There is a difference between a ‘conversation’ and a ‘mentoring conversation’. As with so many things, it’s the nuance and detail that counts. The point of adopting a formalised mentoring programme is that it can give a consistent approach to the activity, allow you to share expertise and best practice and be especially beneficial to people like me who tend to have ‘just conversations’ rather than specifically ‘mentoring’ ones.
Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with everyone adopting a different track, you’re more likely to be able to deliver quality outcomes if there is some consistency. Formal mentoring programmes can tend to emerge from niche parts of the business: mentoring for women, LGBT programmes, graduate programmes. Party this is down to the fact that these groups tend to be focussed on development, equality and have funding to match, but partly it’s because in the ‘mainstream’, mentoring can be seen as being of peripheral benefit.
There’s no doubt that both coaching and mentoring are more mainstream than ever before, it’s one of this years hot topics, but it can still be seen as something that happens around your annual review rather than an activity that takes place over time.
Whilst there are different types of mentoring arrangements, there is no doubt that a formalised approach can allow more people to effectively bring a mentoring dynamic to their everyday relationships more effectively. Understanding how the relationship starts, how to build trust and use disclosure, the common challenges faced in longer term relationships and, importantly, how to close the mentoring relationship down. These are all things that can benefit from a formal training programme.
It’s not uncommon that organisations have a wide raft of older and current mentoring programmes in place: a legacy of this procurement by different funding groups. It’s not necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater: there is bound to be a lot of institutional knowledge about what works within the specific industry and company context and culture. It may be more a case of researching current best practice in mentoring, agreeing a common approach and working with existing mentors to align the best elements of what they do now with the best of what can be achieved.
It’s naive to think that only the mentee learns within the relationship. The voyage of self discovery is two sided and travelled together. Moving mentoring from islands of expertise to a mainstream activity is something that can deliver benefits beyond it’s apparent scope.