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The Dynamics of “Modern Mentoring”

Kathy Wentworth Drahosz opened this quarter’s mentoring roundtable by talking about an increase in conversations around modern mentoring, and people trying to come to terms with the shift in mentoring. "We have been seeing a shift in mentoring for the last decade, and many organizations are tapping into what we have coined as dynamic mentoring,” Kathy said. 

She explained that dynamic mentoring incorporates formal, informal, situational, virtual, and all other types of mentoring.  It allows organizations to carefully tailor mentoring to fit the specific needs of the organization and its employees. She described the various types of mentoring and pointed out the value and application of each type such as informal mentoring’s self-initiated and self-directed process, the facilitated and structured elements of formal mentoring, and the specific tactical applications of group, situational, and peer-to-peer mentoring.

She noted that mentoring is no longer "just a nice thing to do,” but rather, it is a business decision that provides proper resources and planning to help employees connect to the organizational mission, while providing opportunities for growth and development.  Kathy pointed out that helping retain employees and transferring institutional knowledge are good examples of ROI—key aspects that demonstrate why mentoring is a good talent management decision.

After a brief discussion of the mentoring process, Kathy introduced the day’s speakers, inviting them to share their mentoring successes and best practices to show how mentoring (formal, informal, situational, reverse) has been applied within their organizations.

 Ivana Miranda with USPTO started off the presentations by describing her first mentoring experience.  "When I first began my journey with mentoring, I was terrified,” she said.  "And once it was recommended that I pick someone very different from myself I thought, "ooh, that’s even scarier.  But I took a leap of faith, I followed the guidance anyway, and I’m absolutely thrilled with the results.”

Ivana said that personally, she needed a formal structured program to help keep her on track and connected with people.  "I like to work on projects, role up my sleeves and get working,” she said, noting that she was okay working in groups and with others, but equally fine working on her own.  Connecting more with people is something she knew she needed; especially finding someone to help her navigate the nuances of the organization.

Her mentor was from a different generation, of different ethnicity, and had different personality styles.  She worked in finance, and her mentor in trademarks.  Although they were very different, they quickly realized that their personality differences complemented each other, and they learned that they had a lot to talk about.  After learning more about what their specific jobs entailed, they discovered that they shared an interest in learning more about procurement, so their program focused on this common goal.

Ivana’s story provided an excellent example of how differences can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of a mentoring partnership, and how following a structured formal program helped her get in touch with new people to facilitate her desire to explore new areas in the organization.

Mike Kelley from NASA took the stage next and talked about his experiences with group and one-on-one mentoring.  Describing his early experiences with group mentoring, he reflected on his participation on a panel that helped new supervisors transition into their roles. He recalled challenges and difficulties he had over the years working for a large organization, learning about the job and culture, and identifying resources available to help with the tasks and responsibilities of becoming a supervisor.  He said that he also discovered how—as a supervisor—you can learn new things from those you mentor, emphasizing the value of being willing to learn as well as teach.  "Sharing both ways is my message,” he said.

His presentation turned to one-on-one mentoring experiences, for which he advocated a more formal structure to provide the guidance needed.  He also addressed the value of having mentees drive the relationship. "I ask the mentees to come with a short agenda, and send that to me beforehand, so we both understand what they want to talk about rather than just showing up in the office and just talking.”

Mike advocated regular meetings, and   other resources might be needed.  Mike said, "From there we come up with a list of employees at the center that I think they should talk to.  Basically, I become like a broker for them.”  An excellent analogy, mentors serving as brokers for situational mentoring. 

Mike said that from there, either the mentee would meet one-on-one with the situational mentor, or they would meet together for about an hour to discuss how the situational mentor could contribute to the mentee’s growth and development.  He reiterated that he turns the driving over to the mentees to set up meetings and prepare agendas to define what they want to get out of the meetings.  He said that the best results come when they really put thought into the process to make their meetings most productive. 

Cevilla Randle of USPTO picked up the mic next and told attendees that she was looking for a new direction after serving 21 years in the military.  She described her mentor as being her total opposite and her trepidation when learning about her match.  "At first, I thought, okay, realistically what can I learn from this guy? He’s young enough to be my kid, what can I learn from him?  Other than the fact that he is in a different career from the path I chose.”

She said that when they first got together, she learned that they actually had a lot in common. "We both like doing things for others, helping out in the community.  So that was a big plus for us.”

As their partnership progressed, she learned that she wanted to become a trainer.  Her mentor said that training was not his area, but that he would put her in touch with the right people.  Cevilla then recalled how her mentor served as a broker to get her time with professionals in her newly-chosen area; and not just anyone, but those who were "at the top of the food chain,” as she described them.  

She then described how this "young guy” helped keep her accountable, holding her to her objectives, and regularly checking in with her to see if she was tracking her objectives for that day or that week.  She acknowledged that by availing herself to the advice offered by her mentor, she learned how to drive their partnership, schedule and follow-up with meetings, and stay on top of her commitments.

Cevilla’s story illustrated how she and her mentor applied several types of mentoring including formal, situational, and reverse mentoring.  The latter was implemented at opportune times when she could share experiences from her previous career with a person who had astutely demonstrated his own capabilities. It also showed that he was willing to learn as he continued to develop in his own career.

Chris Melkonian of MCSC stepped up next and said, "As far as mentoring, what it boils down for me is: helping, whatever help happens to look like.”

Chris said that he has been involved in all of the forms of mentoring introduced, and described several of his personal experiences.  In one, he was engaged in a remote partnership that included a fair amount of exchange using alternative meeting options, along with recommendations for situational mentoring.   Without ever meeting in person, Chris found ways to help his mentoree address networking and personal marketing issues that were thwarting career development. 

In another experience, he worked with a high-energy and talented individual who worked in a different career field.  Though sharing his experiences with what he had done to get where he is, the exchange was appreciated, but deemed to have little relevance.  So, he described how he served in the broker role, setting her up with situational mentors who could help with the specific elements of her career progression goals.

Chris next described working with a mentoree who was at a crossroads in his career.  Over the course of the year, they went back and forth on the issue and in the end, they both agreed that looking for another opportunity would be best for the mentoree.  Chris told the mentoree,” I feel bad because if it turns out that you end up getting another job outside the command, we’ve lost an incredible asset. But it’s the right thing for you.” The help in this case was helping his mentoree come to terms with something he had already been thinking about, along with helping him find a position that was a better decision for the mentoree in the long run.

In the last example offered, Chris described a person dealing with change and uncertainty in the current job.  His advice for this mentoree was to make the most of the current job by getting as much experience as possible, and to leverage the networking opportunities that his current job afforded.  Through these efforts, Chris believes that his partner could position himself better for the next job opportunity.

Chris said that almost everything he’s tried in mentoring has worked to some degree at one time or another.  He supported the TTC approach of recommending matching by differences, saying that he believes in "Trying to stretch people outside their comfort zones, and get a different perspective on themselves.”  Among his reflections on applying mentoring skills, serving as a situational mentoring broker, and advocating for the best fit for his mentoring partners, Chris also advocated sharing responsibility for driving the partnerships, because sometimes mentorees need a little help to get things going, or back on track.

Without question, this quarter’s roundtable was filled with an excellent mix of experiences and insights that can be applied to any type of mentoring process.  We appreciate the involvement, reflection, and advice offered by all our featured presenters, and we invite you to share your experiences with us by email or perhaps as a featured speaker in a future session.