Your Mentoring Year Tip #10: Avoid Stumbling Blocks

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for mentoring pairs is staying on track over the course of the year. 

To make sure you avoid this potential trap, make sure you determine how to manage your mentoring time:

How often and how long will you meet?

How will you handle and reschedule cancelled meetings? Consider using an agenda, preparation, and journal as vehicles for maximizing learning. Your schedule holds and organizes your most valuable asset – your time.

For new mentor/mentee relationships, the development of an agreed-upon framework will not only set expectations, but also support focused meeting times so you both get the most out of your time together.

For more experienced pairs, referring back to the framework (or creating a new one) is a great way to a mentoring relationship back on track.

Ready for more? Review the Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships for more support, insight and tools.

Your Mentoring Year Tip #7: Asking for Feedback

Your Mentoring Year Tip #7: Asking for Feedback

Imagine this scenario:

You are hidden in the cubicle next to your supervisor when a colleague drops by to ask her about your performance and contribution to her team. In your dream scenario, your supervisor raves about your work ethic, your analytic skills, your strong relationships with co-workers and members of the leadership team.

That, of course, is what you would like to hear! But in reality, do you have a real handle on what others would say about you? Do you know how your mentor might answer that question?

Managers wish employees would come to them to ask how are they are doing, and what specific areas they should work on. Mentors feel the same way. It’s a lot easier and more comfortable to provide feedback when a mentee seeks it out and is open to working on him or herself. While we all seek positive feedback, we also need to be open to hearing a frank assessment of what holds us back or gets in our way. And, most importantly, we need to be prepared to work on ourselves once an area has been identified.

Here are 5 tips in asking for feedback from your mentoring partner:

  1. Be clear and specific about what feedback you’re looking for. First, start on a positive note by asking about areas of strength. Then, ask about two areas your mentor feels you need to work on. (Two keeps it limited and doable.)
  2. Check for understanding (especially around constructive feedback) without getting defensive. If you are unaware of the issues your mentor is raising, ask for an example of where you fell short (again, without being defensive or aggressive). Make sure you agree on what behaviors would help correct deficiencies.
  3. End the conversation on a positive note. Thank your mentoring partner for their feedback.
  4. Take time to reflect on what you heard. Think about how the feedback you received might be impacting other areas of your personal and professional life. Set aside any negative feelings you have about what you heard by remembering that this feedback was designed to help you grow and develop.
  5. Address the areas that have been raised by taking action. Become more conscious about your behaviors and how they affect others and your work. Check in (but not too soon) with your mentor to determine if what you are doing differently is making a difference.

How do you like to ask for feedback?

Your Mentoring Year Tip #6: Setting SMART Goals

Your Mentoring Year Tip #6: Setting SMART Goals

Last month, we offered some tips about how to set starter goals. As we noted then, the key to exploring starter goals is to get to the heart of the learning need and create specificity around your desired outcome. This month, let’s discuss how to turn starter goals into the kind of goals that help mentees achieve their mentoring objectives — we call these goals “SMART goals.”

SMART goals are goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time-bound.

How to create a SMART goal:

  1. Ask questions to really understand your mentee’s desired outcome. The best way to create SMART mentoring goals is through conversation. Together with your mentee, take a look at the starter goal you created. Make sure you are clear on what success looks like. Be as specific as possible, and drill down until you come up with a way to measure success. Ask: “How will we know if you achieved it?” “What will success look like?” “What will be different when you achieve this goal?”
  2. Encourage action rather than contemplation. Mentors help mentees create action-focused goals by reminding them that clarity comes from engagement, not thought. Too often we see mentees set goals that start with “I will think about” or “I will explore” or “I will learn.” SMART goals have action words and should answer the question: “What will you DO?”
  3. Provide a reality check. SMART goals are realistic. Help your mentees set realistic milestones that link to a larger goal. That will keep them motivated and create enthusiasm for further progress. Ask “What are the obstacles to your success?” and “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can overcome those obstacles?” For anything less than an 8, work with your mentee to identify and anticipate obstacles. If obstacles can be overcome, create learning around that. If they cannot, create a more realistic goal.
  4. Set a deadline. Too often, development goals languish because they feel important but not urgent. Having time-bound goals helps measure progress, create a sense of urgency, generate momentum and provide natural check-in points along the way. Set a date by which the goal should be achieved, and continually track progress towards that date. It’s perfectly appropriate — even, at times, encouraged — for a mentee to choose a lofty goal that will really propel them forward. But unless that goal is broken down into smaller steps, your mentee may get fatigued or burned out. Set timelines for milestones along the way.

How have you used SMART goals in your mentoring relationship?

Your Mentoring Year Tip #3: Establishing Ground Rules

Your Mentoring Year Tip #3: Establishing Ground Rules

Discussing ground rules is one of the most important conversations you will ever have with your mentoring partner. Ground rules not only manage expectations in your mentoring relationship, but they also lay the foundation for building and strengthening your relationship, allowing you to focus on learning. Rather than restrict the relationship, they encourage and support accountability. Without them, you may end up spending more time managing the relationship than actually learning from your mentor. Here are some strategies for setting ground rules in place:

  1. Focus on:
    • How you will go about allocating and managing your mentoring time
    • How you want to give and receive feedback
    • Your mutual role expectations
    • How and when you will connect and communicate with each other
    • How you will address stumbling blocks should they occur
    • What steps you will follow if you need to prematurely end the relationship for any reason
  2. As you discuss your ground rules, keep in mind that they should not restrict your relationship. Their purpose is to encourage and support accountability.
  3. Once you and your mentoring partner have decided on ground rules, be sure to schedule some checkpoints to determine whether the ground rules are working for you or simply providing unnecessary obstacles.