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5 Reasons Your Mentee Wants to Thank You

By Sylvie Thrush-Marsh

Ah, January. My new favourite month. Having survived the transition from full-time study into full-time work as an HR Administrator, as well as my first 10 months of 40-hour working weeks, I was ready to relax over the holidays. I spent time with family and friends, made the most of the glorious Auckland weather, and reckon I’m ready to dive back into work to make the most of the new year.

From an employer’s perspective, however, January might be one of the more volatile months in terms of the employee lifecycle, particularly with regard to recruitment and retention. Not only are you looking to replace the staff you lost late last year, but so is everyone else. Employers are looking, and employees are looking back.

It’s important to start the New Year off well with your team and colleagues to help combat any impulses to check if the grass really is greener over the road (or over the ditch). There are a variety of tools available to managers who want to improve or maintain the retention of their teams and, as a recent graduate, the informal conversations with my manager have been most important for making sure that we’re both on the same page. I’m talking about the quick catch ups about how a particular employee could be handled better, or what projects I want to be involved with and why, the back-and-forth about career expectations, and the difficulties (and successes) she’s faced as a woman in our male-dominated organisation. In short, the conversations that trickle into and gradually fill the spaces in between formal feedback and assessment opportunities like annual performance reviews. The conversations that, from where I’m sitting, look a lot like a mentoring relationship.

From my perspective as a mentee, there are 5 things I’ve most appreciated about the mentoring that I’ve received to date.

Gaining an Outside Perspective

Coming  from a university environment, where giving and receiving feedback was built into the structure of the experience, to a work environment, where often the only feedback I received focussed on something that went awry, made it very hard to gauge my progress and how I was doing. Sure, as time went by I made fewer mistakes but I didn’t have a good sense of “big picture” progress. I couldn’t see if I was improving or if my efforts were having any effect.

Through our mentoring relationship, my manager was able to provide an outsider’s perspective on my performance and how I was doing and she was able to pass on positive feedback from other managers and colleagues to let me know I was moving forward, without blowing my ego up to infamous Gen Y proportions. Keep in mind that your mentees might have a skewed or misplaced view of themselves and their performance, and they will likely welcome the chance to touch base with an external voice. You may be able to offer insights that you have into their place in the organisation or how they’re tracking against expectations. If they know that they’re making progress, they’re less likely to consider moving to supposedly greener-grassed pastures.

Highlighting Situations or Issues of Interest

I work in HR  in a large multinational company with multi-thousands of employees, with directives from our international group to maintain and implement, as well as being the first port of call for managers and employees in NZ who want to know what to do, how to do it and why they need to. In the beginning I was focused on the detail and getting the process right, from necessity. I was able to ask my colleagues and manager for their perspective, which helped not only when I made mistakes with the process but also highlighted additional reasons for doing things the way that we did them.

As a mentee, being able to talk through issues with someone who knew the ropes meant I was able to gain different perspectives on issues, including a broader understanding of why things were the way they were and how best to navigate those structures. If you are a mentor, remember that your mentee might not have access to the big picture, or know enough about the industry or company to have some context for the reasons behind the way things are. Providing context and background information is one way of helping them to make better decisions and feel more confident in their positions.

Having a Go-To Person

Having a mentoring relationship with someone, whether it be your manager or a non-work-related mentor, means that someone has got your back! Building and developing this relationship has been invaluable for me in my fledgling career. By respecting my manager’s time, doing my best to think around a problem if it comes up, and showing that I’m willing to take feedback on board, I’m demonstrating that I value our relationship and that she isn’t frittering away time with me. In turn, she will spend the time to give me the context of a particular sticking point or disagreement with managers, talk difficulties out with me, and let me put forward ideas or solutions for feedback. It’s a two-way street.

If you are mentoring an employee, especially younger or newer employees, be prepared for them to have lots of questions and to need a certain degree of close supervision as they find their feet. We really appreciate someone who understands this and lets us lean on them in the early days. Having someone you can turn to can often be the difference between a successful induction and a costly, short-term misfire hire.

Building a Career Blueprint

Something else that I have appreciated has been the chance to ask my mentor about her career choices, what she wants to do next, how she plans to balance family and work (and the factors she’s considering when she weighs up the two), and so on. Getting a feel for someone’s career trajectory is one of the aspects that I would consider as unique to a mentoring relationship. It is difficult to find someone whose career you are interested in and who might be able to offer you pointers and tips, and ask them about what motivated them to make certain choices or focus on particular projects, or ask them about their personal life too.

If your mentee asks you these types of questions, it’s likely that they’re trying on your decisions or motivations for size; getting a feel for what suits them and how they might like to conduct themselves over the next five, 10, 20 or 30 years of their lives. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Willingness to Adjust Communication or Mentoring Styles

Of course, not all your team members will share my demographic, or be at my place in their careers and lives. So, the last aspect of mentoring that has struck me has been my manager asking for feedback on her management style, and whether she could manage and relate to me in ways that would better support my work and my induction into the work place. What a great opening to give feedback to my manager, and what better way to demonstrate that she is interested in how best to make our working relationship do exactly that – work.

If you are mentoring a younger person and feel comfortable checking in with them, seek feedback on the way things have been going so far. Be open to taking on board any feedback or preferences that your mentee may have. You’ll be demonstrating that you care about their experience and want it to work for both of you, and of course it’s a developmental opportunity for you too!

If you’re thinking about how to kick-start your New Year, evaluate the relationships within your team. You never know, there could be space to adjust the structure, content and dynamic of your interactions and to tap into the magic of mentoring.

Your mentees will thank you for it.

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