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John Milsom

John Milsom



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Finding the Perfect Match

I was recently asked to be a judge for the ‘Made in Manchester’ Awards – an awards ceremony designed to recognise and reward talent within the Manchester professional community. One of the categories I judged was the ‘Manchester Mentor’ category. My task was to identify the best mentor from a shortlisted group of individuals, (all working within the Greater Manchester Professional Services community) who had all been nominated by colleagues for their contribution in supporting up-and-coming talent in the business.

Interestingly, I was asked at the awards ceremony by a few different people – “how we had judged this award?”  “What exactly were we looking for?” Although mentoring is relatively well established amongst many organisations, these questions do perhaps reflect the fact that mentoring can be seen as a slightly woolly and intangible thing - certainly a nice to have, but how do you do it well?

Research shows that the benefits of mentoring to organisations can be split into four main categories – retention of talent, promotion of talent, productivity, and personal and professional development (Triple Creek Associates, 2007). That said, negative experiences can also occur, which can lead to poor morale (of mentor or mentee) - damaging productivity, as mentoring sessions and conversations lose focus, are unstructured, and ultimately distract individuals from more beneficial activities. In this sense, poor mentoring relationships can be worse than no relationship at all. So what are the secrets to introducing a successful mentoring programme?

A key aspect appears to be offering both mentors and mentees support and guidance. The majority of ‘failed’ mentoring relationships occur in organisations that do not have a formal process, instead relying mentors and mentees to ‘figure it out for themselves’. Here, blurred or misaligned expectations, a poor understanding of what the purpose of the sessions are, or a mismatch of personalities can all lead to a fall out. Even worse, mentors and mentees can end up ‘trapped’ in an unsatisfying relationship, choosing to ‘hang in there,’ like a husband and wife in a failed marriage.

Giving mentors and mentees a clear understanding of their role, of what mentoring is (and isn’t), and the key skills required can lay the foundations for a beneficial relationship. For mentors, this can mean developing skills often associated with coaching capability– questioning, listening, and goal setting techniques. For mentees, the focus needs to be on encouraging accountability for the relationship, so that the mentee feels comfortable actively managing the process.  We would also advocate careful matching of mentor and mentee. Whilst bringing together individuals of different perspectives and approaches can be refreshing and developmental for both, there is also enough evidence to indicate that mentor and mentee need to have sufficient common ground in order to make it work – be it personality, cognitive style, or motivational drivers (Kahle-Piasecki & Toledo, 2011).  Arguably, this may pave the way for an increased use of a ‘speed dating’ style approach to matching mentors and mentees, where after a short introductory meeting, individuals choose (anonymously) who they would like to be paired with.

Fortunately, the winner of the award (Chris Hylton, from KPMG Manchester) demonstrated all the things we wanted to see in a mentor – self awareness, focus on specific tangible outcomes, and importantly, a willingness to commit time and energy into his mentoring role. Congratulations Chris!

If you would like to know more about mentoring, or discuss ways in which organisations are successfully managing mentoring schemes,  please get in touch with Melissa Davis.


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