Triggers for mentoring

by Prof David Clutterbuck

Practical ways for determining when mentoring will be useful

Mentoring is about helping people make significant transitions in their life, in the way they think, in their work and in their careers. These transitions come in many forms.

For example:
• From junior to senior school
• Choosing the subjects you will concentrate on
• From school to further education, or from school to work
• Becoming independent — leaving home, learning to drive etc
• From further education to work
• From being single to getting married
• Having a first child
• Getting your first supervisory job
• Gaining professional qualifications
• Overcoming a major illness
• Moving town or moving country
• Learning to respect and like yourself
• Becoming a confident public speaker
• Taking on a role in the community

In each case, there is a step into the unknown. Having the support, encouragement and when appropriate, guidance of someone, who understands the nature of that transition can make all the difference between success and failure. They can instil confidence, point out pitfalls and opportunities and ask the challenging questions that help you make better decisions with regard to the choices that face you.

In working out where and when mentoring might be most helpful for you, it can be helpful to draw a time line, like a road map with lots of roundabouts. Each roundabout is a point, at which your life or career could have gone in several different directions. Your lifeline is the sequence of roads and intersections you actually took. Think about how you made choices at each of these points. Did you actually choose, or did things just happen to you? What guidance would have been helpful? Reflecting on these questions will help you better recognise other transitions you will encounter in the future and be clearer about how you might use a mentor in making those transitions.

Common triggers for mentoring in the workplace include:
• When you feel that your job is not sufficiently satisfying. Most jobs involve a mixture of stretch (intense new learning), application (using old learning in new contexts and on new problems) and coast (tasks you can do with high proficiency and in which there is no opportunity for learning). Reviewing from time to time the mixture that you have and comparing it with what you want in your job role gives a clearer understand of how aligned you are with your job. If the proportions of stretch, application and coast are badly off-balance, you can use your mentor as a sounding board for rehearsing conversations you need to have with your line manager.
• When you have just moved into a new job role. The first 100 days are critical and typically so busy that it’s easy to miss some of the most important reputation-making issues. Talking things through with a mentor can keep you grounded and aware of what you need to focus on.
• When you want to change roles. Talking with a mentor often opens up new possibilities of roles within the company, of which you may not have been aware. Your mentor can also help you think through the options you have and what you can offer that would position you to move into a new role.
• When you have set your sights on a promotion. Conversations you’re your mentor help you acquire the thinking patterns and behaviours appropriate to a leader at the next level.
• When you have been knocked back by not getting a promotion. Your mentor can help you pick up the pieces, refocus, rebuild your confidence, and work on how you can gain the experience, track record and behavioural changes that will position you more favourably next time.
• When you are concerned about your work-life balance. Your mentor can help you think about how you negotiate with your stakeholders at home and at work, to assert more control over your work-life balance.
• When you have received 360-degree feedback. Your mentor can help you establish what is really important to take notice of and to develop practical ways of addressing issues raised.
• When you have difficult choices to make. Your mentor can ask the tough questions that put choices into context.
• When you want to become more effective at managing your reputation or handling organizational politics. Conversations with your mentor make it easier to address these issues with authenticity and while adhering to your personal values and the corporate values.
• When you want to gain a long-term perspective on where your career might take you. It’s not about following the mentor’s career path; it’s about using their insights to plot and pursue your own.
• When you have left the organization and have outgrown your new job role. Who better to talk to about new opportunities than your trusted old mentor? One organization in the City of London reportedly saves more than £1 million annually in recruitment fees by re-hiring people in this way!