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Mentoring project professionals

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Workplace mentoring has many advantages, particularly in a field such as project management, where inter-personal skills are essential. For some, mentoring is an informal process, but more consultancies are now investing in formal training programmes to help their teams meet personal aspirations, while supporting wider organisational goals.

Mentoring is often associated with junior teams, but senior project managers can also reap the rewards. This is because people rarely succeed without additional support. Successful people have usually had someone behind them at critical points to encourage, guide, challenge and test them, and help them explore new possibilities.

Mentoring is also recognised by professional bodies. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recommends mentoring as a supportive form of development to help individuals manage their careers and improve their skills.

Setting up a mentoring scheme is relatively straightforward. However, establishing an effective mentoring scheme can be challenging. Here are some ideas on how to get it right.

1. Have a clear purpose
It is essential that the reason for adopting a mentoring scheme is understood and supported by the whole team. It should be communicated as an improvement process to benefit the whole workforce.

Without a clear purpose, it is very easy for mentoring to become just another one of ‘those things that we do’. Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals and objectives for both the mentor and mentee, to ensure each person is accountable for their individual achievement.

2. Mentors should be willing and properly trained
It is important that mentors are willing to perform the mentor role, and that it is not imposed as a general duty. It is also vital that mentors are properly trained. A real risk for even the best-motivated mentors is that they ‘take over’ issues and actions, smothering the mentee that they are supposed to be supporting.

3. Mentees should be properly briefed
Mentees should understand the mentoring relationship before it begins. Expectations should be properly managed to ensure positive personal development and measurable progression. Writing a mentoring contract is a good way to set and agree those expectations for both the mentor and mentee.

4. Crucially, mentors and mentees should be properly matched
It is crucial that the mentor and mentee are properly matched. Matching the wrong duo is the biggest single threat to mentoring as a standard business practice.

When deciding on your mentor matching criteria, the overarching business objective should be a central component to any decision. There is no universal criterion that fits all situations and each objective will require a personalised criterion to select the right pair. For example, if your business objective is focused on building management competencies, match mentees that have specific competency gaps with mentors that excel in those areas.

5. There should be a clear exit strategy to the relationship
An exit strategy should be established at the outset to ensure that a dependency does not form between the mentor and mentee. Such dependencies can go both ways, and can be detrimental to the business and staff involved.

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This blog first appeared as an article in the Winter 2015 edition of  Project Journal.


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