Level Up Your Leadership with Mentoring Best Practices

By EverwiseDecember 28, 2017

Mentoring is a powerful way to enrich the careers of protégés and mentors alike. In our Everwise community, one protégé said mentorship is “about working through things together, finding your strengths and highlighting them. Having an independent, unbiased perspective is a big advantage.” A mentor added that they gain from their partnerships too, “I’ve discovered that my protégés introduce me to a totally different perspective on something that I thought was just one way. I grew from the partnerships as well.”

So how can one ensure their mentoring relationship performs as well as possible? In a recent webinar, two Everwise Mentors shared their best practices and perspectives on mentoring: Jagdish Pavan Kumar, Senior Manager of Data Management at Veritas Technologies; and Cindy Cruzado, Instructor at Pragmatic Marketing. Here is their advice for setting up for success:

Build Trust

Cruzado’s best practices strive to move the mentoring relationship from “good” to “great” by building a strong connection that lasts over time. This begins from the first phone call.

“Trust is about more than confidentiality,” says Cruzado. Mentors often try to be reassuring by offering privacy around the mentoring sessions, but that’s more of a baseline expectation than an invitation for candor. A protégé will often approach the relationship with questions in mind about who a mentor is, how they can be of help, and why they should be trusted. These are important questions to address right off the bat, because mentors can only be effective when their protégé feels safe to be honest and transparent.

“Openness and honesty from [mentors],” she says, sets the stage for protégés to do the same. To help build trust, mentors should set the tone and be open by letting their protégé know something about themselves. Cruzado explains her approach: “I begin to gently ease into who I am. I’ve prepared a few things about my work experience, why I do this, and my previous mentoring partnerships.” She finds the conversation more quickly becomes trusting and comfortable.

Set clear expectations

A key best practice is to set guidelines for how you’ll work together during your first meeting. Basic expectations to cover should include:

  • How often you’ll communicate and for how long
  • Method of communication
  • Timeline for goals and action items

“I’ve learned to offer a few suggestions on how we might work together,” says Cruzado. One offer she usually makes is to have two 30-minute calls a month, with 10 minutes at the beginning to check in and recap homework from the last call, 15 minutes of deeper conversation on a topic, and the final minutes to prepare for the next call.

It’s important to set out the plan in this much detail. This lends an air of formality, which shows the protégé that their mentor is invested in them. Take the time to get the details coordinated, and both parties will take their commitment more seriously and avoid unnecessary frustration.

Define Clear Goals

When it comes to setting goals, Cruzado says, “Explore the ‘why’ behind them, make sure they’re measurable, and understand those goals are now your goals too.” The “why” of a goal must be set by the protégé, but a mentor can help tease out the driving forces behind it, and in doing so be better equipped to help.

Kumar designed his own framework for unpacking the “why” behind goals. He uses 3 categories in his approach to guidance, with protégés specifying 2-3 objectives under each. The first are SMART goals, such as increasing personal productivity by X% or improving department retention by Y%. Second comes job skills or competencies, which concern topics like improving negotiating skills, or learning about conflict management. Finally, the last objectives apply the former to real-time situations, such as managing a team of peers or influencing decision-makers on a specific project.

Using these categories, Kumar finds he is well set up to help a protégé navigate their mentoring experience with precision.

Track Progress

With any goal or change, it’s best to set up methods of tracking and ongoing feedback. Kumar recommends progress tracking with metrics: He asks his protégés to use a scale of 0 to 10 to rate their success at several points throughout their partnership. For SMART goals these ratings can be grounded in objective information, for skills/competences it comes down to subjective measurement, and the real-time situations rely on analysis-based measurement (perception and reflection by the protégé).

He’s found that progress tracking not only helps to achieve forward motion through accountability, but allows the protégé to keep in control of the process and the mentor to have a clear view into what’s going on at work and understand whether they’re being helpful. This type of progress tracking provides a platform for healthy conversation. There is automatically a focused place to begin sharing feedback and reflecting on the experience.

For more casual progress tracking, Cruzado recommends checking in at the end of every call. During that time the mentor should summarize key learnings that were covered during the session. Recapping and restating is a great tool to boost a protégé’s memory and clear up any confusion. It’s also a technique that helps wrap the conversation on a positive front.

During long term engagements, it is a good idea for mentors to revisit goals with protégés and update them if necessary, or specify any new goals that emerge. Finally, if protégés are performing well, mentors should be prepared to offer suggestions for more advanced versions of their existing goals.

Personalize Structure

Every protégé and mentor will succeed under a different approach, so mentors would do well to encourage feedback and conversation on a regular basis about the partnership. Chances are, mentors have a specific picture of success in mind, but the mentoring relationship is centered on the protégé’s idea of success. It is important to define what success means to them.

In Cruzado’s experience, mentoring partnerships start off with great enthusiasm, but require maintenance and course correction to stay fresh over time. Protégés will tend to come in with many questions that mentors can answer quickly, but past that period of time the relationship needs a cadence and rhythm to remain productive.

“For some [mentors] it may feel like enough to show up and answer questions,” she says, “but for this relationship to move to a 6-month level, we need to engage more [as mentors] by getting meaty topics on the calendar and encouraging protégés to truly think about them.”

One tool for doing this is to set tailored homework for the protégé at the end of each call to help them continue their learning. This could be a reading, an exercise, or research. The protégé is accountable for leading the interaction, but mentors can use homework to add a new level of depth in the time between meetings.

Finally, “If you have a relationship that peters out after a few months, don’t take that personally,” says Cruzado. Know that your effort still had meaning. “There’s a lot going on in a protégés mind and you’ve made an impact no matter how long that engagement lasted.

In Summary:

  • Intentionally build trust, set expectations, and get organized in the first session
  • Define clear goals with your protégé, and understand the “why” behind them
  • Establish progress tracking processes and prepare to exchange feedback on progress
  • Personalize the structure of the interaction for the protégé and solicit feedback about it


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