In many shops (or businesses in general), it’s getting more and more common to designate a Mentor for newer employees coming into your business. The Mentor is typically somebody that has been around for a while and knows the ropes, and the hope is that the Mentor will relay their knowledge gained over the years to the new employee. The problem that I consistently see is that the Mentor rarely knows what their responsibility is and at times doesn’t even know that he/she has actually been assigned the role of being a Mentor to someone. How in the hell is somebody supposed to be effective as a “Mentor” if they don’t even know that they are one?
Let’s start by defining what a Mentor is. Mentorship is defined as a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. This seems pretty simple….or does it? Think about it. This statement is extremely vague and doesn’t really tell you anything. It’s easy to ask you to go out and teach them everything you know but there’s probably a reason that you’re bringing on more help in the first place. And that’s because you’re always really busy! How much time are you going to show this young employee the ropes when you’ve got a customer breathing down your neck? Not a lot of attention is going to be given to the Mentee at that point and I don’t think that helps the chances for their future success.
So what are you supposed to do if you find yourself in the role of a Mentor? First off, consider this a pat on the back. Management is basically telling a new employee that you’re the mold of what they want more of. Too many guys take the wrong approach and attitude on this when they should be wearing it as a badge of honor. They want other people to be like you…how cool is that? Secondly, take it seriously. You can help your Management team more than you know by setting the tone of “how we do business” here and showing them that your shop knows what the heck you’re doing. Be careful not to come off as arrogant here because that can crush the confidence of a new employee. The best Mentors that I ever had showed interest in me as a person and I believe that can make the difference between somebody making it and not making it. I always tried to remember that when put in a leadership type position.
I’m not going to dive into specifics of the role of a Mentor in this blog (although that may come in another blog) because each shop has an idea of they want out of a Mentor and it varies. What I want to do is highlight the fact that many shops don’t define this and it causes confusion. If you’ve been assigned the role of Mentor, make sure that you clarify what it is that Management wants from you. Also define what their end goal is for this program. This should answer the question of “why am I doing this”?
It also really helps if you remember back to the days when you first got into the business. Did you have somebody in your shop that really helped you out? Have a discussion with your Manager on what you think would help new employees succeed and then help them define what the role of a Mentor should be. This helps everybody and increases the chances that you finally get that help that you’ve been needing for a long time!