Making the Most of Your Business Mentoring Relationships
As an entrepreneur, there will inevitably be situations where you are at a loss for answers. In other cases, you may be overstretched and looking for experienced managers or employees to provide guidance to your employees. Either way, establishing a mentoring relationship is the way to go. How do you make sure your mentoring relationship is more like Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan than Jesus and Judas?
Step 1: Set Specific Goals
There are many benefits to setting up a mentoring relationship. Gordon Shea, author of The Mentoring Organization, says “New entrepreneurs have a pretty difficult time because they start with an idea and suddenly have to become multidimensional. Most folks have weaknesses and they need help filling in those gaps.” The first step to having a successful one is to set specific goals from the start. Are you seeking more expertise in a certain area (i.e. entering foreign markets, raising capital)? Are you looking for a road map for professional advancement? Do you want a senior figure to share in your successes and frustrations? Are you looking for a way to further employee development? Coming up with answers to these questions will help you gather your thoughts and identify which kind of person might be right for you.
Step 2: Find the Right Person
Now that you know what you want, how do you find the right person? Luckily, you have many resources at your disposal. Your go-to resources are your friends and family. Ask them for recommendations of people within their circles who might serve as a good mentor. They are the most likely to help you and the people that they refer will also be more willing to spend time with you because of their relationship. If you are unsuccessful here, roll up your sleeves and start networking. Post to your alumni association’s webpage, or contact the head for advice about how to find someone within that network. Contact your local chamber of commerce or professional organization. The biggest organizations will be conferences of events sponsored by charities or national business groups. If you live in an area where it might be difficult to find a mentor within a reasonable distance, try taking advantage of the internet.
For an employee program, the first place to pair people would be within your business. However, this is difficult because small businesses lack the human resources of larger companies. In these cases, consider forming relationships with other similar businesses within the area to find mentors or use an online program such as Score or Advance.
Step 3: Create a Plan
After you’ve identified that perfect person, iron out the details of your plan. During one of your initial meetings, create short and long-term goals and a meeting schedule that will allow you to track progress on those goals. This will require you to come up with one or two key questions or areas of development that you would like your mentor to focus on. Be prepared in this respect; write it out ahead of time in a concise manner that is easy for the person to understand. Once you have started meetings with your mentor, be sure to provide updates whenever you take an action step, so that he/she has an opportunity to give feedback. It is also important for your mentor to know that their time spent in the relationship has not been wasted.
If you would like your employees to become involved with mentoring, you will have to decide whether or not you want the program to be formal or informal. If you decide on a formal program, you will be responsible for laying down the program’s foundation. If it is informal, provide your employees with some tips for finding their own mentor within the company, with a nearby business, or through the internet.
Other advice for having a successful mentoring relationship is to reciprocate. Let your mentor know how much you appreciate their time and help. Give back, whether it is in product or services from your company or some outside type of expertise.
Know that just because someone is an expert in your field, doesn’t mean that they have the interpersonal and coaching skills necessary for being a good mentor. Use the first couple of meetings to feel him/her out and judge whether or not they will be able to provide the kind of advice and critique of your work that you desire.
If you decide on an informal mentoring program for employees, know the common pitfalls: lack of accountability and structure. If you can see that these relationships are faltering, think about providing some type of feedback system for employees to log or track their progress or compile a collection of information about mentoring for them to use.
1) Bloomberg Businessweek: “Why You Need a Mentor”
2) About.com: “Working with a Business Mentor”
3) Bloomberg Businessweek: “How to Establish a Mentor Program”
4) Docstoc: “What is Mentoring”