“Mentorship creates more confident and knowledgeable professionals and turns them into great leaders” - Irene Asare
Mentoring engagements are a great way to gain professional development. In my own career, I have been the recipient of some wonderful mentoring. Like myself, many individuals are looking to develop their careers. Often, turning to a mentor as a source of knowledge, experience, advice, guidance, and insight, a decision that changes the trajectory of your professional life. But making a mentoring relationship work is not easy, but it doens't have to be uncomfortable.
I have learnt during my time working as an HR practitioner across Ghana, Africa and Europe that mentoring can be a huge benefit to those who receive it, those who mentor and organisations as a whole. It was my own experiences with speaking to early-career HR practitioners looking for assistance that led me to conceive the HR Mentoring Programme back in 2017. In this article I share:
- Why I started the HR mentoring programme
- Three of the best strategies for running an effective mentoring programme
Why I started the HR Mentoring Programme.
Towards my senior leadership as HR Director, Regional Head of HR in Africa, and Ghana specifically, I have been approached by colleagues - young and old for career advice - spanning different aspects of professional life. From these experiences, it has become clear that many HR practitioners in Ghana, especially those working alone and reporting directly to the General Manager, feel isolated and don’t have the necessary support to carry out their role effectively. This was an experience that I could very much relate to from my early years as a practitioner. As more HR practitioners approached me, I realised an opportunity, not only to share my knowledge and experiences - but a chance to give back to the HR profession, I began to do some research.
It became apparent that many HR professionals struggled to find the support necessary to take on challenges, navigate relationships, and ensure that they were giving balanced and sound advice. Many felt that they were dealing with difficult, and challenging senior management, and had nowhere to turn. HR practitioners experience several issues in the day-to-day execution of their roles, not to mention - the popular view of HR as a “nice” function that business “should” have, rather than a key tool for ensuring corporate success by shaping and influencing employee behaviour and corporate culture. Faced with this reality, and acutely aware of the limitations on my own time, I began to brainstorm ways to effectively transmit the wealth of knowledge and experiences I had gained navigating a career’s worth of HR related issues to these practitioners. That’s when I had the idea to create the HR Mentoring Programme - a year-long mentoring programme that would equip HR practitioners, with skills, tools, resources, and advice to enable them to provide enhanced HR outcomes for their respective organisations and develop their careers. My aim was to bring together and provide a support system for the future of HR professionals in Ghana.
“Mentoring builds trust and creates a safe environment for honest feedback and unbiased career development advice” - Irene Asare
I didn’t want to just run another training programme and leave the mentees without any support in implementing their actions; so I turned to other experienced practitioners in Ghana - calling up friends and colleagues. These practitioners were invaluable resources. Over the course of a year, we ran regular training programmes, as well as monthly resource sessions - led by industry practitioners. In addition, we assigned mentors to each of the 25 mentees that were accepted to the programme, giving them invaluable one-on-one support that many felt they lacked in their organisations.
The programme proved to be successful with numerous mentees. And it was definitely one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my career as an HR practitioner. Since the conclusion of the programme, many participants have reached out to me to express their gratitude for giving them the platform to learn, develop, and grow in their profession. Initially, I was unsure about the appetite for a programme like this. However, the mentees responses let me know that HR practitioners across different organisations required support that they can’t always readily access in their organisations. Additionally, running the HR Mentoring Programme helped me realize the importance of professional mentoring relationships; especially their ability to contribute to human professional development. Next, I share 3 key insights to help make any mentoring arrangement more fruitful.
3 key principles for running an effective mentoring programme
Designing a proper mentoring programme is important - a badly designed programme drains the energy of both the mentor and mentee. To make sure that your mentor-mentee relationship is an effective one, with long-lasting impact, here are three key principles to implement:
(1) Be Reflective
- As a mentee - It is important to take time out to reflect on yourself. A potential mentee must do some soul searching. Ask yourself, with regards to your job (profession), what would you consider your strengths to be? What would you consider your weaknesses? What are some of the skills you would like to learn? What are your short-term, medium-term, and long-term career ambitions? This exercise aims to give a clear idea of the areas that you’d like to develop. This way you are more likely to find a mentor that will be a good fit for the specific skills/areas of development that you are looking for.
- As a mentor - Why are you choosing to mentor somebody? What mistakes or setbacks have you experienced in your career that you wish somebody more senior would have warned you about? What mark do you want to make on an ambitious professional’s life?
(2) Set SMART Goals - Before engaging in any mentoring engagement, both mentor and mentee should establish SMART goals. Setting clear, and explicit goals is a great way to provide direction, and a clear focus to your mentoring engagement to ensure that you get the most out of it. SMART is an acronym for Specific - Measurable - Achievable - Realistic - Timely.
- Specific - Setting specific goals at the beginning and throughout your mentoring engagement is key. By making goals simple and specific, one is more motivated to achieve them. Let’s look at an HR example. Rather than a goal like “Gain a promotion to HR Director”, a better goal would be “study and gain the knowledge and skills required to be able to present a co-ordinated HR strategy for my company; which will improve the company’s HR outcomes”. A good rule of thumb when developing goals and seeking specificity, it to ask yourself the 5 W’s:
- What - What is it specifically that you are trying to achieve? Make sure to be as detailed as possible with your response.
- Why - Why is it that you want to achieve this goal? Or asked another way: Why is this goal important?
- Who - Who will you need to accomplish this goal? Who will be involved in achieving the goal?
- Where - Where will the goal be achieved?
- When - When will this goal be achieved by? This helps make goals ‘time-bound”.
- Measurable - This relates to the evidence (or metric) that will prove whether or not you are making progress towards your goal. This makes goals more real and tangible and offers a focus on where to put your resources. For instance, carrying on our HR Strategy example, a long-term project such as an HR strategy may be broken down into smaller milestones that could be checked for progress. Take your time to think about what would be a good way to measure progress for your selected goal(s).
- Achievable - The key to a good goal is that it inspires action. One way to ensure that it does this is to make it achievable. Consider the goal for a moment, and then consider the knowledge, resources, skills, and tools needed to carry it out. Are they something that you can get access to? If they aren’t and getting them will be impossible, it may be time to reconsider your goal.
- Relevant - it is important to make sure that your goal is relevant to your ambitions, and your organisation’s ambitions. Aligning them will be with your long-term ambitions and values.
- Timely - An end date helps to keep the individual focused on the relevant actions, and allocate resources efficiently. This will also provide a sense of urgency, giving the individual a deadline to focus on and work towards.
(3) Be prepared to put in the work.
- Mentees must be ready to put in the work. Oftentimes, mentees are not fully prepared to put in the effort that it takes to sustain a mentor-mentee relationship. That often means that they are not always ready for meetings, are not diligent in meeting milestones, do not follow-up, or follow-through, or aren’t available. Mentoring is a great resource and for those who show up and are willing to engage, learn, probe, take notes, and ask questions, it can be transformational. Try keeping a notebook for your mentoring engagement - take notes on conversations with your mentor, do some extra work, and research what they say. Essentially, make sure you engage them, their knowledge, and their experiences. The more prepared you are the easier this will be.
- Mentors should be willing to engage their mentees, challenge them, and provide praise when necessary. As a mentor, your aim should be to bring out the latent excellence that exists within your mentees. By being an aloof or unaffected mentor, you signal to your mentees that you are not invested in their growth. Engagement means being present with your mentee, and regularly replying to their inquiries and offering feedback or advice when they face a seemingly insurmountable task.
The success and popularity of the last HR mentoring Programme, has convinced us to run it again this year. Many have experienced life-changing outcomes. In order to be considered, HR practitioners will have to be sponsored by their organisations to be part of this transformational programme. Please read more about the programme here. Sign-Up today, to join us on this transformational journey.
To read more about the effectiveness of mentorship as a career development and leadership tool, click here.