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Making mentoring work

A good mentor is somebody who facilitates and supports
HR ADVICE

By Sean Power And
SANDRA D'Amico
The practice of "mentoring" is a bit like eating healthy food - everybody says it is good for you, but few people actually do it.

Many employers talk enthusiastically about introducing mentoring systems for their staff, but they never seem to get around to it.

Many young professionals have only a vague idea of what mentoring actually involves.
In simple terms, having a mentor is a bit like having your own personal coach or advisor.

A mentor is someone - usually more senior or experienced than you - who is there to offer you advice and support in all aspects of your professional development.

They might work in your organisation or they might work somewhere else. They might be appointed by your employer or they might be someone you have chosen yourself.

There are plenty of benefits from having a mentor. Most importantly, you are more likely to reflect on how things are going in your job and your career.

Mentoring encourages you to evaluate yourself, in terms of your work performance and career goals. If we are left to our own devices, we tend to push these matters to the background and not give them the attention they deserve.

Having a mentor can also help you to make better career decisions, as you can benefit from your mentor's wisdom and experience. Mentors often have good insights about things such as part-time study options, applying for promotions and considering job offers.

If your mentor works for the same organisation as you, then they are a great source of knowledge about how the organisation really functions - how the systems and procedures work, who the key decision-makers are and how best to deal with certain individuals.

You can ask them all those "silly" questions that you don't want to bother your manager with.

You may be lucky enough to work for an organisation that has a formal mentoring programme, where a mentor is appointed to you. More likely, however, you will have to seek out a mentor on your own initiative. So the big question is: How do you find a mentor?
First of all, think about what you want to achieve out of a mentoring relationship.

For example, do you want to learn about how your organisation functions or are you looking for more of an "outside" perspective where you can talk about sensitive issues such as changing jobs?
This will help you decide whether to look for a mentor within or outside your organisation.

Try to find somebody whom you admire and respect, who is a good listener and with whom you can talk openly and frankly.

Don't pick somebody who is always too busy to make time for you, or who is known as the office gossip. It isn't appropriate to choose your supervisor as a mentor, since you might need advice about sensitive issues that directly involve your supervisor. In football terms, that would be a bit like asking the opposition captain to be your coach!

Most importantly, a good mentor is somebody who facilitates and supports, not somebody who commands and controls.
Beware of potential mentors who might indulge their own ego by turning you into a copy of themselves.

Once you have made your selection, ask the person if they would be kind enough to be your mentor. Explain what you want to achieve from the relationship, why you think they would be a good mentor and how you envisage the arrangement working.

The arrangement can be as simple as going out for coffee or lunch every so often.

Don't become a burden to your mentor, and don't let your mentor make all your important decisions. You are still responsible for the choices you make.

If you have been working for a few years, you may actually be in a position to mentor a junior staff member.
This is a great way to develop your own people skills (or "soft skills"), which will help you become a successful manager when you get the opportunity one day.

It will also broaden your own perspectives by making you aware of the views and challenges of other staff. More simply, it can be a nice feeling to help someone else achieve their own career goals.
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Sean Power is a consultant to HRINC, one of Cambodia’s leading HR services firms, and Sandra D’Amico is the managing director. Contact hrinc@hrinc.com.kh for more information.

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