When I joined iProspect, I was an Associate Project Manager with just a couple of years of professional experience. My previous company was much smaller than iProspect, and frankly, I was overwhelmed at first by the more complex processes of a larger organization. While iProspect had (and still has) an excellent training program for new employees, there were still some gaps: where can I find our employee handbook, who do I talk to about getting a key fob, and most importantly, what’s the best lunch spot around? So, I was delighted when I heard that iProspect was launching a mentorship program with the aims of helping new employees get settled and guiding more senior employees in developing their careers.
iProspect introduced their mentorship program in October of 2017, which put them in good company; according to the Wall Street Journal, “about 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs.” The program currently features three tracks: iStart (for new hires) iConnect (for inter-department collaboration and growth), and iProsper (for managers and directors hoping to further develop their careers). As of Q2 2018, over 170 participants have completed one of the mentorship tracks or are currently enrolled. I’ve personally mentored four colleagues so far and have learned a lot about expectation-setting, accountability and flexibility.
When establishing a mentoring relationship, it’s important to set expectations up front. Mentees should have one to two goals outlined at the start of the relationship. (Ideally, these goals will be in the SMART format). In one case, I helped my mentee determine their initial goals, based on their broad ideas of how they could improve some of their professional skills. Additionally, creating ground rules can provide a shared sense of purpose for both the mentee and the mentor. These ground rules can cover meeting frequency, roles and responsibilities and communication format, to name a few. A successful mentorship relationship is based on a solid framework, which is created early by setting clear expectations.
Accountability is not just about one person keeping tabs on another – it’s a two-way street. As Mary Teresa Bitti wrote in her article in the Financial Post, “Mentoring is two-way learning. The mentor learns to improve on the skill of developing others, while you as the mentee benefit from their experience and wisdom.” As a mentor, I’m accountable to my mentee to come to meetings prepared, to listen thoughtfully (no multi-tasking during meetings) and to help support my mentee in reaching their goals. Being accountable to my mentee motivated me to give them my best; after all, they’re counting on me to give them thoughtful advice! Mentees, in turn, must drive the agenda and be open to suggestions for improvement. The dual accountability provides motivation to both parties to follow through on their commitments, which in turn enables growth.
The mentor/mentee relationship is unique in the workplace; it’s neither a formal reporting flow nor a casual acquaintance. This distinction is important because it allows for more freedom and safety than a manager/employee relationship, but more structure than mere colleagues or office buddies. Because of this unique structure, I quickly realized the importance of flexibility in my approach. Some mentees respond better to open-ended suggestions and free-flowing conversations, while others prefer a more direct approach. According to an article from Chronus, when setting up a mentorship program, “flexibility is essential to support varying individual mentoring needs across specific learning goals, preferences, and learning styles.”
A successful mentorship can be achieved by ensuring that expectations are clear from the outset, making sure each party is accountable to the other, and by allowing space for flexibility. As I reflect on what I’ve learned from working with my first few mentees, I’m excited to continue my own professional growth via our mentorship program – maybe even as a mentee next time!