Mentoring: Best Practices for both parties
Often, you won’t know this until you have your first connection – so make that the goal of your first conversation. It is very important to figure out your role up-front, as well as understanding that roles change over time.
- Will this be a one-time call, where you might ask follow-up questions about their comments? Or ask them very specific questions based on their background?
- Will this be an ongoing relationship, where they become a mentor?
- Are they mentoring you, or your company? Sometimes it might be helpful to have your leadership be part of the process – and sometimes it might be best if there is a one-to-one relationship.
- Is this a peer-to-peer relationship? The Mentor Capital Network reviewer/mentor pool is full of people who are solving the same kinds of problems that you are, but not competing for the same customer dollar/euro/baht/etc. – these are often our most successful mentorships.
- Will this be a pro-bono arrangement? Sometimes our reviewers have the ability and inclination to offer certain specific services. Usually these are small and/or short-term arrangements.
- Will this be a fee-for-service arrangement? Yes, it is legitimate for our reviewers to try and sell you their services. However, they need to be completely up front about it, and not come at you with a hard sell. If you think someone is being too pushy about selling their services to you, please let me know ASAP. Typically, service providers act as coaches / mentors for 3 months, and then offer to continue their engagement on a paid basis. We’d rather these connections are not transactional, but sometimes that is the best solution to moving a company forward. Just be clear about it.
If you do end up with a mentoring relationship, keep these tips in mind:
- Keep the challenges medium-sized. Specific enough that the mentor can move you forward over the course of a conversation, and general enough that their background can give them big-picture pattern recognition. But make sure the tasks big enough that you’ll be doing them yourself—the mentor is your guide, not your intern.
- If you can send your mentor an agenda / questions / topics of conversation in advance, do so. Keep the questions focused and specific. You’ll probably get 30 minutes of content out of a 45-60 minute meeting/call. Keep these things simple – neither the mentee or mentor should have “homework.” Our recommendation for the 1st meeting agenda — determine the roles, as noted above.
- Be clear if it’s going to be a present-first or interactive-the-whole way conversation. It can be valuable for the mentee to describe a particular challenge you’re having, and how you’re addressing it, and then just ask “what might I be missing?” (Mentors, this is a great time to acknowledge small victories by the mentee.)
- Ask the mentor what they want to get out of this. Maybe it’s a peer-to-peer setup, and you are sharing best practices.
- Clarifying questions are a great way to start. After the mentee has presented their challenge, don’t necessarily launch straight into your suggestions. Ask any questions you have (including things like “why is that valuable?”) that might help direct your feedback.
- As a mentor, one of the most valuable things you can share is knowing what the next problem might be. Often, when we solve one problem we creates another. Most of our mentors have taken an idea to scale, and seen how the challenges change over time.
- Start meetings with a check-in on goals set at the last meeting. But don’t get stuck on them. If the mentee hasn’t been able to move forward on the issue due to an external issue, recognize that, and focus on another project.
- End each meeting with goals for the next time you connect.
- Ask the mentor about their goals. Even if you’re not peer-to-peer, keep the conversation two-way.
- Have a schedule, but be flexible. Set calls for twice a month, but be ready to move them if something comes up.
- For the mentors – if you can’t give actionable advice on a particular challenge, say so. If the mentee is going down a path where you don’t think you can add specific value, let them know.
- Have a friendly exit plan. If you get to a point where you’re not both getting value out of the connection, find a way to either move on or put it on hold. One great way to re-engage is around the business plan. Once a year, you should review your business plan to see what’s actually happened and what changed. Engaging a mentor as an outside perspective on that, even if you’re no longer in regular communication with them, can be very valuable.