There is a misconception among managers about mentoring. They often feel that it is a part of a natural process of management, where through daily communications, coaching and feedback, employees are automatically being mentored. Actually, mentoring requires a more formal approach, which has, as its objective, the improvement of managerial know-how. It should prepare the recipient to take on greater responsibilities within the company, and evaluate how far they can rise in the hierarchical structure of the organization.
Mentoring is how any company should prepare for an eventual replacement of the key members of the organization, including the owner and founder. Without a plan, program, commitment of time and a strong belief that mentoring, at every level of the organization, is necessary for the survival of a company, it will be nothing more than a haphazard process without tangible benefits. Small businesses are often highly negligent in using mentoring as a succession strategy. There are certain proven approaches to effective mentoring that can be duplicated by any business:
Every manager should mentor – Most managers, holding a functional position within a company, have been, in some way or form, guided by others. This may have been a formal or informal process, which nevertheless led to the acquisition of skills and knowledge necessary to have reached a higher level of responsibility. It is to every good manager's advantage to find a potential replacement for their position, because it frees them up to move on to other challenges. It can be also seen as a form of reciprocation for the benefits they received from others, who have taken the time to help them raise their game. Taking a protectionist stand, and not passing on what has been learned to others, is a sign of weakness that will undermine the productivity of the manager and the department which they lead.
Be honest in your evaluation – Be aware when trying to mentor a budding entrepreneur that they may be overly obsessed with their business ideas and concepts. You do not do such an individual any favors by being uncritical of at least some aspects of their business acumen. There are always some flaws in the thinking and concepts of even the most intelligent and creative individuals. Good mentors will find the gaps and use their deeper knowledge to make the other party take corrective action. Sometimes an honest opinion may involve character traits that are negatively impacting progress. While, in this case, a diplomatic approach is needed, it is nevertheless important that it be aired out.
Be humble – The worst kind of mentor is one that pretends that they know it all, and approaches the process from an arrogant and intemperate perspective. Mentoring involves give-and-take, particularly where new ideas and creative breakthroughs are concerned. Using a light touch, and respecting the opinion of the other party, is always a better way to implant useful knowledge. In this type of interactive context both parties can learn from each other.
Be genuine – Mentoring has to be based on a genuine willingness to help the recipients improve their business knowledge or ideas in some tangible way. They have to be convinced that the information being provided is well-intended, and that the mentor is fully committed to their eventual success. A halfhearted approach to mentoring sends the wrong message, and brings no plausible changes.
Provide details – When information is restricted to generalities and platitudes, it is bereft of any real substance. The benefit is in the detail. Taking the time to break down business theory or practice into specific and practical applications provides lasting mentoring benefits. More complex topics such as financial controls require greater detail and real life context in which they can be better understood. This boils down to having a preconceived mentoring plan and agenda that systematically provides more enlightenment.
Check in – There is no point in offering reams of information and not checking in on a regular basis to see if that information is being absorbed. This is accomplished by having the recipient summarize the imparted information; show that they are capable of paraphrasing it when asked; pose intelligent questions on the covered topics; and extrapolate on the content with their own creative ideas. Never assume that they have absorbed the information until you verify this. Keep in mind that you may be dealing with introverted personalities, who do not easily express themselves, and have to be drawn out.
Know the recipient's SW – It seems logical that, before you can mentor anyone, it is indispensable to know their strengths and weaknesses (SW). This is to be viewed both from the business perspective, and on a personal level. A person may be a natural sales person and have strong practical knowledge and experience in marketing, but have a poor knowledge of financial controls. It is clear in this situation where the mentoring focus should be. From a personality side, a brash and cocky individual must be handled differently from one who is more self-reflective and analytical. It is helpful to draw up an SW profile and keep it in mind when devising suitable mentoring strategies.