Mentorship is often touted as one of the most important and effective methods for developing employees – and for good reason! The benefits of being paired with a competent and experienced mentor are vast and can include everything from accelerated learning to increased job satisfaction.
What we hear less about, however, are the pairs that fail; the 80 percent of mentors who haven't been adequately prepared for their role, or the 30 percent of pairings that fail due to a bad match. The vast majority of mentorship experiences are success stories – to guarantee our own, we need actionable tips and techniques for ensuring effective mentorship at work.
So, without further ado, let's run through our top tips to set you – and your mentee – up for success.
A quick note on why you should trust our tips: At Together, we’ve built a mentorship platform to make launching impactful mentoring programs easy. In supporting hundreds of enterprises, we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a successful program, and more importantly, what makes a successful mentoring relationship. These tips come from substantial science done on mentoring techniques and our own expertise.
Let’s dive in!
What is the main role of a mentor in the workplace?
When developing excellent mentors, half of the battle is getting mentors in a place where they have a deep understanding of the mentor’s role and expectations.
There are key things great mentors do:
1. Help mentees to grow their network.
Often, mentors are sought out for their extensive connections within the industry. They can help introduce their mentees to new people, granting them access to opportunities they may not have had before.
2. Foster a better mindset.
Particularly for senior-junior pairings, the latter will be looking up to the former for guidance and support. The mentor’s role is to foster a growth mindset in their mentee, helping them to see that failure is not only an option but a necessary step on the way to success.
“Above all, the mentor-mentee relationship is designed to provide both parties with value.”
3. Encourage risk-taking.
Taking risks is an important part of learning and development, but can be daunting for those who are still early in their careers. A good mentor will encourage their mentee to take risks, both professionally and personally – after all, there’s no better way to learn than by trying new things.
4. Pass on concrete skills.
In addition to the more intangible aspects of mentorship, a good mentor will also pass on concrete skills that can be used in the workplace. Knowledge transfer is what we traditionally think of when mentorship comes up, and it’s a vitally important part of any successful pairing.
5. Build a mutually beneficial relationship.
Above all, the mentor-mentee relationship is designed to provide both parties with value. A good mentor takes the time to understand their mentee’s goals and works to support them while a good mentee listens and takes on board the advice of their mentor.
What skills do you need to be a mentor?
As a mentor, knowing your role is a skill in and of itself – but what are some of the other skills you need to be successful in this role? We've covered this extensively in our blog post, How to know if you'll be a great mentor.
In the meantime, here's the tl;dr:
“ it's essential to have skills and experience in the industry you're mentoring in.”
If you've ever had a less than enthusiastic mentor, you know how demotivating it can be. As a mentor, it's essential to be positive and supportive – after all, your mentee is looking to you for guidance and motivation.
Fulfilled by your current work
You cannot hope to transfer skills and knowledge if you're not passionate about your own work. The best mentors are those excited to share their knowledge and help others grow.
“A good mentor takes on the role of both teacher and learner.”
Joy in learning
A mistake mentors often make is to assume they are just a teacher, and their mentee is simply a student. A good mentor takes on the role of both teacher and learner, always willing to learn new things and develop their own skills.
Sometimes, mentorship will require tough conversations. As a mentor, it's essential to have strong emotional intelligence so you can navigate these waters effectively.
“if you can't communicate effectively with your mentee, how will they ever learn from you?”
Good communication skills
Strong communication skills are key in any mentorship; if you can't communicate effectively with your mentee, how will they ever learn from you?
Skills and experience in your industry
If you’re a professional mentor, it's essential to have skills and experience in the industry you're mentoring in. This will help you pass on relevant knowledge and advice to your mentee.
A desire to help
Last but not least, the most important skill of all is a genuine desire to help others. Your drive to help your mentee will be what motivates you to continue being a mentor, even when you encounter challenges.
“We're not interested in simple mentoring techniques here. Show us the money!”
Essential mentoring techniques that all the best mentors use
Once you've got those foundational skills locked in – communication, a strong desire to help, and a knack for creating a positive relationship – you're ready to focus on the techniques that make mentors effective.
Now, your average mentorship article will mention techniques like 'have weekly meetings' and 'create a development plan', but those are table stakes. We're not interested in base-level techniques here. Show us the money!
With the following techniques, you'll be able to dig deep and help your mentee grow in meaningful ways. We've seen these techniques work wonders time and again in our interactions with mentors and mentees.
Help mentees define their goals (but never decide goals for them)
“[After running a workplace mentoring program for the first time], Our most significant learning was that while the more senior mentees could articulate their goals and needs, our newest batch often needed help defining their goals. As one veteran mentor told me, ‘t’s our role to help raise the goal-setting bar.’”
~ Ferguson, Michelle Renaldo. Women Mentoring Women: Strategies and Stories to Lift As We Rise
Goal-setting is a common practice for both mentors and mentees, but it's often done ineffectively. Mentors often jump in and start dictating goals for their mentees, thinking they are being of use – but this actually diminishes the mentee's sense of ownership and leads to frustration on their part.
A better way to go about goal-setting in your mentoring relationship is to help mentees define their own goals.
This can be done in a number of ways:
- Ask questions that help mentees think about what they want to achieve. Questions like "What are you looking to get out of this mentorship?" or "What are your long-term career goals?" can help get the ball rolling.
- Help mentees develop a personal mission statement. This can be a great way for mentees to crystallize their goals and stay focused on what's important to them.
- Encourage mentees to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Goals like this will help them stay on track and make sure their objectives are realistic.
Once mentees have defined their goals, it's up to the mentor to help them achieve them. But don't take over – let mentees figure out how they want to reach their goals, with your guidance of course. This type of hands-off approach will help mentees feel more in control of their own development, and they'll be more likely to stick to their goals in the long run.
Reduce uncomfortable power dynamics
In the workplace, a number of authority-based events take place: performance reviews, for instance, or salary negotiations. The aim of mentorship should never be to replicate these uncomfortable events but to instead reduce power dynamics to make room for meaningful discussion.
Why? Put simply, a power dynamic places the mentee in a stressful, unproductive position. They are worried about making a mistake, saying the wrong thing, or deterring the mentor from helping them.
Instead, keep meetings incredibly relaxed and informal. Michelle Renaldo Fergusen gives an excellent example of how to achieve this in her book:
“I had a small round table in my office, my preferred meeting spot for small meetings. A round table doesn’t have a “head.” If someone is sitting behind a desk, they presumably have the power.”
~ Ferguson, Michelle Renaldo. Women Mentoring Women: Strategies and Stories to Lift As We Rise
A change as simple as this one – choosing a more informal setting – can help to create an equal footing between mentor and mentee. You might also decide to:
- Meet somewhere off-site for a relaxed coffee chat
- Take a stroll in the outdoors
- Attend a networking event or social gathering together
It doesn't need to be extravagant or complicated – all you really need to do is remove yourself from the professional setting.
Turn off notifications
Our smartphones are designed to be addictive. Whether we like it or not, we're going to check our phones out of instinct if they go off – and that's the last thing you want in a mentorship meeting.
“Think about a conversation you've had where someone checks their phone every few minutes. It's incredibly distracting and annoying, but it also makes you feel unimportant.”
Think about a conversation you've had where someone checks their phone every few minutes. It's incredibly distracting and annoying, but it also makes you feel unimportant. The same goes for mentorship meetings; turn off your notifications and keep your phone in your pocket or bag.
Be consistent, not rigid
In the beginning stages of mentorship, mentors often confuse consistency with rigidity. They lock in several months' worth of meetings with the good intention of being thorough and proactive.
“It feels like an enormous commitment if you come right out and say ‘let's meet every single Tuesday at 10 am for the next six months!’”
Unfortunately, this can overwhelm your mentee. It feels like an enormous commitment if you come right out and say "let's meet every single Tuesday at 10 am for the next six months!"
Believe it or not, you can be both flexible and consistent. Why not agree to meet three times per month, with the intention of locking in dates as you go? This gives your mentee the opportunity to reschedule if something comes up. But they also know that you're reliable, and you'll be there for them.
Have an agenda
Have you ever tried and failed to wing an important meeting? Aside from the inevitable embarrassment, you come away feeling as though nothing was accomplished.
The same goes for mentorship. If you're not prepared, you'll likely fail to cover everything you wanted to. That's why it's important to have a mentoring agenda – even if it's just a loose guide of topics you want to discuss.
There are a few poignant reasons for this:
- An agenda ensures that you make the most of your meeting. Your time is valuable, and so is your mentor's time.
- Conversations need water to flow; an agenda is your running tap. It provides a structure for the discussion without stifling it.
- An agenda allows you and your mentee to refer back to previous conversations. This is incredibly useful if you want to measure progress or give feedback.
Here's a structure you can refer to in order to get started:
- Share highs and lows of the week
- Check status on agreed goals
- Dive into the topic of discussion
- Share feedback: how is this relationship going?
- Wrap up, confirm action items; schedule next meeting
Of course, an agenda isn't gospel – feel free to deviate if something more important comes up. But having one in place is a fantastic way to ensure that your mentorship meetings are productive and beneficial.
Define what’s on and off-limits (boundaries)
There are many relationships that provide deep emotional support; a therapist, close friend, or romantic partner are all examples. Mentorship should never cross that line if you want it to be effective.
“A mentor can’t replace a therapist or professional counsellor.”
The reasons for this are many:
- It can be confusing for mentees if they're getting mixed signals from their mentor.
- Mentorship is a professional relationship, and should be treated as such.
- It's difficult to give honest feedback when the lines between personal and professional are blurred.
That doesn't mean that you can't be personal with your mentee – in fact, it's essential that you build a rapport. But it's important to define what's off-limits, and to respect those boundaries.
“What boundaries will you implement around time limits?... Will you allow your mentee to contact you outside of scheduled meetings? What about personal topics?”
For instance, what boundaries will you implement around time limits? You both have busy lives, so it's important to be respectful of that. Will you allow your mentee to contact you outside of scheduled meetings? What about personal topics?
The key is to be open and communicative about boundaries. This prevents any confusion or hurt feelings down the line.
Mentors need their own sounding boards
It's always surprising to hear that therapists have their own therapists, or that hairdressers go to another hair salon. Can't they just do it themselves?
The answer is, of course, no. We need others to help scratch the itches we can't reach. As a mentor, you will come across things that you can't – or shouldn't – solve yourself, and you need someone to talk to about those things.
Your mentee is not that person. Instead, you should ensure you've got your own mentor or sounding board with whom to vent, discuss, and problem-solve.
“Aim to know exactly what makes your mentee tick.”
Explore non-resume information
The most valuable mentor-mentee pairings are the ones in which mentors truly get to know their mentees. This means exploring not just their professional lives, but their personal ones, too.
What are they passionate about? What do they like to do in their spare time? What makes them happy?
Aim to know exactly what makes your mentee tick. This information is extremely valuable and can help you better understand them and their motivations. They'll also notice that you care about them as a person, not just as a professional, and this can go a long way in strengthening the mentor-mentee relationship.
Make room for two-way feedback
It's scary to think that your mentee might be critical of something you've said or done. We all want to be seen as infallible, but that's simply not possible – so jump the gun and be proactive about asking for feedback.
Mentees often feel hesitant to give critical feedback, but it's an essential part of the mentoring relationship. It allows mentors to reflect on their own behaviour and make changes if necessary.
Make it clear to your mentee from the get-go that you want and welcome feedback. And be sure to provide the same courtesy in return!
Even if your feedback is fair and diplomatic, constantly dishing out negative feedback is enough to demotivate even the hardest of workers. After all, people don't get things right on their very first attempt. For this reason, I like to use what I call the "feedback sandwich". This is when you start a performance review by saying something positive, offer constructive feedback in the middle, and finish once more with something positive. - Patrick Casey, Felix
Ask great questions
At the beginning of a mentorship, here are some of the questions you might think to ask your mentee:
- What's your professional background?
- What is your backstory?
- Which skills are you looking to improve?
- Do you have any short or long term goals?
While all of these questions are valid, they're also surface-level. A better way to get to know your mentee is to ask open-ended questions that allow for more exploration. As so eloquently stated by Stacey Kane, Business Development Lead at EasyMerchant:
“Understanding their career goals can help you fuel their motivation and their passion better that way. Getting to know them is an essential step in developing a genuine and trusting mentor-mentee relationship.”
Some examples of great questions to ask:
- How do you feel about your current job?
- What's the biggest challenge you're facing right now?
- What's your favourite thing about your work?
- What would you do if you could do anything, career-wise?
- Who are you when you're not at work?
- What's a passion you've yet to pursue?
- When have you felt most proud of yourself?
The beauty of these questions is that they can be adapted to any mentorship context. Be sure to ask plenty of questions – and really listen to the answers.
If you're looking for more ideas, check out our list of 27 mind-blowing questions to level up your next mentor-mentee catch up.
Keep in touch between meetings
This one's fairly self-explanatory, and it doesn't have to be much. Even a quick ten-second email checking in can make a big difference.
"Hey, just wanted to touch base and see how you're doing. How did you find that last meeting? Any progress on the goal we set for you? Looking forward to hearing from you soon."
You can make the check-in process more structured, too if you feel that’s what’s needed. As explained by Anup Kayastha, owner of Height Comparison:
“It's easy to get distracted by work or other commitments, so set up check-in times during which both parties check in on how things are going. This will help keep everyone on track and ensure that everyone feels heard.”
Be Vulnerable as a Leader
Oftentimes, junior employees will fear making errors, or worse, defend every mistake they make. Not realizing that, accepting your flaws is the first step in improving.
Lead by example and demonstrate your vulnerability. Communicate the areas where you believe you can improve as a leader, and ask your employees what things you can work on to better support them as a leader.
Datis Mohsenipour, from Outback Team Building & Training shares that in his experience, doing this helps strengthen the relationship between mentors and mentees.
Mentor asynchronously when needed
Let's face it – we can't stick to our commitments 100 percent of the time. Things come up, and that's okay.
When you can't meet up with your mentee in person, try to at least touch base asynchronously. Your mentor can send you a list of questions to answer in your own time; they might even send you some feedback after reading your answers.
This asynchronous mode of communication is a great way to keep the momentum going, especially when you're short on time (which we so often are these days).
Mix up your meetings
Mentorship meetings can get boring if you stick to the same routine every single time. Spice things up by alternating between in-person and remote meetings, or try different mentoring activities altogether.
Some creative meeting ideas:
- Watch an educational video together and then discuss it
- Take a walk and talk about your mentee's progress so far
- Write down your goals for the next meeting and share them with each other
- Brainstorm ideas for the mentee's professional development
- Hold a meeting over breakfast or lunch
- Have a joint meeting with another mentor-mentee pair
The possibilities are endless – so get creative! As quoted by Joey Sasson, VP of Sales and Logistics at Moving APT:
“Embrace change! It's easy to get wrapped up in your way of doing things, but the reality is that things are constantly changing. If you are not open to change, you miss opportunities to learn and grow.”
Leverage your network
Our final technique is an important one that often goes overlooked: leveraging your network.
Your mentee is probably eager to learn from anyone in your circle – so introduce them. You might underestimate the value of this, having already connected with everyone in your current network. But rest assured that mentees are generally eager for more connections and insights.
“Introducing your mentee to someone in your network is a great way to strengthen your relationship with both that person and your mentee.”
The best part? Introducing your mentee to someone in your network is a great way to strengthen your relationship with both that person and your mentee. And who knows, you might even learn something new in the process.
Anthony Martin, from Choice Mutual says to go on double—networking—dates.
Go on “double dates” with other mentor-mentee pairs. Whether you’re taking a professional lunch together or meeting up for a coffee on the weekend, having another mentor and mentee there gives you the opportunity to share stories with peers and observe your mentee interact with other professionals.
Start a mentoring program with best practices baked in
The reason we’ve just spent a few thousand words talking about mentoring techniques is because – in total honesty – that's our passion. At Together, we exist to make mentoring as smooth-sailing, enriching, and beneficial as it can possibly be.
That's why we've ensured that the best practices of mentorship are interwoven into our platform and programs.
- Our matching algorithm is designed to ensure that protégés and mentors are paired impossibly near to perfect.
- We provide all of the tools and resources you need to plan, execute, and track your program's success.
If you're ready for better mentorship all around, then we are, too. Get in touch today to see what we can do for your team.