Like most things in life, mentoring has a beginning, middle, and end. While this may be stating the obvious, it’s important to note that a mentoring relationship has a deliberate life cycle. It usually isn’t something that just happens in some accidental way. In a strong mentoring relationship everything has a purpose. There is a pattern and that pattern usually involves the following four elements.
The right people coming together to collaborate in the mentoring process is essential. There should be some chemistry between the mentor and the mentee. Sometimes management pairs new employees with more experienced employees as a means of orientation. This is more of a training program with some elements of mentoring. Other companies have organised mentoring programs that bring two employees together based on experiences and professional interests. When there is no formal program, usually the mentee searches out a mentor on his own. Putting two people together for growth is not something to take lightly. A mentoring program does not want to put two people together only to discover their personalities clash. A mismatch can potentially do more harm than good. So, time is important when choosing a mentor. Two people should get to know each other before they commit to a mentoring relationship. Only after they discover there is mutual respect and that they can work together should they try it. However, when they do find those qualities, great things can happen.
Creating a Contract
In a business setting, this can be a formal or informal agreement. Some people like to write out the goals in a formal contract. Some are fine just keeping the goals in mind. Either way, both parties should have a clear picture of the purpose of the mentoring relationship. Goals should be concrete and specific enough so progress can be evaluated regularly. Expectations of what each brings to the table at every meeting should be clear. Some contracts are open-ended adding goals as needed. Others are more finite, and the pair decides as part of the contract that the mentorship ends after specific goals are met. The whole point of the contract is to focus the work to make best use of the time.
The team should schedule meetings, and they should be a priority. Missed meetings suggest a problem with the process. Part of a mentoring contract might include how often the team meets and under what conditions. These meetings should include some opportunity to debrief the mentee on her progress and then set up challenges for her future progress. Teaching, problem-solving and brainstorming have a place in these meetings. However, the team shouldn’t over structure meetings. A mentor often offers his experience through storytelling, and a meeting with a casual feel encourages such sharing. Relationship building and developing trust is an important part of mentoring and meetings should be designed to allow their growth. A sterile “all-business” attitude is usually not conducive to good mentoring. A cup of coffee or a weekly lunch together can provide the perfect atmosphere.
All good things must come to an end. At some point so will the mentoring relationship. Sometimes it’s when the goals are met. Sometimes it’s when there are no more goals to be discussed in a mentoring context. If the meetings become a waste of time rather than a time of support and growth, the end is near. All mentoring relationships will end. It’s just a matter of when and how. Sometimes the end comes gradually by steadily reducing the number of meetings. Other times either mentor or the mentee discover that they’ve done all they can together and it ends abruptly. If a mentorship lasts too long, one might rightly ask if it’s working. At some point, the mentee should be ready to move on in a more independent fashion and perhaps even become a mentor himself.