Mentorship is about more than just sitting down every now and then to have a chat. HRM looks at the structures you need to put in place to make the relationship valuable.
Cheyenne Killen was relatively new in her role as HR advisor at Kane Constructions when the pandemic hit. Thankfully, she had an ace up her sleeve to help her get through a tumultuous year – something that made her feel ready for anything.
Killen’s secret weapon? Her mentor. Karen Johns, HR manager at M3 Property.
“Having someone to hold me accountable, hear my stories, help me set goals and then make sure that I was working to achieve them really helped. I think it would have been really challenging if I didn’t have someone to support me, listen to me and guide me through last year,” says Killen.
Killen’s experience was so positive she ended up nominating Johns for the Art of Mentoring’s 2020 Mentor of the Year award. And Johns won.
Mentorship programs are a popular way to build skills. The Art of Mentoring, a mentoring firm, say it has helped over 20,000 people through their programs.
There’s also research to suggest mentorship programs benefit both mentor and mentee. One study found mentors were more satisfied with their job and more committed to their organisation.
But being a good mentor isn’t as simple as finding yourself a mentee. It’s also about building structure around the relationship to ensure its creating value for both parties. HRM asked Johns to share her best tips for becoming an excellent mentor.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be a mentor? Registrations are closing on January 31st for AHRI’s mentoring program. Register now.
1. Have regular meetings
“One thing I appreciated about Karen was at the end of every meeting she’d say, ‘ok, when is our next meeting?” says Killen.
Regular catch-ups are important for several reasons. Firstly, as busy professionals it’s an easy way to ensure there is time in your schedule to commit to the program.
Secondly, it establishes expectations of the relationship.
“Regular meetings at the beginning is a really good foundation piece,” says Johns. “That enables you to set up that relationship, work out what you like and don’t like and what the mentee needs from you.”
Regularity also allows the mentor to hold the mentee to any goals they’ve set.
“When Cheyenne and I would meet, I would always try to pick up what we discussed the time before. ‘How did you get through this issue? Did you accomplish that thing?’ It just helps to get that progression,” says Johns.
Killen believes that having a meeting scheduled in advance stopped her from cancelling when she was too busy or just not feeling up to meeting.
“It meant, for me, if I was not in the best mood, or something like that, I still went. I had a commitment to keep. I think that’s really helpful and I often came out with a reinvigorated passion for HR,” says Killen.
In the new WFH world, access to mentors has never been easier. Killen and Johns have their catch ups over Zoom, for example, and they feel it’s just as effective as when they meet up face-to-face. In fact, the two didn’t actually meet in person until near the end of the mentorship program.
“I often came out with a reinvigorated passion for HR.” – Cheyenne Killen, HR advisor at Kane Constructions.
2. Mentor externally
There are definitely arguments to be made for pairing mentors and mentees within an organisation. In-house mentors will have organisational knowledge they can pass on, as the mentor is likely to be a senior and experienced employee, and they’re likely already in the same building, making catching up easier.
But both Killen and Johns believe an external mentor is a better option.
“It’s incredibly beneficial getting that outside opinion. They see everything objectively. Obviously, they’re getting it from your point of view, but they can look at problems from a very high level and not get stuck in the nitty gritty that might be obstructing your view,” says Killen.
As the sole HR presence in her organisation, Killen had no choice but to seek outside mentorship. Even so, Johns agrees in the value of an impartial third party voice.
Personal relationships and internal politics can have a big impact when working through an issue, says Johns. An external opinion brings a purely professional perspective.
It also means the mentee can rest assured that there are no ulterior motives at play. The mentor isn’t trying to sway the situation in a manner that suits them or their buddy in the senior leadership team – they’re just offering advice that’s purely intended to help the mentee.
3. Prepare for honesty and vulnerability
Killen says Johns became a valuable emotional support person throughout the program. On one occasion, Johns spotted the signs of burnout in Killen and called her out.
“I try to turn up to all meetings positive and optimistic, but this one time Karen saw right through me. She just asked “What’s going on? You’re not yourself.
“She started asking me questions and I realised ‘Wow, I am really rundown. I’m wrecked’! Karen gave me some amazing advice by pointing out that I’d been really hard on myself and wasn’t allowing myself to have a break.”
Johns says to really benefit from a mentor/mentee relationship, you should prepare to let your barriers down and be vulnerable.
“I think there is a habit of bravado sometimes, particularly in HR. We tend to put on our armour. But the valuable part of having a mentor is you can be vulnerable enough to let someone see beyond that,” she says.
“I think there is a habit of bravado sometimes, particularly in HR. We tend to put on our armour. But the valuable part of having a mentor is you can be vulnerable enough to let someone see beyond that.” – Karen Johns, HR manager at M3 Property.
4. Practice active listening
Johns has had many mentees over the years (and has recently become a mentee herself), and she says the key skill that makes or breaks a mentorship program is active listening.
As HRM has covered before, listening is more than nodding at the appropriate moment. It’s about showing the other person that you are absorbing what they’re saying and taking the time to form considered responses.
“Give 100 per cent of your focus and think about the meaning behind the words. ‘Why are they saying that? What’s their body language saying?’ That’s how you know what they really need from you, so you can provide the best advice at that moment,” says Johns. Johns noticing that Killen was presenting signs of burnout is a perfect example of this.
“As a mentor, that’s really the best thing you can offer [your mentee]. Every mentee is different, but they all want to be heard.”
Active listening clearly had an impact on Killen. She cites Johns’s ability to always ask the right questions and see beyond what she was saying as her main reason for nominating her for mentor of the year.
“That, and she deserved it!” she adds.
You too could be an award winning mentor. Register now for AHRI’s 2021 mentoring program. Registration closes January 31st.