Crash Course in ... Mentoring

A bright young interviewee you'd like to offer a job has asked if she can join your mentor programme if she comes on board. You haven't got one. Time for a swift incursion into the wisdom market.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It's not just coaching. 'The basic difference is that coaching is always about performance; mentoring is more holistic, about the whole individual,' says Professor David Clutterbuck, prolific author on the subject and founder of training firm Clutterbuck Associates. Both are techniques for developing people, but, in practice, mentoring tends to be a longer relationship.

Who needs it? 'People benefit most from a mentor if they have a significant transition to make in their work or their life,' says Clutterbuck. 'Or if they value the opportunity to learn with someone else who has greater experience.' Mentoring is successfully used at all levels of hierarchy, from school leavers to senior executives.

Ins and outs. A mentor can be internal or external to the firm. Says Pauline Willis, director of the Coaching and Mentoring Network: 'An internal mentor can support an individual to maximise opportunities within the organisation.' External mentors can bring a broader perspective than is available internally, and discuss issues too sensitive to be broached with an insider. But the risk is that they can connect the mentee with opportunities in the outside world.

Find a match. The mentor typically has useful experience and, sometimes, specific expertise to offer. The mentee should be offered a 'guided' choice, says Clutterbuck, so they don't choose somebody with whom they are comfortable but not challenged.

Identify the purpose. A mentoring relationship doesn't necessarily have to come with formal objectives, but it should have a purpose, says Willis. 'It's likely to be a more effective relationship when it's clear why the mentor is there - it may be because you want to see the person's performance improve or their professional development supported.'

Keep it voluntary. You may feel certain people will benefit from mentoring or being mentored, but it's unlikely to be a fruitful experience at the point of a shotgun.

Train to succeed. Training for both sides can dramatically increase the chances of success. In the European style of developmental mentoring, those on the receiving end are expected to play a large part in driving the relationship and helping the mentor to help them.

Structure it. 'It works better if there are some expectations about minimum frequency of meetings, at least to begin with,' says Willis. 'Otherwise, you're relying on the natural development of the relationship, which won't always happen.'

Do say: 'Mentors can provide our people with career support and a sounding-board for making decisions over complex issues.'

Don't say: 'Everyone gets a mentor here; I pick the names out of a hat once a year, just like the FA Cup draw.'

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