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Gail LeCocq asked me if I wanted to give a presentation for the Other-Than-Traditional-Office (OTTO) group in Toronto. At the time, I was preparing The Busy Person’s Guide to Learning from the Network, so I suggested that. When she got back in touch a ew weeks later to confirm, though, I realized that I wanted to talk about a different topic instead. I suggested a topic on mentoring, which several people had asked me about. Here’s a rough draft.
Mentoring. We all know mentoring is good for your career, but sometimes it’s hard to make time to find and meet with mentors. Here’s how mentoring can make a big difference in the way you work:
- Information: Mentors can help you learn complex tools or processes, review your work, and avoid or resolve problems.
- Advice: Mentors can share insights you didn’t even know you needed. Mentors can also help you understand your hidden strengths and weaknesses.
- Accountability: Mentors can help you commit to your goals and stay motivated.
- Stretching: Mentors can challenge you to grow and call you out if you’re slacking off.
- Connection: Mentors can help you navigate a large organization and find just the right people who can help you.
- Sponsorship: Mentors can help you find opportunities you may not hear about yourself, or convince people to take a chance on you. Mentors can also speak up for you when people are making decisions.
- Social interaction: Regular mentoring conversations can bring some of that social interaction back into remote work.
Challenges and advantages
So mentoring is good, but how can you convince someone to invest the time and energy into mentoring you, particularly if you can’t make that face-to-face connection with them or develop familiarity by working together in a colocated office?
Mentoring can be difficult if you’re a remote employee. In an office, you might bump into someone you admire and ask them questions, your manager might walk over and introduce you to someone, or you might buy someone coffee or lunch while picking their brain. When you’re remote, you need to be more creative about connecting with people.
On the plus side, you can connect with possible mentors around the world. This means you can learn from very different perspectives. You can get a sense of what life and work is like in different business units and geographies.
In IBM, you can use the Bluepages company directory system to find people who have volunteered to mentor other people. IBM Learning organizes speed-mentoring events where you can connect with many possible mentors, ask quick questions, and follow up for additional help or introductions. IBMers are also usually open to e-mail requests or questions.
Mentors can be older than you or younger than you, in the same business unit or in a different one, next door or around the world. Keep your mind open, and reach out. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
You can build a mentoring relationship over time. Start by connecting with your potential mentor and asking for a small piece of advice. Act on that advice if it’s good. Send a thank-you note with the results. Ask for more advice, and share more updates. Share what you’ve been learning from other people, too. If it turns out to be a good fit for both you and the other person, you might ask if you can set up a regular monthly chat to learn more.
If your potential mentor posts blog entries or profile updates, you can use that to build a relationship as well. Read what they post, comment, and share any updates on insights you’ve picked up from them and applied in your work or life. Send thanks – or better yet, post your thanks online too.
Making the most of mentoring
- Have a clear idea of what you want to learn, how your potential mentor can make a difference, and why he or she may want to help you.
- Set up a regular time to connect with your mentor – once a month, for example. Meet in person if possible, or connect using a video-conferencing program like Skype.
- Talk about communication preferences with your mentor. Some people like having very focused meetings. Send them prepared questions before your conversation. Other people prefer e-mail or blog conversations over phone conversations. Try that out.
- Take notes. Mentors invest time into helping you, and you can save them time and increase the ROI by writing down what you’ve learned in a form that they can easily share with other people.
- Thank people!
Helping others is fulfilling, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert, you’ve probably learned a lot of things you take for granted. You can help people get started, save time, and learn more. Give mentoring a try!
Some ways to connect with mentees:
- Talk to your manager and other people about the things you can help people with. They can refer people to you.
- Give presentations and share your slides. There are many groups in IBM who organize regular conference calls, and they’re always looking for speakers.
- Attend virtual and real-life networking events. Ask people what they want to learn or what could help them be more successful.
- Post profile updates or write blog posts. This helps people learn what you’re good at and get a sense of who you are.
Don’t forget to mention your mentoring during the Personal Business Commitments (PBCs) review. It’s a way of giving back to the community and investing in others!
Now we get to the networking part of this presentation, where you might find a mentor or connect with a mentee. You’ll probably want pen and paper for this one, so you can write down people’s names. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves. Say your first and last name, then answer these questions: What do you need help with? What can you help people with? Then say your first and last name again, in case people missed your name the first time around. (Spell your name if you need to.) If you’re listening to someone’s introduction and something interests you, feel free to connect on this call or through Sametime!
What do you think? What would you like to share with other people looking for mentors or mentees?