Nuturing Mentoring through Its Varied Stages

by Meenalochani Kumar

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves” – Steven Spielberg

So aptly said, and true, as well! In my years of experience as the mentoring program head for an information technology organization, the intent has been to create transformational mentoring experiences for participants: the mentors and the mentees. The mentor playing the role of a guide or person to bounce your thoughts on, someone rich with experience. The mentee playing the role of an avid learner in the entire mentoring journey.

As much as this has been a “Chase Me” dream, I have wondered on aspects of mentoring sessions, relationships, paradigms, and, most of all, the challenges associated in the Mentoring Life cycle. The discovery has ranged from the most expected results to completely unexpected outcomes.

Mentoring is akin to a teenager. A teenager knows that something else or someone is right but is extremely confident that only his approach would work until he walks the experience and realizes he would have been better off with wisdom from experienced people.

What has been observed is quite similar. Any amount of pre-qualifying information on challenges or what to expect sometimes goes unheard, and so, we as program champions experience what we experience. All is fair in the game, as they say!

The past several years in this space has gotten me to reflect on mentoring frequently. Mentoring with its potential benefits comes with a challenge like other organizational development interventions—the ability to sustain and scale the program. For sustaining the program, a deep dive into mentoring relationships is vital.

Every mentoring relationship contributes to the overall sustainability of the program. Showcasing internal success stories of mentoring relationships leads to better participation from the potential audience. This, in turn, results in an increase in scale of participation in the mentoring program.

In this article, I have tried to capture my observations and realities of mentoring stages as seen on the ground. I propose a few probable approaches to tackle challenges, a few that have worked for me, and a few that are still underway.

I focus on two aspects of mentoring:

  • The stages of every mentoring relationship (a small component of mentoring sustainability), and
  • The associated challenges observed in each stage.

So, are there stages in a mentoring relationship really? In a real time corporate world, the best analogy for the stages in a mentoring relationship is the human life cycle. The four stages can be observed and are true for every mentoring relationship. I have categorized the four stages of mentoring as follows:

  • Nascent stage (akin to birth in the human life cycle)
  • Advancement stage (akin to growth)
  • Established stage (akin to maturity)
  • Move on stage (akin to demise in the human life cycle)

What are a few things that happen at each stage and what are some challenges seen in the real time corporate world?

Each stage involves multiple participants, the core being the mentor and the mentee. Each stage has typical behaviors exhibited and similar questions in the minds of mentors and mentees, as well as corresponding challenges. These have been captured in the simple format below for ease of comparison and understanding.

A Comparative Perspective on the Mentoring Stages and Associated Challenges

Nacent Growth Mature Move on
Core activities First meeting”Getting to know” each other Objective settingPlanning and Actionin Applying and experimenting with the learning from the mentoring relationshipTalking about the next learning plungeMoving north towards progress and achievement Looking for a new mentorFeedback, closure, and sign off
Key behavioral observations Excitement, enthusiasmApprehension and nervousness Being complacentGiving excuses for lack of time for mentoring sessionsLack of follow through for actions planned A feeling of “I have learnt all I want“Over-confidence at times Urge to move onLack of excitement or energy in mentoring session
Key questions in the mentee’s mind Do I need mentoring?Is she the mentor for me?Will this relationship work? Am in on track?How do I achieve what I want?How do I get my mentor’s time?How do I apply my learning at the workplace and in life? Is this what mentoring is all about?Have I learnt what I want?Is it time to move on? Is it time to move on?Should I look for another mentor or do I need to give myself a gap before seeking new skills and a new mentor?How could I apply my learning and move forward in my career?
Key questions in the mentor’s mind What should I know about my mentee?What can I expect from my mentee?Will this relationship work?Am I equipped with skills that will help me guide my mentee? How do I set objectives that are meaningful and relevant for my mentee?How do I excite my mentee to work towards his goals?How could I sustain interest in my mentee?What could we do better for an effective relationship?

Why is my mentee skipping mentoring sessions?

Is my mentee becoming complacent?How has she applied her learning?Is it time for me move on? Should I find another mentor for my mentee?Would my mentee be able to manage on her own now?Have I equipped my mentee with skills such that I can be a “shadow dancer” now?
Challenges First meeting syndrome—When should the first meeting happen? Now/today/ tomorrow/later Goal setting is difficult, I am confused on which goals to chooseLack of time for consistent meetingsAdherence to action plansKeeping mentoring momentum alive

Creating “Mentoring Moments” and focus on continuous engagement

Ensuring conversations that are engaging, relevant and providing a stretch in thought process for the mentee

Complacency in learningNeed for a new mentorUrge to move to the next level of learningReflection on objectives achieved/ not achieved Too much emotional bonding resulting in ” I will not let you go“Moving to the “Stay in touch” mode

Now that we have seen the many facets of mentoring, are there possible approaches to tackle these challenges? I have summarized a few that have worked for me and hope they will work for you, as well.

Nascent stage: This stage starts afterthe pairing of the mentor–mentee and the journey of learning begins.

  • Appropriate positioning of the program within the organization goes a long way in creating excitement and enthusiasm about the program. This can lead to the first meeting of the mentor–mentee pair as part of the nascent stage.
  • The key to getting the mentoring relationship kick-started is to also create effective communication on the importance of the first meeting and equip the mentor–mentee pair for the same.

Growth stage: This stage needs focus and commitment to making things happen and requires intent. It is also a stage when things can start to go awry because it involves deep activities, such as goal setting and creating and adhering to action plans to achieve set goals. The crux is to also create “mentoring moments” and keep the momentum alive. Lack of time for meetings from both mentors and mentees is the biggest killer of the relationship. The following strategies have worked in this stage.

  • Engaging with the mentor–mentee pair closely.
  • Having pep talks on motivating the pair to move forward.
  • Doing small checks on progress and goals achieved.
  • Sharing success stories of mentor–mentee pairs who have progressed well.
  • Internally creating a forum for discussions on challenges faced.
  • Enabling mentors and mentees to plan on time. This is yet another aspect that needs consideration and could be done at the time of orientation. This would better prepare the mentors and mentees and create realistic expectations on time constraints. It also helps to have pre-planned templates available for the goal-setting process for effectiveness in documentation and follow-ups towards closure.
  • Equipping the mentee. A common derailer for a mentee is inability to translate action points to actual actions. This could be due to lack of understanding of “What next” or inability to see the big picture of what the actions could lead to and the possible outcomes. This requires the mentor to equip the mentee to understand the macro picture of the positive outcomes of working with action plans and the results thereof.
  • Helping the mentor and mentee have positive and thought-provoking conversations that help stretch the thought process of the mentee is a huge advantage for the relationship to survive and grow stronger. The sessions that are interactive and thought provoking strengthen the mentoring engagement in the long run. Many such sessions and relationships result in a holistic mentoring program.

Mature stage: This stage has a mix of behaviors, such as complacency in the mentee, urge to seek a new mentor, a feeling of “I know it all now,” “Can this mentor teach me anything else?” and multiple such aspects. A few approaches to overcoming barriers and challenges in this stage are

  • To remind the mentee gently that learning is an ongoing process and does not have a full stop;
  • To allow the mentee to move ahead by connecting him to a wider network of possible mentors thus helping him advance in his steps if you discover that the mentee is looking for the next push.
  • To review the objectives or goals achieved, which helps the mentee grasp reality and refocus based on the need.

“Move on” stage: A few insights here are that many times, the mentor is unwilling to let go of a mentee with whom he has shared a great bond and enabled learning.

  • This challenge can be surmounted if the mentor has a broad-based view of the mentee’s needs and is graceful enough to let the mentee move on. This not only brings a lot of respect for the mentor in the mentee’s eyes but also reflects the mentor’s maturity in understanding the mentee’s learning curve.

To sum all of it up, mentoring is not a cakewalk; however, challenges are not insurmountable either. “Mentoring the mentoring relationships” is the crux. So, go for it because the benefits overshadow everything else. As Meg Whitman (CEO and President of eBay) was told by her mentor, her father, “Be nice, do your best—and most important, keep it in perspective.”


About the Author: Meenalochani Kumar

Meenalochani Kumar
Meena.biopicture
Meenalochani (Meena) practices Organization and Leadership development in India and consults for Mindtree Limited, a leading information technology organization.She is the Program Head for Mentoring and Coaching, apart from the other portfolios she takes care of, such as Careers and Capability, mid-level Talent management, and Leadership development in Mindtree.Meena has pioneered corporate Mentoring in India and has presented in several forums in the Mentoring space and has published many articles. She has been featured in the media and has been a guest speaker in varied events.She is a former board member of the International Mentoring Association.

Meena has a Masters degree in Science and a certification in Business Management from XLRI, a leading Business school in India.

She is based in Bangalore and can be contacted at meens72@gmail.com or Meenalochani_kumar@mindtree.com