Growing the industry: Mentoring
One of my long term mentees is in the country (awesome our borders are open again) and stopping by for a visit this weekend. She is young, successful, highly motivated and now a mentor herself, but she still calls me at all hours of the day and night to help tackle the growth challenges her business is facing or discuss aspects of her strategy. I don't necessarily have all the answers, I am there to help her work through issues in a structured way, connect her with wise people who have walked in her shoes and provide a structure to help her develop and grow.
As the digital technology industry grows, as businesses are trying to overcome the impact of closed borders, the great resignation and now an outflow of young people as our borders have reopened the need for excellent programmes - to rapidly train, reskill, upskill and support development of our workforce - is greater than ever before.
One of the key support roles designed to support this rapid capability development will be leveraging mentors. So growing mentoring capability is a critical element in overcoming our skills shortage.
Before I get too excited let's go back a few steps.
What is a mentor?
There are loads of definitions out there but I do like this one: "A mentor is a person who can support, advise and guide you. They typically take the time to get to know you and the challenges you're facing, and then use their understanding and personal experience to help you improve."
Mentors are often found in a work or business context, someone who is more experienced in a role or discipline mentoring another who is developing capability. Mentors donate their time to help others reach their potential.
Mentoring is also a great skillset to develop, mentoring doesn't come naturally to all of us - I talk about this a bit more later on.
What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?
Both mentors and coaches are there to help people get to where they want to be in life. Mentors are more development focused whereas coaches - eg: a sporting coach - are usually more performance focused. When you read the many definitions of a coach the words "instruct" and "train" come up regularly. Of those I liked this definition "someone whose job is to teach people to improve at a sport, skill or school subject"
Career and Life Coaches tend to be offered by a professional service provider, coaching is often undertaken more frequently than mentoring, in shorter bursts and is a very outcome focused process. Many highly successful people have both coaches and mentors in their lives.
What makes a great mentor and mentee relationship?
It might sound cliche but a great mentor / mentee relationship is about timing, at different times in our lives we need support in different ways. Mentors are people at the end of the day so personality, what help is needed skill and experience wise, style and context are all factors in striking a great relationship.
Here are a few tips to both mentees and mentors to help strike a great relationship.
To potential mentees - be clear on what you want to achieve, be open minded and able to listen to different perspectives, be specific about what support you need, be open and honest, make it easy for your mentor - they are there to help you, and be grateful - they are giving up their time.
To potential mentors - be constructive and straightforward with your thoughts, listen actively, be positive and enthusiastic, communicate in terms of actionable suggestions, acknowledge what you don't know, share your knowledge and experience willingly, schedule enough time to give your mentee adequate support.
Depending on your career stage its important to find a mentor who can help you develop today, some mentor relationships can last for many years, others are much shorter and once you have reached your goal it might be time to find a new mentor to help with your next goal.
Just because someone has a fancy title, or a high profile doesn't necessarily mean they will be the right mentor for you today - be realistic.
Where / how to find a mentor
Ok now to the challenges. Right now we not only have a shortage of skilled experienced workers in the industry, we also lack great mentors for all of the wonderful new talent entering the industry. This is especially evident in minority groups - for women, Māori and Pasifica - finding mentors who have walked in their shoes is especially challenging.
Most employers can facilitate finding mentors for their staff, so don't be afraid to ask your boss. In my experience people are generous with their time and there is no harm in asking if you identify someone you think would be great for you. But, be respectful, busy people might not have capacity or there may be other things happening in their lives that today isn't the right time to take on a new mentee, don't hound them to respond.
TechWomen have developed a great programme called Mentoring Circles to try and overcome one element of the mentor shortage. I was involved in the first cohort who developed the programme, where 2 mentors were matched with a group of 6-10 mentees working together as a peer/mentor group. It worked really well and has continued to grow from year to year. You can apply to join this years cohort here - https://techwomen.nz/about-us/our-work/mentoring-circles/
ITP have developed a mentor programme with a matching platform, where mentees and mentors provide skills and experience detail, mentees describe what they are looking to develop, and mentors describe what they can offer. We have over 100 mentor / mentee relationships in place right now across ITP's membership, you can read more about this here - https://itp.nz/Members/Mentoring
The Digital Industry Transformation Plan skills work stream is also working on how to create mentors at scale which might include programmes for businesses to help develop their senior staff as great mentors who can grow capacity within their own companies. This body of work is also focusing on development great mentoring support for minority groups across our industry. https://itp.nz/Our-Work/Digital-Tech-Skills-Plan
The call to action
Personally I have had some fantastic mentors throughout my career, I am lucky enough to have a circle of wise men and women who support me today, who give up their time to help me reach my potential. From where I sit mentoring works.
So my call to action is to ask everyone reading this to get involved. You can be a mentor and mentee at the same time. It's a rewarding activity helping people develop their career.
Ngā mihi Vic
This is the second blog in the series called Growing the industry. You can read the first installment on Language here
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