What does it take to create a successful mentoring relationship? A mentor and a mentee enter into a mentoring relationship hoping for success, but that doesn’t always happen. Why do some mentoring relationships thrive and others wither? Running the HRPA – Halton Chapter Mentoring Program for the past four years, and asking for feedback after each program session, revealed that successful mentoring relationships share several common characteristics.
Mentoring is a relationship where, typically, a more experienced HR professional (the mentor) supports a less experienced HR professional (the mentee) in developing or enhancing specific skills, knowledge and attributes that will help the mentee’s career and personal growth. Mentoring is not a job search program, although discussion about career path may come up. Based on feedback received from mentors, the best relationships involve mentees who are positive about gaining knowledge with a focus on career advancement versus mentees who are desperate to get out of their current positions and are expecting their mentors to act as job-search coaches.
Eyes wide open.
Both mentor and mentee should realize that it takes work and commitment to create a successful relationship. Those who enter into a mentoring relationship with an eyes wide open approach realize that it will take work to create a successful mentoring relationship.
Setting goals is important. What do you want to accomplish in the relationship? How will you know if you get there? Can you identify what you learned in the relationship? If goals are not established, time and resources are wasted. Setting specific goals results in mentoring success.
Spend quality time together.
Set regular meetings times, but be flexible. Face-to-face meetings tend to solidify the relationship. Pick a time that is convenient to both of you. Round out communication and follow-up with phone calls, emails, or Skype. The mentors and mentees in the most successful relationships communicated frequently and met in-person regularly.
Be prepared for each meeting.
Similar to setting goals for the relationship, the mentee should come prepared with what they need so the meeting is targeted and productive. Being focused and prepared results in meaningful mentoring meetings. Lack of preparation resulted in meetings that were not productive and could actually become cause for friction and frustration.
Take the initiative.
It is up to the mentee to reach out to the mentor. Yet often it is the mentor who reaches out to set up the first meeting and to run future meetings. Mentees sign up for the program for professional growth and to have access to support from a professional outside their existing company. Mentees who take the initiative had the best results from the mentoring partnership.
Don’t expect to be told what to do.
The best mentor does not tell the mentee what to do. A mentor helps develop the decision-making skills of the mentee using a coaching and helping focus. A mentor asks questions to guide the mentee to make a decision. Why? Because the mentee then owns the decision and there will be no finger-pointing and blaming – “But you told me to do / say / write and it is your fault it didn’t work out.” Mentors who guide decision-making and mentees who don’t expect to be told what to do, have the best relationships.
Share information, networks, and experience.
Share articles, links, and information that will help achieve desired results. Give access to professional networks to help resolve situations. Help by sharing what has worked in the past. Mentoring pairs who realize that sharing goes both ways have successful mentoring results.
Learning goes both ways.
Mentees learn from their mentors. But by mentoring, mentors also learn to think outside what they might be doing every day. Teaching and coaching a mentee reinforces best practices, and enhances coaching skills and knowledge about different industries and work environments. Mentors often report that coaching mentees, who are passionately starting out in HR careers, brings energy and passion back to their own work. Pairs that acknowledge and learn from each are most successful.
This is a volunteer relationship. Be professional and respectful to each other. Return phone calls and emails, and arrive on time for meetings. When accessing shared professional networks be courteous and don’t abuse the privilege. Respectful relationships lead to successful mentoring relationships.
Realize that not all mentoring partnerships will work out. If the fit isn’t there after the first couple of meetings, take the high road and tell the person respectfully that the relationship isn’t working as expected. Sometimes the situation can be turned around after a frank discussion about expectations, but sometimes the fit just isn’t right. If that is the case, don’t be tempted to solve the issue by avoidance behaviours such as not returning phone calls or emails. Professionally ending a mentoring relationship that isn’t a good fit, allows both to move on to relationships that will thrive.
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” Kenneth Blanchard
Mentoring relationships benefit both the mentor and the mentee. It takes commitment and energy to be successful but it is worthwhile and fulfilling for both parties. If you are interested, check out the mentoring program at HRPA. Most chapters have a program. Get involved and give back to your profession by mentoring an HR professional in your local chapter.
Joanne Royce helps create happy, healthy and productive workplaces that result in engaged people and successful businesses. She provides HR and training support to organizations who believe in the power of people. She is completing her four-year term as a volunteer board member with the HRPA Halton Chapter, and recently accepted a board position with STRIDE, a Halton-based organization whose primary purpose is to serve the employment needs of individuals facing mental health and addiction issues.