Home' Border Enterprise : Enterprise Spring-Summer 2009 Contents 20 enterpris e
Mentoring is seen as a way of creating human
bonds and loyalty and supporting new graduates
by saying: "How can we help you navigate our
While many large organisations have in-house
mentoring programs for employees, mentees
should expect to build a relationship quite different
to the one they have with a manager, according
to Gilly Johnson of the Australian Mentor Centre.
"The mentee sets the objectives and the mentor is
simply a sounding board, rather than a manager
giving direct advice that needs to be followed," she
Johnson emphasises that willingness from
both parties is the first essential ingredient in any
successful mentoring relationship: "This shouldn't
be a forced activity."
Staff at food maker General Mills would no doubt
agree. Now in its fifth year, its voluntary mentoring
program is growing rapidly, with staff getting some
say in who their mentor will be. "They select their
top three choices and we match them," says
human resources director Heath Martin.
"The focus is really tailored to what the employee
wants. This could be strategy, leadership, or
anything but it's not just connecting people for a
Martin notes that while their mentees are
required to set a 12-month plan and report on
their progress, confidentiality between mentor
and mentee is part and parcel of the program.
"I'm sure there are very fertile discussions about
how to relate to colleagues or peers and that's
all fair game as far as I'm concerned. As long
as everyone is comfortable and they follow the
objectives of their plan."
Government regulator WorkCover NSW has
WHEN small-business owner
Julia Nekich started public
relations firm The Ideas
Suite, she figured it couldn't
hurt to learn from those
who had "been there, done that".
Two years later, Nekich says her decision to
seek out mentors has helped her build a business
she's proud of. "I've had two mentors to date," she
says. "Initially, I needed knowledge about running
a business, so I joined the mentoring program of
the Australian Businesswomen's Network. More
recently, I joined the mentoring program of the
Public Relations Institute of Australia, to help me
build the type of business I was interested in."
While her first mentoring experience was quite
tightly structured, Nekich is enjoying the more
informal arrangement of her current program. She
and her mentor, a retired public relations executive,
meet monthly to talk.
Prioritising the relationship has paid off for
Nekich, although she admits it's sometimes
tempting to push the appointment off her
schedule. "Although you might be busy and initially
think, 'It's taking time away from business just to sit
and talk about it', I've learnt that this thinking time
is essential. You're strategising, then you come
back and start implementing. I've really begun to
Australia's mentoring tradition is making
a comeback, according to organisational
psychologist and mentoring expert Jenny Morris.
"When we had apprenticeships, people more
commonly took other employees under their
wing. With baby boomers retiring, there's a big
experience gap and organisations are realising how
critical it is to retain the people they've got.
also found its employees respond well to being
mentored. "I think it does make you feel more
valued and it demonstrates to your employer that
you are serious about career development," says
WorkCover mentee Jean Wilson.
It's not only mentees who benefit. WorkCover
mentor Dot McDonald says: "I saw it as my own
next level of development and an opportunity to
help others. I feel a real sense of pride when my
mentee completes one of her goals. It's a win for
both of us."
If the wins aren't forthcoming, many in mentoring
relationships are tempted to let the project
quietly disappear. According to Johnson, this
can be a costly mistake. "Falling out of contact
with each other isn't a good strategy for your
professional reputation. You should have an exit
clause that allows you to leave with grace and
Mentoring isn't only for newcomers or high
fliers, with many professional bodies using the
tool to help their members through career highs
and lows. Australia's CPAs are required to be
mentored by a full member before becoming one
themselves and the PRIA recently introduced a
mentoring program to support members feeling the
effects of the economic downturn. In the current
climate, mentoring has one other advantage over
alternatives like business coaching: it's usually
voluntary and therefore either free or run at a
nominal cost to mentees.
As Nekich has discovered, the generosity of
a mentor in sharing knowledge often extends
beyond the official program time frame.
"I'm still friends with my first mentor --- he is
genuinely interested in how I'm doing," she says.
Feeling uninspired at
work? A good mentor
may give you just the
push you need, writes
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