Getting the right match – Mentorship made simple

Picking the right mentor for you is a little like scrolling through potential matches on a dating site. You look at their background, interest and thoughts on the future, then take a chance and hope for a good match. 

But there are ways to make the mentor-matching process a bit easier. Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that getting the right mentor is even more important now that training dollars are sparse.

"Mentoring is especially important for young people who are in their first jobs and are facing a lot of uncertainty. Mentoring can be a great way of a way to gain better clarity of how to deal with these difficult circumstances and provide a tailored and worthy investment of time and energy to help cultivate that young talent. Mentoring allows the protege to still feel valued even though budget constraints have limited the traditional training and development that occurred in the past," said Fox. 

What does the mentor get out of the relationship?

"Well structured mentorship relationships can help the mentors themselves hone-in and improve their management, coaching and listening skills. It can help them gain a clearer better understanding of a problems confronting frontline employees," said Fox. 

Does the mentorship have to be formal?

"It depends. A formal program that is really well run, like those we have seen at the State Department, Energy Department, NASA, EPA and NRC are great. But you can do this in a less structured fashion as well. I am a big fan of recruiting almost a personal board of advisors, so that you can tap into different mentoring relationships as needed so you can face the challenges you are confronting. So whether it is formal, informal or a combination of the two. The important thing to recognize not just if you are a new employee but even a more experienced employee, you want to view this as a critical element of your continued growth and development," said Fox. 

Who is a good mentor?

  • A great supervisor or leader will frequently make for a very good mentor. That is someone who is committed to developing people, can establish trust quickly around candid conversations around problems. Somebody who in their own right has been able to develop and cultivate not just their career but the career of others as well.
  • It is not just enough to be successful individually, it is someone who is able to help grow others as well. Look for a people person first and it is likely you will find a good mentor.
  • Ask your friends if they have had a great mentor or supervisor who they think would be a good fit for you. That is a wonderful way to identify a mentor in either a formal or un-formal way.

Picking the right mentee

"Ideally you want to spend your time with someone who has been tagged as a high performer or a real up-in-comer in the organization. Look for someone who is performing at a high level, a person who is committed to their own growth and development and someone who wants and is contributing a lot to their agency even in the early stages of their careers," said Fox. 

Do the work upfront

  • At the outset both the mentor and the protege need to be clear about their expectations. What sorts of conversations will we have? How often will we have those conversations? How will we know if this is a really successful experience for the both of us?
  • Are you looking for a promotion? Improving performance? On the mentor side, how much time are you really willing and able to commit?
  • If you are clear about those expectations and outcomes at the front end it should allow for good conversations in the midst of the relationship to discuss what is and what isn’t working.

"If done well mentorship doesn’t need to take up an extraordinary amount of time but it can both yield real and intangible benefits in terms of increased morale, increased worker satisfaction and frankly at the most basic level, increased worker productivity based on folks gaining insights that allow them to accelerate their path to getting things done," said Fox. 

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