In this column, I’ll focus on the third person in the workplace mentoring scenario: the mentor. Though each person in the equation is important, companies look to their mentors to take on much of the everyday work of the program. The best mentors are motivated, persistent and passionate about passing along knowledge and career skills. As teachers, guides and role models, a mentor provides powerful building blocks to give a mentee a big jumpstart in their career.
Why Be a Mentor?
Workplace mentoring programs offer an opportunity for an experienced employee to share their skills and experience with a less experienced person in order to help them gain on-the-job skills and greater knowledge about their career. But what’s in it for a mentor?
Some of the personal and professional benefits of mentoring include:
- Financial: Because of the time commitment, the ways in which mentors are compensated may change. Mentors should earn at least as much as they were making prior to taking on the mentor role. There may be additional financial incentives based on the mentoring program’s performance.
- Professional: Mentors will be recognized by managers, mentees and fellow employees as experts and leaders. Honing these leadership and communication skills can lead to future opportunities for those willing to step into mentoring roles.
- Personal: Mentors create a legacy for the future by helping to develop a mentee’s career. In turn, mentors often build long-term professional relationships with those they mentor.
Successful Mentors Are …
Along with excellent work-related skills and experience, mentors need to bring other important qualities to this role. Successful mentors:
- Commit time and energy to the mentoring relationship.
- Share knowledge generously, including technical experience and other soft skills, such as professionalism, customer service and problem-solving.
- Look for their mentees’ strengths, believe in their capabilities, help them build on these and train them for long-term success.
- Share professional growth experiences as well as professional failures. Mentees can learn from both!
- Model best practices for work and safety.
- Manage disappointments or setbacks.
Because mentors work in the company and train the mentee at the same time, they should be prepared to take on many new responsibilities. With the help of the mentoring program manager, the company should build in accommodations for the time this role can take from the mentor’s typical work pace and productivity.
For example, mentors assess their mentees’ task achievement daily, and they need to share this information with the program manager regularly. Mentors can expect to have meetings with the program manager and mentee to discuss progress, challenges and resources needed to create a successful program. In the first two to four weeks of the program, mentors meet several times a week with the program manager and mentee. Once the team is working well together, mentors can scale back the number of weekly meetings.
Also, mentors need to be flexible. They should be ready to adapt the action plan and task list so it works for the unique qualities and experience of the team.
Mentors need to make sure that hands-on learning activities are challenging but achievable. Mentors should provide realistic, attainable goals. Despite the challenges, mentors should not give in to the temptation to give mentees “busy work” so they can focus on their own jobs. For example, it’s important to keep the shop and work area clean. But the mentee’s job is not merely to “sweep the floor.” The mentor needs to convey that these types of responsibilities are a necessary part of the job, but these tasks should be presented in a way that ties into real-world experience and learning opportunities.
Making it Count
Early in the process (ideally on the first day), the mentor will sit down with the program manager and the mentee to hit the ground running. Among other things, this meeting will include:
- An overview of the mentoring program, expectations for the program and each participant’s role and other essential information
- A review of the action plan, goals and some of the initial task lists
- Introductions and a discussion of the importance of respect and communication in the mentor and mentee relationship
- And don’t forget about safety! You do not want your mentoring program to start with an injury, so begin with proper safety training.
The mentor’s goal is to provide mentees with the basic knowledge and techniques that will allow them to perform tasks, first with assistance and then ultimately as an independent employee. But this takes time. Mentors are most successful when they exhibit patience and encouragement, and model good workplace practices.
S/P2 is piloting a comprehensive online mentoring program specifically for the automotive industry. Contact S/P2 for details.