Mentoring

Mentoring in a business environment can be a powerful development tool. Aiming to help both you and your business, a mentor is typically someone with experience and expertise in the industry you work in. A mentor will look to guide you and your business in the right direction, helping to solve business related problems and promote professional growth.

At the heart of mentoring is the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. Based on mutual trust and respect, this relationship can affect your own success as well as that of your business. Keep reading to find out more about mentoring and how a business mentor could help you fulfil your potential.

What is mentoring?

According to Eric Parsloe from The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring,

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be."

In terms of business mentoring, this definition relates to professional growth and the development of business related skills. The premise of mentoring is that the mentor has more extensive professional experience than yourself, and offers his/her support, advice and encouragement to help you maximise your potential for professional growth.

A mentor should help to boost your confidence as well as challenge your way of thinking. You should feel comfortable to discuss and explore new ideas in confidence while taking the opportunity to assess both your and your business's needs.

What does a mentor do?

The role of a mentor will depend on your reasons for hiring them. Some people hire mentors to help them solely on a one-to-one basis. This means the mentor will focus on your professional development only, without necessarily looking at the growth of the business. Others hire a mentor to help themselves and the business they own/run. In this instance, a mentor will look primarily at your business and offer guidance to develop it further.

For whichever reason you decide to hire a mentor, there are certain things they are likely to do to fulfil their role, including:

  • teach you new skills
  • coach you on existing skills
  • facilitate you/your business's growth by sharing resources and networks
  • challenge you to move outside of your comfort zone
  • create a safe learning environment
  • offer guidance on future business strategies
  • offer support in areas you are unsure of.

Types of business mentoring

There are various types of mentoring available depending on your needs, so it is recommended that you investigate each one to decide what will work best for you.

One-to-one mentoring – Potentially the most popular mentoring model, one-to-one mentoring sees one mentor working with an individual alone. This allows for a personal relationship to build and is favoured because it offers individual-focussed support and attention.

Group mentoring – This mentoring model can be helpful if you and your colleagues/friends are looking to be mentored in the same field. It may be that you and your friends are planning to launch your own business, or maybe you have some like-minded connections in the industry - either way, group mentoring can bring you together in an environment of learning.

Training-based mentoring – A training-based mentoring model is one that is linked directly to a specific training programme. Often a company will outsource mentoring to help train staff. As this type of mentoring is only tied to one particular area of learning, some people find it a little restrictive.

Other types of mentoring

Another popular service within the mentoring umbrella is 'mentoring and befriending'. Used outside of a business environment, this type of mentoring helps groups and individuals fulfill their personal potential and help them make the most of life. Mentoring and befriending is most often used with the following groups of people:

Young people – Some young people lack a reliable support system and may benefit from a mentor. The aim of the mentor in this relationship is to become somewhat of a role model and friend. Helping the young person feel motivated in all areas of their life is of great importance for the mentor as well as being someone objective they can talk to when problems arise.

Offenders – When offenders leave the justice system they often fall back into old patterns and many re-offend. Mentors can offer support during this time and will aim to help offenders find employment and re-connect with society.

Older people – Befriending older people offers friendship to those who may be lonely. Mentors become more like friends in this setting, giving the individual someone they can rely on and talk to when others aren't around.

What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Often the terms 'mentor' and 'coach' are used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two - especially in the world of business. The key difference is that coaching is more function focused, while mentoring is more relationship focused.

Other differences include:

  • Coaching is usually short-term. A business coach is only likely to be involved with you on a short-term basis, until you achieve the desired outcome.
  • Mentoring is usually more long-term. A mentor will work with you over a relatively long amount of time to progress your development, this can be anything from nine months to a year or even longer.
  • Coaching tends to be performance driven. The purpose of business coaching is often to improve your performance within a certain job role - this could include enhancing skills and developing new ones.
  • Mentoring is more development driven. This means that the mentor will be looking to develop you and your business both now and for the future.

How can a mentor help?

Each mentor will have specific specialties and it is key to find one suited to your needs. If you are launching a new magazine for example, you will benefit from a mentor who has experience in the publishing and magazine industry. Equally if your business isn't as efficient as it could be, seeking help from a mentor who is well versed in efficiency will be useful.

There is a variety of areas in which a business mentor can help, including the following:

Business reviews

If the mentor is looking to help you develop and grow your business, the first thing they are likely to do is a business review. This will involve them investigating every aspect of your business to see where it performs well and where it could do with improvement. Far from pointing out the flaws in your business - a mentor should offer an insight into potential areas for development.

When we are in the same environment day in and day out it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. This is where a fresh set of eyes can come in handy. A business mentor may be able to spot things you hadn't considered before, and may challenge the way you view things.

Recruitment

A business is only as good as the people behind it. If you find it hard to recruit the right people, or you simply need some impartial advice when it comes to hiring - a business mentor could help. A common trait in mentors is that they know a lot about working within a team. This means they know what personality types work well in a business and how to pick the right people at the hiring stage.

A mentor may also be able to offer advice about the recruitment process itself, from writing up the best job advert to the interview structure. While it won't be their job to make the decisions at the end of the day, they can offer guidance to help you decide. 

Retention

Once you have the right people in place, chances are you'll want to keep them there. Staff retention is key in a successful business and is an area mentors can often help with. Helping you to create a positive and communicative working environment, a mentor can suggest team building ideas and ways to improve any areas of contention.

Managing people is often the hardest part about running a business, so a mentor with people skills can be hugely beneficial. It is yourself that will ultimately know your staff best, so it is important for the effort to be a collaborative one.

Professional development

Whether you're keen to develop yourself professionally, or you want to help develop the careers of those working for you - for a business mentor progressing professional development is their key prerogative. It is important to discuss your ideas for the future with your mentor so they can establish how best to help you. Usually they will offer advice based on their own experience and will work with you to come up with an action plan to ultimately put your skills into practice.

Growing the business

If your business has hit a roadblock in terms of growth, you could benefit from seeking outside help. A mentor with experience in developing and growing businesses will be able to review the way you work and find out how you can improve in order to grow your business.

Alternatively you may run a business that is growing quickly, but you are a little unsure of how to cope. A business mentor can offer support and help you to create a plan for the future while establishing how to make the most of your growing business.

Benefits of hiring a mentor

Hiring a business mentor can have many benefits for both yourself and the business you run, some of which may be unexpected. Take a look at the following list for some examples:

1. You will gain practical advice – The best thing about getting help from a mentor is that it tends to be practical advice you can implement immediately.

2. You can learn from their experience – Mentors usually have experience in the same working environment as you, meaning that you can often learn what to do and what not to do from their personal experiences.

3. You will have your natural strengths and talents encouraged – Your mentor should be quick to recognise your strengths and will encourage you to develop them to the best of your ability.

4. You will receive constructive feedback – A mentor is unbiased, meaning that they can look at you and your business objectively and offer constructive feedback.

5. You will have someone to bounce ideas off of – Sometimes the most helpful thing about having a mentor is having a sounding board for your ideas.

6. You have the potential to expand your network – Many mentors are happy to introduce you to people they know in the business or invite you to networking events.

7. You will be encouraged to network and promote yourself – Your mentor may not only introduce you to people they know, but encourage you to host your own networking events and think of ways to promote yourself.

8. You will have the chance to improve productivity – Mentors can help you manage your time more effectively so you achieve a better work/life balance.

9. You will have someone to vent to – Sometimes your mentor is the only person around you who understands the trials you face as a business owner - and in times of frustration, this connection can be comforting.

10. You can realise your potential, both personally and professionally – The aim of mentoring is for you to ultimately realise your potential and when this happens it can boost your confidence in other areas of your life.

What to expect from your mentor

The relationship between yourself and your mentor can be confusing at first. Are they a friend, a teacher or a therapist? Understanding what a mentor will and will not do for you can help to make this clearer so you know what to expect when you hire a business mentor.

What you can expect your mentor to do:

  • offer an outside and unbiased perspective on yourself and your business
  • help you by sharing their own experiences
  • listen in confidence about any worries you have about the business
  • offer ongoing support and encouragement
  • provide honest and constructive feedback
  • share contacts to help further your professional development
  • help with decision making and suggesting alternatives where they see fit.

What you should not expect your mentor to do:

  • give technical business advice
  • offer a training service
  • take responsibility for the decisions and/or the success of your business
  • provide a counselling service
  • be at your beck and call 24/7.

Of course, every mentor works differently and this list is not finite. It is always recommended that you find out as much as possible about a mentor before committing to regular meetings.

Many mentors offer a consultation before you make any sort of commitment. This initial meeting allows you to sit down with the mentor to discuss your aims, find out more about them and ascertain whether or not they are the right match for you. 

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