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More mentoring
May 28, 2012, 17:27
Filed under: CPD | Tags:

I’ve blogged about mentoring as part of the 23 things programme last year and after attending a training course in January but wanted to return to this subject as I have since taken the second part of the training course and acquired a mentee myself.

The training took place in two sections – on 11 January and 23 April 2012 – both of which were conducted by Peter Renwick. (As a side-note I thought Peter was a fantastic trainer, so if you get the chance to go on a course taken by him I’d thoroughly recommend it.) The programme covered mentoring and coaching, and whilst the former was dealt with more in the first session and the latter in the second, we learnt they share a number of similarities and techniques.

I won’t go through it all in detail, but rather pick out the following few things which spring to mind as I recall the sessions. (Looking back over my notes I think this is all correct, though if you spot any glaring errors or omissions please let me know!):

Mentoring

  • Non-directive
  • Allow mentee to work things through for themself
  • Ask challenging questions
  • Usually a less experienced person is mentored by a more experienced one, but can be peer-to-peer
  • Process should be driven by the mentee
  • Often linked to a particular project/period of development, though can be more free-form and ongoing

Coaching

  • Often takes place as part of line-management relationship
  • More about teaching employee what to do (e.g. delegating task and instructing them in how to undertake it)
  • More directive
  • Need to flex your style according to how good/confident they are at the task (scroll down this page for a diagram and descriptions which explain the different styles)
  • Process usually driven by the coach
  • Tends to be linked to a specific developmental need

When working with a new or inexperienced mentee a more coaching type of style may be of use, and when managing an experienced member of staff your technique may look more like mentoring, so we were encouraged to think of this as more of a continuum or spectrum than two separate entities.

As I mentioned in my post after the first part of the course, I felt that what I had learned would really help me to improve my relationship with my mentor. The project for which I was being mentored has since come to an end, and we have ended our formal mentoring relationship, but I felt that I got much more out of our interactions after taking the course: I understood what all the probing questions were designed to achieve, I felt more confident in our meetings, I understood that I really needed to plan my contributions, and I was less anxious about asking questions of my own.

Just before the second training session I acquired my first mentee. My workplace is currently trying to implement the offer of a mentor to all staff members, and whilst sufficient mentors are being trained the scheme is being rolled out to new starters first. I approached our first meeting in a state of some apprehension, and went through my course notes several times. I found it particularly helpful to think about what the contracting session is supposed to achieve, and took along some photocopies of pages with useful diagrams and checklists on. In the end we only used a couple of them in the meeting, but having them with me made me feel more confident. I also made a list of everything I wanted to cover, so I could be sure that I didn’t forget anything crucial, though I did then have to remember to let my mentee speak, rather than just marching on through my list!

(On another side note, planning meetings in advance like this is something I’ve only recently started doing systematically but I find I feel so much more in control when I do. I’d love to be the sort of person who can speak off the cuff the whole time, but it never seems to work completely for me, and given that I love a good list I’ve decided that thorough forward planning is the way to go!) 

I seem to have been very lucky with my mentee, as they came along to our first session prepared to talk, and had clearly thought about what they wanted to get out of the relationship too. This continued in our second meeting, as they had one or two defined things to talk about, as well as going through a range of other things as well.

My main difficulty so far was resisting the urge to tell my mentee how I thought they should handle a particular situation. In the end I did make one or two suggestions, but I think I did this in a fairly sensitive “I don’t know whether you’ve considered doing x, but I’d be interested to explore what you might think of it” kind of way. I deliberately chose to take a more coaching-oriented approach with this as I got the impression that they hadn’t considered any alternatives to what they were proposing to do  (or if they had they weren’t sharing this with me), and I was keen to challenge them about this. I also employed the “what does success look like” question to help them explore what they wanted to achieve from something else we were discussing, which seemed to work effectively as a discussion tool.

So far I’m really enjoying being a mentor, it’s great to be able to help someone find their feet, and I’m really looking forward to our next meeting where I hope to hear what the outcome was of what we discussed last time.

It has also been interesting to think about how I can apply these skills in other contexts, I don’t line-manage anyone at the moment but I do have a new colleague in my department, and have had occasional moments where I’ve needed to help them do something new. I’ve been very conscious that I’ve taken a much more directive approach in these situations, but again I think this is justified – at the point of interaction I’ve effectively been called upon to answer a question, and a “well how do you think you might approach this” answer would have sounded really patronising and unhelpful. Clearly as they become more familiar with the role and the environment I’d expect this to change, and I must remain mindful of my own part in this.

For me I think this added level of awareness is really helpful – I’m naturally quite a bossy, “this is how things should be done” kind of person, so taking a more thoughtful approach to how I help people with things is a positive step. I’m sure it will also be helpful in reference interviews in the reading room too, although I haven’t had occasion to apply it to this yet.

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