How to… Become a mentor

The mentoring process involves a more experienced individual helping another
to develop their capabilities and maximise their potential. Mentoring
relationships can be formal or informal. At its most informal, mentoring could
be an individual turning to someone senior they trust for guidance and advice.
A more formal arrangement could see an experienced manager assigned to a
particular person to help them develop to the next level. What ever form the
relationship takes, it requires commitment and trust.

Why is it important?

Mentoring is one of those processes that directly taps into the soft side of
the profession, but it is also a dynamic tool with proven business benefits.

From an organisational perspective, mentoring can be used as a key
recruitment and retention aid, to develop leadership talent, as well as improve
performance and productivity.

It can help individuals become more self-aware. It can also help them focus
on how any formal learning or training programme fits in with their career
goals. And it can help them feel more satisfied and fulfilled at work.

The reward for the mentor, who has imparted their valuable insight, is
increased job satisfaction – knowing their input is stretching and developing
future talent.

Can I be a mentor?

There is nothing to stop HR professionals being mentors, but it is also
their responsibility to identify and assign mentors in the organisation. A good
mentor needs a long list of skills and qualities: you need to care passionately
about the development of others and be self-aware. You must be a good listener,
and this means picking up on intent and feeling as well as on the content of
what the mentee says.

You also need to be trustworthy, impartial, motivational and non-manipulative,
and must behave with integrity. Everything you hear must be treated
confidentially, which may conflict with your corporate responsibilities. With
this in mind, it is best that you don’t both work in the same department.

An awareness of your own limitations is crucial, and you must avoid taking
charge and intervening on the mentee’s behalf.

Introducing a mentoring programme and achieving the right fit between the
partners can be tricky. As a mentor, you need to have a level of respect and
empathy with the mentee, and vice-versa. And they need to be completely at ease
discussing their performance with you.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the knowledge and accomplishments each
person brings to the relationship will be unique, and therefore you can’t
predict the path the relationship will take – or the outcome.

Taking responsibility

No matter how experienced, mentors shouldn’t start by tendering advice and
wisdom. Instead, listen to what your charge wants to achieve from the process:
what are their expectations and development needs, and how will they be met?

Once these goals are determined, the individual needs to visualise what that
job is going to feel like, what they have to do to build their strengths, and
identify what, if any, gaps they need to fill in their skills set. You can then
explore the options open to them and map out how they are going to achieve
those goals. This might include a secondment to gain the operational experience
they require, or specific training and development.

Susan Bloch, head of professional services for the leadership consulting
division of senior executive search firm Whitehead Mann, says: "A really
good mentor should be able to understand what the steps are that will take them
there and help guide that person." But she warns against the mentor
attempting to fulfil lost dreams, taking the credit for someone else’s success
and colluding with the mentee.

Establishing a framework

In terms of facilitating mentoring, HR has a pivotal role in drawing up a
programme. At a basic level, it is deciding the frequency of the meetings and
their duration. Should they take place off the premises to promote the
risk-free aspect, for instance?

Objectives and outcomes need to be drawn up with both parties taking
responsibility to make the process work, and these specifications will provide
a checklist to monitor and assess their progress.

Golden rules of mentoring

– Don’t take calls during a session

– Make sure your mobile is off

– Don’t cancel meetings at the last minute, and if it is unavoidable, don’t
make a habit of it

Where can I get more info?


Everyone Needs a Mentor (Developing Practice) by David Clutterbuck, CIPD,
£19.99, ISBN 0852929048

Websites The National Mentoring
Network exists to help promote mentoring in all its various guises, and this
site has a section dedicated to defining them

The course

The CIPD runs a one-day course – Mentoring in the Workplace. The next will
be held on 2 May 2003 in London. Cost: £410 plus VAT.

If you only do five things

1 Remember it takes a high level of commitment to be a good mentor

2 Avoid the impulse to take charge

3 Be candid and honest in your feedback

4 Know your limitations

5 Make sure there are proper measures, objectives and outcomes

Expert’s view: Susan Bloch on mentoring

Susan Bloch is head of professional services for the leadership consulting
division of senior executive search firm Whitehead Mann, and an acknowledged
expert in coaching and mentoring. Her new co-authored book, Complete
Leadership: A practical guide for developing your leadership talents, is
published on 31 March.

Is mentoring given enough priority by HR?

Most HR people would say that mentoring is really important. However, they
struggle to sell the benefits of mentoring to senior management as to why they
should spend their time mentoring others. Too often, HR has not thought through
which processes and systems might aid the mentoring programme, both formal and

Can you think of instances where HR has benefited from having a mentor?

HR professionals are notoriously bad at receiving or initiating a mentor for
themselves. However, I do know a few who have mentors and the benefits include
connecting to the business and line managers; understanding how they might be
more influential; increased self-confidence; and secondments into other parts
of the business.

What are the misconceptions of mentoring?

Mentors often believe their job is to ‘sort out’ their mentee’s life. With
the best intentions they tend to be directive – telling them what to do, and in
some instances arranging other jobs or positions in the company for the mentee
without the mentee taking accountability.

What are the most common reasons for its failure?

Mentoring fails when there is little empathy or chemistry between the mentor
and mentee.

Other negative reasons include one of the parties cancelling meetings, which
inevitably sends a message to the other party of how ‘important’ the mentoring
activity is. Also in some instances, if the mentor believes they get something
out of the discussions (for example, he got the job because of me…). If the
mentor isn’t credible in the eyes of the mentee, mentoring will be less

Training, communication and commitment are helpful in avoiding any of the

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