For anyone who has considered developing a formal mentorship program within their organization, I will tell you that it has done wonders for the employees of Xenium in terms of professional growth, communication and relationship development. Although mentorship programs can come in many different formats, at Xenium we decided to keep the program internal. This means that employees within the four walls of the organization are matched, with each match typically including a leadership-level employee and someone growing within the organization who seeks to receive support and learn from an experienced leader. We also made a point to ensure an employee’s direct manager would not be their mentor.
Each organization may have a different reason for starting a mentorship program, but there should always be a specific objective. For some it may be career advancement and professional development, while for others the objective might be to open up the lines of communication better between leadership and staff. Yet another organization may simply wish to implement a program that coincides with their desire to build or further a “learning” culture. Regardless of the intended outcomes, a mentorship program should be an initiative that is on the radar of HR and leadership. For Xenium, our purpose for launching a mentorship program was to encourage personal and professional growth and improve overall job performance. Additionally, we believe it also serves as a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with others within our own departments and other departments.
Personally, I have the unique opportunity of being on both sides of the mentorship program at Xenium. As a person who wants to accomplish much in the future, it was a no-brainer to get paired up with someone on the senior leadership team at Xenium; but I also felt like I had something to give as well, so I also joined as a mentor.
With my experience in the mentorship program as both a mentee and mentor, it only makes sense that I share the specifics!
Being a Mentee
We have a great group of leaders at Xenium, and I would have been fortunate to be paired up with anyone. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be mentored by someone who completely understands marketing and the creative side as well as being knowledgeable in business. An unintended benefit of the mentor/mentee relationship was that we not only focused on professional and business development, but we focused more holistically on personal and professional development. For example, one of the things I struggle with is balancing my personal and professional parts of my life. With two young children at home (2 ½ years old and 11 months), I find myself struggling to focus on everything that is important to me such as spending time with my family, reading, exercising, learning new things, etc.—because, quite honestly, it feels like there are so many things to do! My mentor helped me prioritize all that was important so that I have time for everything and saves me from becoming too stressed. Several months later, I can honestly say that I am still following the plan we mapped out.
My mentor and I have met monthly for the past 15 months outside of the office. Part of the benefit of going offsite is to focus on the dialogue and not be distracted by what’s going on in the office during the day. Additionally, a casual environment tends to open up the dialogue a little more—or at least for me, as I personally found it much more comfortable than being in the office.
If there’s one thing I have learned from being a mentee it is that I must be open to receiving constructive feedback in order to get the most out of the mentor-mentee relationship. I believe that the mentorship relationship should be less a venting session and more concerned with determining what I can do to grow personally and professionally or solve business problems. I knew going in that I would have to keep an open mind and be willing to share goals and challenges with my mentor. Some of the helpful tips mentees received prior to the very first meeting were:
- Review feedback you have received in the focused skill areas
- Actively participate and pursue activities that will encourage development; maintain contact with your mentor
- Be prepared to talk about personal interests/hobbies with your mentor (i.e. break the ice to learn about common areas of interest)
- Be clear on skills/competencies and goals that you wish to develop
- Drive the partnership; be responsible for initiating contact and continuous improvement
- Be open to receive and provide constructive criticism
Having these tips really helped guide the structure of the program and helped me get everything I could out of the time my mentor and I have together.
Being a Mentor
Stepping into the role of mentor was quite different than that of being a mentee. I wouldn’t say one is more challenging than the other, simply different. One notable difference is that as a mentee you have to be willing to be vulnerable and spill your guts, especially if you want to get a lot out of the relationship. As a mentor, it’s quite the opposite—you have to listen really well. It’s surprising how hard that is, especially as I am more of a solution-oriented person who wants to jump in and solve every problem.
Fortunately, the person I mentor is a life-long learner and is very eager to listen whatever I have to say. One opportunity we worked through together was that, beyond his current job, he had interest in learning things outside of HR, such as data analysis and reporting. I had never known this until we uncovered it in our first meeting together. As it turned out, I have some of that knowledge and expertise so it was a perfect opportunity to be able to share some of the things I know with him and provide additional training resources and books to read.
At first, I could see how identifying professional interests that didn’t directly relate to his role in our company may have been challenging for him to share with another employee, regardless how much our organization strives for and encourages open communication. As we constantly find in our HR consulting business, HR is actually quite data-driven; and with my mentee’s refined skills and knowledge in reporting, he has been able to provide even more value in his role than before the mentor program. Beyond this one example, he has maintained the attitude that he will develop in all areas to be better at his role within the company.
I love being a mentor to someone, and I’d do it again if someone wanted me as their mentor. There’s something to be said about guiding someone to reach their full potential and find their passion. Encouraging someone’s growth as a person and professional is very rewarding for me, and, if successful, should be very rewarding for the organization, too.
Much like entering the program as a mentee, mentors were given some tips for how to be an effective mentor. I found many of these tips to be very useful:
- Be available for your mentee
- Share your own experiences, both positive and negative, in order to expand knowledge
- Be a good listener, as someone from outside the mentee’s environment
- Mentors are advisors and coaches (not managers or counselors)
- Help develop or share networking contacts
- Help construct a mentee development plan and suggest activities to enhance learning in the first meeting
My experience within the program has been a very positive one and I hope others get the same opportunity I had. For those considering developing a mentor program within your organization for whatever reason, hopefully my experience helps shed some light on the benefits of such a program, while also recognizing how big of a commitment it is for the organization and the participating employee. I will state this proudly and confidently: the organization benefits greatly through sharing and expanding knowledge as well as engaging people in their positions—we’ve seen it. As a company focused on improving culture, this program resulted in strengthened relationships and personal and professional growth. I find it fascinating and rewarding to see how one program, along with the commitment from employees, can have such a position impact on an organization.