From my earlier posting on mentors, you can imagine I think they’re A Good Thing. How do you go about getting one? There are two main ways: formally and informally, and two main contexts: at work and beyond. Which works best for you? Depends on what you need, what’s available and what you can commit to.
Formally at work: for this to happen, typically there will be a mentoring scheme, or a selection of in-house coaches, as part of your employer’s talent development programme. So you can ask your line manager about how to get in on the scheme, and/or ask someone in HR.
With formal workplace mentoring schemes, there are generally ground-rules around how the relationship works: a process and protocol, how much time each party puts in, boundaries around confidentiality, when it is/isn’t OK to contact each other and so on. Ideally the mentors are trained and possess a genuine desire to help foster talent. The best are great listeners and skilled at asking their ‘mentee’ the thought-provoking questions that get them taking responsibility to get on with things. They also have highly relevant industry and organisational experience, and can be invaluable for new joiners (at any level) to find out “how things get done around here”.
Informally in the workplace is pretty common: think about the people you approach for advice, who are beyond your day-to-day team or work group. They may be current or past colleagues. In this situation you might approach someone with the skills you want to improve, or with expertise you want to acquire, and ask them to help you directly. Or they may just be great at spotting and encouraging talent. You don’t need anybody’s OK to do this, it just happens. So what you need to watch out for is that your mentor doesn’t feel you’re hogging their time, that their contribution is valued and that you’re not seen to be playing office politics. It might be smart to keep you line manager in the loop.
Formally beyond work would be when you join a group, such as Life Clubs or Horsesmouth, and sign up for mentoring from someone who has skills and/or experience that you want to learn about. Sometimes money changes hands, sometimes not. There will be an explicit process and ground-rules.
Informally beyond work can be very valuable. You might ask for introductions through your family or community, or via a neighbour or an alumni association. You can find like-minded people online in discussion groups and forums who are happy to help with your questions. Some of these groups meet face-to-face from time to time, such as the Institute of Directors’ ‘Directors’ Network’. Again there needs to be mutual trust and respect of one another’s time. Often these mentoring relationships can be the most enduring.