The Gift of Growth

Mentorship offers an invaluable experience

by Jack B. ReVelle

I’ve mentored a variety of coworkers, associates, subordinates, clients and even a few supervisors. Before I share a few of my experiences as a mentor, let’s review what a mentor is and what he or she does.

The mentor

A mentor is someone who counsels or guides others. Being asked to serve as a mentor is an honor and a great responsibility. The gesture suggests the mentee (also known as the protégé) has faith in the mentor’s abilities, experiences and insights, and trusts him or her to have a positive impact.

The mentor’s role is to counsel, coach and advise the mentee, helping him or her understand the standard processes and culture of an organization or industry. Advice from the mentor also might include suggestions about everyday routines, including do’s and don’ts.

A solid foundation

Confidentiality is important. The mentor and mentee should follow a policy of personal and organizational information confidentiality.

Decide in advance how you will communicate with your mentee. Will you have regularly scheduled meetings? Will your discussions occur face-to-face, over the telephone or via email? How long will meetings last? Both parties must make their preferences known at the outset and reach an acceptable compromise if their preferences are different.

Be sure to discuss the term of the mentorship. If the mentoring responsibility has a specific time limit, the mentor should clarify this during their preliminary discussion. Working together, the mentor and the mentee should:

Decide on the number of weeks or months the arrangement will last.

Set a meeting schedule at the outset. For example, the parties may decide to meet once a week during the first month, then once a month thereafter. This avoids later misunderstandings.

Maintain a degree of communication between scheduled meetings to ensure the mentee’s scheduled plans remain on track.

Now, let’s turn our attention to relevant case studies that show mentoring in a variety of situations.

The determined CEO

The first case study is about a CEO of a small manufacturer in Southern California who set his sights on his organization attaining ISO 9001 certification and Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-based performance excellence recognition.

The stakes were high—a potential client required evidence of world-class quality prior to awarding the organization a long-term contract that would dwarf its existing business. The CEO and I worked together for several months to ensure he understood what his organization needed to accomplish to qualify for serious consideration.

The aspiring author

The next case study is about a self-employed mentee who wanted to author, publish and market several books. He had a flexible schedule, so he could dedicate the time necessary to break into the publishing world. In addition, he had sufficient financial resources to underwrite the cost of the venture. The one thing he did not have was experience in the publishing industry.

Since one of my half-dozen careers included extensive experience as a published author, I felt qualified to provide my expertise. We met to discuss potential topics and titles, what to write, when to write, whether to use a traditional publisher or to self-publish, and a variety of other related topics. By the time we finished our series of meetings—which took place in person, by phone and through email—my mentee was better prepared to accomplish his goals.

The major league executive

The final case study involves a senior executive of a large organization preparing to spin off into several divisions. The executive was at the top of the candidate list to lead the transition. Before he could begin, he had to prove he was the right leader for the task. He was asked to provide the organization’s executive committee with a business plan and mission, vision and value statements for at least one of the spin-offs.  

I worked with the executive for about six months. We first focused on developing mission, vision and value statements. When we felt he was ready, he and several of his colleagues prepared statements for the division. Their work was later approved by the organization’s executive committee.

With this achievement behind us, we dug into the construction and composition of business plans. As before, when we both felt he was ready, he and his colleagues developed a first-draft plan for the division. The executive committee approved the plan with some minor changes. At that point, I stepped aside and the mentee continued to drive his organization’s transition.

Expanding possibilities

Today, mentorship isn’t limited by geography. Internet and technology are increasingly interactive, mobile, individualized and people-centric, opening up new ways to foster relationships with others. Mentorships can form between professionals who likely would not have crossed paths if it weren’t for today’s technology. Regardless of how mentors and mentees are introduced or communicate, most of the ground rules regarding confidentiality and a schedule for mentoring sessions should be followed.

The relationships are worth it

One final thought about mentorship: Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, you can’t beat the experience. If someone asks you to be his or her mentor, give the request serious consideration. If you need a mentor, don’t hesitate to approach someone you respect and trust to help you climb your career ladder.

Jack B. ReVelle is a consulting statistician at ReVelle Solutions LLC in Santa Ana, CA. He earned a doctorate in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. ReVelle is the author of several books, including Home Builder’s Guide to Continuous Improvement (CRC Press, 2010). ReVelle is an ASQ fellow and a 2012 recipient of the ASQ Shainin Medal.

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