Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Starting a new job, Building a new foundation – part 7 and building a mentoring network

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 17, 2010

I like to plan out my postings at least as to what topics I will post on and in what order when I start a new series. But this blog is a work in progress and sometimes I rethink how I will be doing things in it. This is my seventh posting in a series on successfully transiting a new job probationary period and building a foundation for ongoing success at that job, and at the end of Part 6 and Collaborating for Success I said that my next two postings in this series would cover (in this order):

• Reporting to more than just one supervisor, and
• Mentors and mentoring.

I also said I would post on these topics from the HR, supervisor and business perspective (in HR and Personnel and Business Strategy and Operations) and that I would do that after posting on these topics from the new employee perspective in the Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see postings 73 through 78.) On further reflection, I realized that I needed to switch to a Plan B as to how best to organize this material and I added my mentoring posting to the two HR and business series first, and I will add the mentoring posting here first, and then go into issues like matrix management and how to work more effectively in a complex supervision system. I go through these scheduling changes here to highlight the need to always think and plan in terms of contingencies, and the possibility of having to switch to a Plan B.

Agility and flexibility have to be readily available tools in your professional tool set, and for starting out at a new job where the unexpected is expected, and throughout your career. And with that I shift gears to share some thoughts and perspective on mentoring as a tool that can help you develop and advance your professional development and your career. And a lot of this is actually about gaining the insight and perspective, and the information you would need for knowing when that Plan B is advisable, and for helping you develop and follow through on your best possible Plan B. And I will write here about both seeking out mentors and reaching out as a mentor – two inseparable sides to the same coin.

When I wrote Mentoring as a Source of Positive Value to the Business and to the Mentor I wrote of the intrinsic value of this as a resource and as a part of corporate processes and culture. There are problems and potential problems in mentoring as I discussed there, but the positive value offered by this outweighs the negatives. Even with that, I add that effective mentoring takes a commitment of time and effort on the part of both mentor and mentee. And this commitment can be significant and certainly for people who start out with hectic schedules.

One approach I have found very helpful for dealing with that issue is in seeking out and developing a network of mentors, who you turn to for advice and insight on specific areas and types of issue, but who you do not individually seek too much time and energy from. This lessens the work load you add to any one colleague as mentor and it also opens mentoring up for offering a wider range of perspective, and this can be crucial when you need advice and insight on complex and contentious issues. And I add you probably don’t need much in the way of mentoring when facing the easy and routine, so seeking this type of help from several sources can really make sense where mentoring per se would offer the greatest value.

• Learn how mentoring is approached in your new workplace and how it is supported, and both in policy and in the unwritten policy of informal practice – and learn what mentoring is called as it may be supported and even encouraged but only under a different name.
• Seek out people who have experience in your new business and in areas of expertise that are important to you, and who are approachable, and develop networking relationships with them. And remember in this that networking is about offering value as well as requesting and receiving value (see the laws and principles of good networking practice at the top of Social Networking and Business.) Here, a clear intent to offer value and a clear appreciation of the value of time to a perspective mentor is a part of the value you can offer.
• Look for others who you can reach out to and help too, and one place to start is with your internal clients within your employer’s organization – the people who rely on what you do to more effectively do what they do on the job.
• This can mean working with them to better understand their needs and to better convey the options and opportunities that your work can provide them in facilitating their work.
• Mentoring is not about profound truths and it is not about lessons that would be engraved in stone. Mentoring is about the little lessons and insights that can help smooth paths forward and clarify potential sources of confusion. Mentoring is a cumulative effect built up from many little points of value given and received.

My next posting in this series will turn to the issues of working in a complex organizational structure where you may have more than just one supervisor you are responsible to as you set your priorities and perform your tasks. This type of management structure can have positive value and use for an organization but it can create minefields for the new employee.

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