Many of us have become accustomed to working from home lately, yet still might understandably feel isolated from the business, cut off from colleagues and miss the stimulation of a bustling office environment.
On the plus side, we often now have more time to devote to personal development to help grow our careers. The wonders of modern connectivity mean that professional learning need not be put on hold and may even be enhanced.
Mentoring has a huge part to play in this. Passing on experience and challenging mentees to improve and develop both their skills and their outlook is a great way to boost their confidence and abilities. AT NTT DATA we are expanding our successful mentoring programme and have learned some valuable lessons we’d like to share.
Getting on board
The first step is to recruit a stock of mentors - you’ll need to know what experience and expertise they can offer, for example a good understanding of technologies or management techniques.
A questionnaire is a good way to capture this information. It’s important at this stage not to segment people by culture or other criteria, thinking that people can only mentor others of similar backgrounds. They may have knowledge of working in different cultures or have some challenging life experiences that could help mentees see things from a different angle.
Mentees should also be sent a questionnaire to discover where they see their knowledge gaps and what they want to learn, such as critical thinking, networking or problem solving.
In NTT DATA’s mentoring programme, the mentee is the centre of attention. It's important to make sure the mentee is happy with the ‘match’ to their mentor and each has to agree on it if the experience is to benefit both of them.
Of course, pre-lockdown, all meetings were done face to face. Now we have to be more flexible, with virtual meetings. Look at the concept of ‘just in time’ mentoring based on arranging a quick Skype or Teams chat which can create more informal and more frequent contact that employees find better fits their needs.
Mentees get the chance to be guided and supported by a trusted individual, grow their knowledge and advance their career. It helps people understand what matters to the company and shares our culture by showing how things are done around here.
One mentee on the RISE program says the thing she most enjoys is that her mentor challenges her both personally and professionally and encourages her to see things differently: “He really listens to what I am trying to achieve and tailors session to help us achieve that together. I have really enjoyed being a part of the mentoring scheme.”
There are also great benefits for the mentors, who get a chance to harness their leadership and coaching skills. Before lockdown, one mentor on the programme said: “I meet my mentee once a month to discuss a range of topics, driven by their agenda. I provide my perspective and experiences of what I have found to be successful and which I hope will benefit my mentee by giving them some different approaches to issues or challenges.”
Try reverse mentoring
A new approach we are planning is to introduce at NTT DATA is a ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme, where more junior and younger members of staff can become mentors for more senior colleagues. This opens new possibilities for experienced personnel to learn new technology skills, to foster better understanding of the challenges facing inexperienced employees, encouraging empathy between generations and getting a new perspective on diversity issues. The scheme also gives the younger mentor increased visibility across the organization, a chance to show what they do and who they are.
Far from being seen as an obligation by mentors, our mentoring scheme has proved so attractive that we now have more mentors than mentees. We hope to see the same level of engagement when we launch our ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme.
For NTT DATA, the benefit of mentoring comes from developing a learning culture and promoting the personal and professional approach of our staff.
Top tips for mentoring
So, how does a company and its mentors and mentees go about ensuring the best experience and outcomes for all involved, especially now that we all meet online?
- The change to virtual meetings means you need to establish how often you are going to meet, and who is responsible for noting and circulating actions
- How will you be connecting - Teams, Skype? And remember to always use video
- Listen, listen, listen! One thing that many mentors get wrong is one of the simplest tasks: listening. You don’t always need to be offering advice or providing feedback. This still applies virtually
- Check in with your mentor/mentee and see how they are keeping, just a quick hello can help improve their day
- Be positive and optimistic when speaking to your mentee