Lessons learned from mentoring
A good match produces the best results
Many companies have mentoring schemes in place and, if used to their best advantage they can be a 'win-win' for both the mentee and mentor - not to mention the company itself.
But mentoring has to be about more than just helping a less experienced colleague or a role you take on because it is expected of you. You have to want to do it and recognise that at the heart of the process is a means for you to give back some of your knowledge and help someone avoid the pitfalls and the mistakes you've learned the hard way.
In my experience the relation between mentor and mentee has to be based around trust and self-development, so both parties can benefit. If the relationship and setting are right, over the short-term mentees get useful advice to help them in their day to day job and, over the mid-term, support and direction to help with their ongoing career development.
However, although their intentions are good, not all companies get it right. I've also seen the process from both sides, in fact it was having been a mentee in an earlier stage of my career that made me consider becoming a mentor in the hope that I could improve the experience of others. I have previously worked in companies that adopted mentorship or 'buddy' support systems and often the matching process did not consider whether the personalities involved were a good match. Participation in the scheme was expected, rather than voluntary, and consequently the results were not always as impactful as they could have been.
It's fundamental to allow both parties a certain level of flexibility when it comes to choosing the person they consider to be most appropriate to work with – and then allow them to tailor the relationship to meet their needs and progress at a pace that suits them. Mentees won't necessarily be looking for someone in a position where they see themselves in the future, indeed, many senior managers choose to change career paths as they progress. Instead it's your accumulated experience they should consider.
How you can help
The chances are that those seeking a mentor have no clear idea of where they want to be in their future career. Trying to create a career map at this stage is more like drawing a street map, with streets, traffic lights and signposts that won't actually get them from A to B. In any case, most of us tend not to have a map, but more of a compass with an idea of the direction in which we want our careers to go.
As a mentor you should help your charge to create their own development plan, giving them a sense of where they might want to go based on their strengths and weaknesses and the competitive advantages they might need to develop or leverage to get there. This shouldn't be too prescriptive in approach, it needs to be flexible enough to help them change career direction if need be. The role could be likened to lighting their way, without feeling like you have to give them all the answers - ultimately it's up to the mentee to shape his or her future according to their own personality and expectations.
But as a mentor you can advise and help someone work out what the next steps in their career should be and how to get there, working out which areas they might need to develop and how to best use specific strengths – one area of advice that can be invaluable is how to use their skills best to handle the kinds of difficult situations they might come up against.
Whether your mentee is from your company, or someone that found you through an external recommendation, it's best to meet with them first so you can both establish if there is a good fit. How often a mentor should see a mentee varies from person to person and depends on the level of feedback required. However, I would recommend that you commit to meet face-to-face once every three to six months to ensure the momentum and value from the relationship is maintained.
At a previous company I was part of a wider company mentorship scheme, but there was little choice and flexibility as to who mentors were partnered with, reducing the scheme's effectiveness. At Astellas, being a mentor wasn't something I planned to do but, having been approached by someone looking for advice, it developed over time into a solid mentorship relationship - one from which we have both benefited.
Alberto Rinon-Caballero is brand director, urology at Astellas Pharma Europe