Your Guide to Setting Up Successful Mentor-Mentee Relationships

Helping new employees develop their skills is a worthwhile task. Many young or new-to-the-industry employees want guidance on how to best improve at work, but they may not know how to go about doing so. Mentor-mentee relationships are a great way to foster collegial bonds and develop great employees. Learn what mentors and mentees are, understand the mentor-mentee relationship, review the benefits of mentor-mentee relationships, learn the qualities of a great mentor, read examples of mentor-mentee programs, assess tips for developing your own program and read answers to frequently asked questions about mentor-mentee relationships. 

 

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What is a mentor?

A mentor is a person who helps a younger or less experienced professional develop their career. Usually, mentors act as confidantes and models rather than managers to their mentees by taking on the role of active listening rather than direct advising or handling. 

Related: What Are the Qualities of a Truly Great Business Mentor?

 

What is a mentee?

A mentee is a young or inexperienced professional seeking support and guidance from an older or more experienced professional in their field. In most cases, mentees share their ideas, successes and hardships with their mentors for feedback. 

Related: Cultivating Positive Workplace Behavior

 

What is a mentor-mentee relationship?

The mentor-mentee relationship is primarily one of conversation. The parties meet regularly to discuss the mentee’s career and goals. Usually, the mentee drives the conversation and seeks feedback and input from the mentor who uses their expertise and experience to provide feedback to the mentee. Every relationship varies, so some mentors may be more proactive or offer more guidance than others. 

 

Benefits of mentor-mentee relationships

Mentor-mentee relationships, particularly those grounded within a single organization, provide benefits to the mentor, mentee and company. Consider the top advantages for each party involved:

 

Mentor

Mentors often feel pride and accomplishment when acting in their capacity as an advisor. Here are a few other benefits of acting as a mentor: 

  • Recognition: Taking on the role of mentor strengthens that individual’s expertise in the field. 
  • Growth: Mentors often learn from their mentees, just as their mentees learn from them. 
  • Leadership: Mentoring a junior colleague is a great way to develop leadership skills. 
  • Reflection: Acting as a mentor allows the mentor to reflect on their past professional decisions. 

 

Mentee

Mentees receive a number of benefits from working with a mentor. Consider these advantages to the mentee:

  • Exposure: Mentees learn new ideas and ways of performing their work from a mentor. 
  • Guidance: Mentors often provide mentees with gentle professional guidance. 
  • Development: Working with a mentor gives the mentee a chance to develop new skills. 
  • Visibility: An effective mentor-mentee relationship increases the mentee’s visibility among the leadership of the company. 

 

Company

When both the mentor and mentee work for the same business, the company also benefits from the relationship: 

  • Growth: The company grows and improves when mentors and mentees collaborate. 
  • Culture: Matching upper management with entry-level employees ensures everyone shares the same company culture. 
  • Development: Managers and other mentors develop their leadership skills through their mentor-mentee relationships. 
  • Retention: Both mentors and mentees feel seen and appreciated by the company, improving morale and retention.

 

Qualities of a great mentor

While every mentor will have a different approach and relationship with their mentee, most share a number of specific qualities that make them excellent mentors: 

 

Expertise

Mentors need to be subject matter experts with knowledge and experience in their chosen field. Effective mentors understand the specifics of their mentee’s work situation and can provide relevant feedback and guidance for them. 

 

Enthusiasm

Mentors should be enthusiastic about guiding and mentoring young professionals. They should look forward to sharing their knowledge and want to help others learn rather than participating begrudgingly in the relationship. 

 

Respect

Mentors should have great respect for their mentees. While there’s often a substantial experience and knowledge gap between the mentor and the mentee, the mentor should treat the mentee like an equal. 

 

Pride

The mentor should be proud of the work they’ve done and want to share their knowledge with their mentee. Additionally, if the mentor is working with a mentee from the same company, the mentor should have and communicate great pride in the company itself. 

 

Communication

Mentors should be outstanding communicators. They should know how to deliver feedback, both positive and constructive, and they should be exceptional active listeners, ready to hear what the mentee has to say and offer guidance. 

 

Empathy

The mentor should have empathy for their mentee. More than likely, the mentee will make some missteps that the mentor wouldn’t because of their knowledge and experience. The mentor should be able to relate to the mentee dealing with a challenging situation and help them through it. 

 

Willingness

Mentors should be willing to participate in the mentor-mentee relationship. If you’re establishing a program at your business, only take volunteers as mentors. If you force people to take part, they’re unlikely to perform the responsibilities involved effectively. 

 

Examples of workplace mentor-mentee relationship programs

Mentoring can take several different forms, depending on the goals of the mentor and the mentee. Workplace sponsored mentor-mentee relationships, rather than independently-formed mentorships, often fall into one of a few categories. Consider the different types of mentor-mentee relationship programs you might set up for your employees: 

 

Career mentoring

Career mentoring is the classic mentor-mentee relationship most people imagine when they think of a mentorship. With career mentoring, a mentor and mentee regularly meet to discuss the mentee’s career and discuss methods of development. 

 

High-potential mentoring

High-potential mentoring operates similarly to career mentoring, but the players involved differ slightly. Usually, the mentor is a very high-ranking leader within the organization. The mentee is a junior or inexperienced professional in the company that the leadership team has identified as a potential future leader. The mentor-mentee relationship focuses on developing the mentee specifically for a leadership role. 

 

Diversity mentoring

Diversity mentoring functions identically to career mentoring. In this mentor-mentee relationship, the mentee is a professional within the company who fits a certain demographic the company would like to specifically target for development and retention. Diversity could refer to a number of characteristics or qualities, depending on the company’s desires and goals. 

 

Reverse mentoring

In reverse mentoring, the mentor is the younger or less experienced employee, while the mentee is the older or more experienced employee. Companies use reverse mentoring when the younger generation has a significant educational advantage they can share with long-term employees, like advances in technology. 

 

Mentoring circles

Mentoring circles operate differently than the other types of mentor-mentee relationships mentioned. Instead of two participants, a mentor and a mentee, the mentoring circle is usually composed of five to eight peers who meet regularly to discuss career development and potential. 

 

Tips for implementing and maintaining mentor-mentee relationships

Use these tips to help your employees start and maintain  strong mentor-mentee relationships: 

  • Set expectations: Early on in the mentorship, establish specific expectations and goals for the relationship, so you know what you’re working towards. 
  • Be supportive: The mentor should support the mentee, and the mentee should support the mentor. Both parties are equally important in the relationship. 
  • Have a schedule: Set up regular meetings. Have open lines of communication between meetings to discuss any pressing challenges. 
  • Speak honestly: Be honest in your communications. Learn how to share constructive criticism and accept constructive criticism. 
  • Look for creativity: Seek creative solutions to problems when discussing workplace challenges. 
  • Form a friendship: Build a supportive relationship based on both personal and professional connections. 
  • Remain positive: Keep a positive attitude in the relationship. 

 

Frequently asked questions about mentor-mentee relationships

What do mentors get out of mentoring?

While the obvious outcomes of the mentor-mentee relationship are weighted toward the mentee’s professional development and success, most mentors also receive benefits from participating in the relationship. The most notable benefits include: 

  • Self-improvement: When mentors share ideas or feedback with their mentees, they’re often learning how to manage challenging situations themselves. 
  • Awareness: Mentoring demands that mentors objectively review their past actions and decisions, increasing their personal awareness. 
  • Growth: Often, mentees aren’t the only ones who learn during the mentorship. Mentors can learn new ways to approach work from their mentees as well. 
  • Leadership: Mentoring is a type of leadership and helps develop overall leadership skills. 

Is mentoring a leadership role?

Yes. Some mentor-mentee relationships are more formal than others, such as those that go through a workplace sponsored program. These relationships in particular are often viewed as company-specific leadership roles. 

Do employees need a mentor for career growth?

Mentors aren’t necessary for career growth, but they can help mentees develop their skills. Mentor-mentee relationships also often help the mentee gain visibility with leadership-level employees within their organization. 

Mentor-mentee relationships can be quite beneficial for all parties involved. Consider setting up an in-house mentoring program to help develop all your employees.

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