoring partnership:
“The ability to build trust quickly with someone really helps deliver a better result. Listening skills are vital as well. Often, the route to success for your mentee comes through lots of conversation and investigation.”
What does the mentee get out of the relationship?
From the mentee’s side, this dynamic allows them to tap into a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and provides a go-to person to bounce ideas off around their progress and future goals, as Becca Morrell, part of the graduate programme, has found out:
“Having a mentor gives me time to reflect on what is going on in addition to my day-to-day work tasks, and allows me to focus on the bigger picture of what I want to achieve in my work life. It also allows me to receive advice and another viewpoint on matters that I would normally keep to myself.”
James Coates, Customer Relationship Associate, went into the process without knowing what to expect, but has been delighted with the results:
“We had some truly thought-provoking conversations, discussing all sorts from personality types and traits to managing your internal network. I would note down events that took place and reflect on them in the mentoring sessions, which allowed me to process what went well, or why frustrations occurred. Most importantly, it was great to know that there was someone in the organisation I could reach out to who wouldn’t judge me and was there to help.”
How important is mentoring to professional development?
Mentoring should be seen as an essential part of an individual’s development. The positive impact of a good mentor cannot be underestimated, and can have a strong influence on the mentees career choices and self-confidence, as Natasha Begdeli, Associate Service Manager, points out:
“My mentor has assessed my skills and suggested areas of the business which could be a potential career drive for me. Each session we would look at how my skills can be applied to different areas of the business and then discussed ways in which I can put steps in place to get the ball rolling. Without my mentor, I would not have thought about some of the areas in the business where my career may be able to take me. Since being on the mentoring programme, I have been promoted into the Service Management team.”
The chance to have constructive conversations around future goals and plans can lead to new opportunities, and gives the mentee the confidence to realise their professional ambitions. Laura Cottam, who started out on the graduate programme before becoming a Product Engineer, found that mentoring helped push her career to the next level:
“It’s been really useful in helping me work out what I wanted to do next, what suited my skill set and I’ve ended up in a job that I really enjoy guided by the advice of my mentors who both work in the same area of the business and could give me a clear picture of what to expect. Since starting, my mentor, Hannah, has given me lots of hints and tips as well as inviting me to speak alongside her at a ‘Women in STEM’ conference, all of which has helped me to grow in confidence in my new role and also develop personally.”
Beyond opening doors and broadening horizons, mentoring helps develop valuable new skills that can then be applied to other areas of work and private life. For James Coates, a new level of self-awareness was one of the biggest takeaways:
“Spending time to reflect on situations allowed me to develop my emotional intelligence, which I think is key to success in any role. Understanding how others work and can perceive things makes you more aware of your own actions and how they can impact others. As a result, your responses to situations become more thoughtful and well-balanced. This hasn’t only impacted my career but has also filtered through into my personal life. I feel much happier as a result.”
It is important to point out that mentoring doesn’t just benefit the mentee; it also aids the mentor’s personal development. For Hannah Jeacock, Research Director, the human aspect of the mentoring process has helped her develop and grow as a people manager:
“I think it challenges you in a different way to normal management so that you become a better manager. Because you don’t manage their day-to-day work, you instead look after the person themselves.”
What about the benefits for the organisation?
Mentoring may be a human process, but the benefits stretch far beyond personal development. From a business perspective, knowledge and expertise are key resources. For a business to be successful, these resources need to be made available to others, rather than concentrated in the hands of a few.
The mentoring process is designed to break down knowledge silos, allowing those starting out in their careers to tap into the wealth of expertise of senior staff. This ensures that knowledge and experience flows down from those that have it, to those that need it.
Andy says: “I have the opportunity to share my experiences that may be relevant to what we are discussing, with the hope that they can draw some thoughts or ideas from them – both my mistakes and achievements! So for the individual and the organization, I believe there is the benefit of expediting some learning.”
Mentoring also plays a key role in nurturing the leaders of tomorrow, ensuring a steady flow of able successors to key positions. According to Nigel, today’s mentees will be perfectly placed to pass on their knowledge to others:
“There are so many good people in the business, and mentoring encourages them to meet their potential, which in turn brings out otherwise unknown successors to today’s team. I am also able to advise on possible career paths as I have had so many different roles within the business. Ultimately, I would like Natasha to be a future mentor.”