Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mentoring Problem #4: Mentoring Misconceptions

Here's a mentoring problem you may not even be aware of: Your mentoring program participants are skeptical of your mentoring program, whether they’re telling you so or not. Here are a few of their reactions to their mentoring misconceptions, and how you can assuage their fears.

“I don’t have time to do this.”

The reality is that everyone is short of time. Just look at the reports of the average employee receiving 100-200 emails per day – on top of the rest of the work that they have to do.

But oftentimes it’s less an issue of what we have time for, and more an issue of what we make time for – and we do make time for our priorities. Your mentors, mentees, and their managers have to understand that this is something they can’t afford not to make a priority.

Make the business case for mentoring to them, but don’t stop there. Make it personal, if you haven't already when you were recruiting mentors and mentees. Ask them to consider that the whole point of the program is to develop people in their area – which will mean more people, increased efficiency, and eventually more time for them.

“I don’t want to be this person’s mentor forever.” 

Another common misconception is that if you sign up to be a mentor, it’s a lifetime commitment, rather than the 9-12 month formal mentoring commitment that you’re actually asking of them.

Make this clear from the start: mentors and mentees are not required to continue any commitment to each other beyond the timeframe of your formal program. This should alleviate a lot of worry for your commitment-phobes.

Though let’s be fair - commitment-phobia is perfectly normal in this instance. Your mentors and mentees may only know each other in passing, or may not even know each other at all. They are not specifically seeking one another out. They’re being matched based on competencies and ability to encourage development.

Just be sure to remind them that they are not being forced into anything. And furthermore, if they do feel forced, they shouldn’t participate.

“This will have no value for me.” 

Benefits for both mentors and mentees come down to two things: a) developmental opportunities, and b) seeing how their organization works from a new perspective.

Here are some actual quotes from some of the mentors and mentees from programs we’ve helped facilitate:

From mentors:
  • “I gained lots of insights on things happening in the company that I normally would not have known about.  And a better appreciation for the routine things our employees are dealing with.”
  • “[I appreciated] the chance to work with mentees who were looking for an alternate point of view concerning their development needs and goals.”
  • “[I appreciated] meeting the individual and learning their perspective.  Helping them find new ways of looking at things.”
From mentees:
  • “[It was helpful] having a safe environment to openly discuss my development areas, and bounce potential approaches for changes in the way I work.”
  • “It was helpful to have a formalized way to match with a mentor - rather than have to pursue informally.”
  • “The opportunity to solicit a new perspective. It took me out of the day to day but was still relevant. I can't find the words to express how much value the monthly face to face meetings became in my overall development and to help lift my outlook.  Each and every meeting provided some nugget of inspiration.”
  • “I really appreciated being connected with someone in the company that I didn't have prior experience with. She was very helpful.”

“I’m not qualified enough to do this."

This is probably the biggest mentoring misconception. Because mentoring is often used as a developmental tool to aid succession planning efforts, one of the primary mentoring misconceptions is that mentors have to be at a certain level within the organization in order to help individuals move up within the organization.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter what level a mentor is in their organization. Mentoring is about development first and foremost – any goals of getting a mentee to move up in the organization are secondary to the mentee’s development. A mentor who is qualified to be a mentor:

  • has the necessary skills to teach their mentee, 
  • is able to teach them, and 
  • is willing to be a mentor.
There’s a lot more to say about how mentoring misconceptions play into mentors and mentee’s fears, and I’ll say more about that in the next blog.

Have you run into any of these challenges? Let us know.

 Judy Corner is an expert in mentoring training and program planning. Her other posts in this series:

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