When my business fraternity, Phi Chi Theta, invited a professor to become an honorary member, she declined, saying she signed on to teach, not to become a mentor. It was in this context that I first heard the word “mentor,” which led me to believe that mentoring was a nuisance.
After I graduated, I researched mentoring, and a picture began to develop for me. I began to appreciate that having a mentor would provide many advantages. I was working in a new state and had no established contacts. And though I had a desire to go to graduate school, I lacked a firm idea of what it might accomplish. I was employed at a Fortune 500 company, but it had no formal mentoring program.
Times have changed since then. A quick internet search shows mentorship opportunities abound: 71% of the Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs. Medium- and small-sized employers trail behind, but there are independent mentoring programs as well, including some geared toward entrepreneurs. Intel, Google, and GE are among the larger corporations with mentoring programs. Forbes has also touted nonemployer resources, including Micro Mentor and SCORE Mentoring.
When employers create a formal program, it’s usually to retain employees or to develop previously identified talent. Mentors draw on their experience to help mentees develop a career plan within the company, acquire the necessary skills, and network to follow through. An employee is more likely to stay with an employer when participating in a mentoring program. Data suggests mentees tend to receive higher salaries and more promotional opportunities. They also seem to be happier with their career choices.
An independent mentor, on the other hand, would be less committed to promoting continued employment at a particular organization. This mentor might even suggest a job change if he or she sees no reasonable opportunities in the current placement. The resultant network is more likely to include contacts outside of the employer or the mentee’s industry.
A quality mentoring relationship benefits the mentor as well. The nature of the relationship requires honest and ongoing communications. Mentors gain insight into changing roles and expectations and are challenged to maintain their expertise.
IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) members have an option to become mentors and mentees through LinkUp IMA. Both mentees and mentors complete a profile and indicate their preferred avenue of communication. Mentees should have some idea of what they hope to achieve in the program. They can approach mentors with experiences that are more likely to help with their specific goals.
I am currently working with two mentees, and I am still in touch with the four mentees who preceded them. In each case, the primary method of communication was email, but two lived close enough that we could also meet in person, which was exciting. Often distance and time zones dictate that email is the only practical form of communication.
I was a little apprehensive about mentoring entirely by email. It seemed impersonal, but it really wasn’t a handicap at all. In fact, the experience was superior in some ways since it provides an opportunity to really think through a response and possibly do some research beforehand. I found that it can be a challenge to take on mentees from other countries. Degrees, titles, and graduation requirements aren’t the same globally, but it’s possible to get beyond that.
Mentees sought guidance on taking the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, whether transitioning from clerical to professional work after completing a degree, moving into management, or formulating a long-term career plan. They came from widely different backgrounds and three different countries. Two were already CMAs who were actively seeking advancement, and the others were CMA candidates who sought test-taking advice along with some career pointers. Their career aspirations were all unique. In each case, I shared in their happiness as they passed tests and moved into desirable positions.
WHAT IT TAKES
Mentorship isn’t complicated, but it does take forethought and research on the part of the mentor. I have checked the IMA website on occasion to ensure that my advice was completely up to date before providing it. A motivation to help others reach their goals is really the most essential element for success.
- Mentors should understand their own strengths and have the ability and willingness to share their knowledge. Regarding your experience as a secret recipe just doesn’t work. The mentee is there for a reason and wants to hear ideas.
- The mentor and mentee should have a genuine interest in each other. People do their best work when they have a natural affinity. The two parties should have some comfort level with each other.
- Both parties should be willing to communicate in an honest and respectful manner to best foster an atmosphere of trust and openness. This includes the need for diplomacy and patience.
- Both parties should be inquisitive and open-minded. Some solutions take imagination, and past successes can’t always be duplicated precisely since business practices change over time.
- Mentors should be enthusiastic and able to inspire action, encouraging when needed, and ready to celebrate successes.
- Mentors should be good role models. It’s the only way to maintain credibility.
Both the mentee and mentor must have the time needed for a workable relationship. This often varies throughout the relationship, and more time is typically needed in the early stages. The mentee/mentor relationship can morph into a lasting business association.
More organizations are realizing the benefits of a mentoring program. In this valuable relationship, mentees have an opportunity to benefit from the experience and knowledge offered by the mentor, while the mentor also benefits by hearing some fresh ideas.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/tools-and-resources/leadership-academy.