Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 5: learning from the experience of others 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 30, 2017

This is my fifth installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I began a more general, overall discussion about learning from others in work and career planning in Part 4 of this series, where I focused on networking more effectively for information and insight that you can apply to your own circumstance and in your own planning. Then at the end of that more focused line of discussion, I said that I would turn here to consider:

• Mentors and mentoring and from both sides of the table, and pursuing opportunities to learn and grow professionally from that.

I have written about mentoring on a number of occasions in the course of writing this blog. So I begin this posting as a continuation of that line of discussion, by offering some background resources of relevance to it:

Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation – part 7 and building a mentoring network,
From Peer to Supervisor – Part 9: training and mentoring others,
Moving into Middle Management – Part 8: leading by example, mentoring and advocacy,
Consultant and Mentor – bridging the contradiction and
Career Changes, Career Transitions 16: mentors and mentoring .

I chose those postings to highlight here, because they touch upon the issues of mentors and mentoring from both the mentee and the mentor side of the table, and because they indicate how a mentoring relationship can fruitfully arise from unexpected directions – and certainly if you only think of this in terms of higher up towards lower down on the formal table of organization.

Let me begin this posting and its contribution to that narrative by offering some general organizing comments and observations:

• Mentoring and cultivating the collaborations that it can create are all about building relationships.
• The fact and opinion finding exercises that I touched upon in Part 4 of this series, in a networking context are also all about building relationships as that is how real, sustainable networking arises too.
• But in a Part 4 context, that information gathering side to networking is all about finding specific pieces of information and types of it, and in a timely manner. Mentoring is more open-ended for this and it can be at least as much about finding out what you do not even know to ask about as it can be about finding specific here-and-now answers to immediately pressing questions.
• And to return to a key word offered in the first of these bullet points, a sustaining and sustainable mentoring relationship develops as a true collaboration.
• And to pick up on one more at-least apparent point made above: an assumption actually, mentoring and even the best mentoring is not always carried out from “higher up towards lower down on the formal table of organization.” The most effective mentoring can come from essentially any direction in that regard.

Consider for example a new manager, straight out of business school who secures a position with a new company and in what to them is a new industry – and they know this. The supervising manager who they report to has made it clear that they are going to be available to help answer specific questions (and according to a more Part 4, networking approach.) But they have made it just as clear that they want to see what this new hire can do and can learn on their own and without requiring special attention from higher up on the table of organization; this is in fact an apparent test issue for their new hires as they go through their first 90 days probationary-hire periods (see my series: Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation, at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 73-88.)

Who would these people best turn to for ongoing and more open ended guidance and advice as they find their way in this new-to-them business and this new-to-them job there and with all of the learning curve challenges that they face?

• One possible source of this type of mentor support might be more experienced and widely respected same-level peers on the table of organization. And if you can find the right ones, who are willing to help you with this and if you do not become too demanding of their time and energy in this, well seasoned peers can be a best possible source of mentors. They, after all face essentially the same table of organization contexts that you do, so they are in a better position to see and understand your world at that business as you would experience it – and the issues that you face and need guidance on too.
• But a second possible source for this type of mentoring might be found lower down on the table of organization, from among the more experienced and I will add wise members of your own staff. These are the people who know both the systems in use and the place and the history of the place and of what has been tried and done and what has and has not worked there. They know who does what and they know their personal issues and communications styles and preferences too. The best of these long-term employees can become veritable walking encyclopedias of expertise into that business and how to succeed in it. And this leads me to a simple, basic question. Who would the people who report to you, seek out for advice if they had questions or if they needed insight that went beyond simply addressing their day-to-day ordinary? Phrased slightly differently, who in your area of this business has become the go-to expert for thinking through and resolving the unexpected and the particularly challenging, and who would know where to turn to throughout the business if you need further insight from other functional areas there too?

In both of these mentor/advisor sourcing circumstances, and particularly in the second of them, if you seek out a mentor, do so with a measure of humility and respect. And the respect side of that includes both acknowledging that the people who you would reach out to here, know things that you do not and that you need to learn. And it also includes recognizing and acknowledging that they have busy schedules and work deadlines too – just as you do.

• If you are in fact turning to long-term employee experts who report to you and either directly or indirectly for ongoing insight and information, you have the option to make that a part of their recognized and even prioritized workload, so you are not putting them in the uncomfortable position of being required to do what for example might be nine hours of work in eight hour work days and even just occasionally.
• This can be done informally, and both for when and how you take from their time in order to gather specific information and insight from them that you need. So for example, you can ask Martha, the accounts manager who has been there 28 years for some of her time, assuring here that her more regularly scheduled work on an established client account that she would be doing then, can wait until the next day if need be. But even then, make use of these resources sparingly and in ways and at times that would work for them too. Accommodate their needs too; meet with them for a more informal if still work-related conversation over lunch if that would make their day easier and if they would be comfortable with that.

I add here as a final thought for this posting, that as a consultant I made a career out of working in new-to-me businesses, and a career out of walking into challenging workplace requirements where I did not necessarily know up-front what were the underlying problems that I was to address, and what were actually just symptoms of them. So I always sought out mentors and advisors who could and would help me to fill in the gaps in what I knew, and who could help me to identify misconceptions in what I was assuming – and perhaps even particularly when they have been based on what I had just been directly told by the executives who hired me there. As I have indicated at least on occasion in this blog, the managers and leaders of a business do not always know themselves, what the real underlying problems are in their organization, and what are more properly just symptoms of them. I have found and cultivated mentors and advisors in all directions on tables of organization, looking primarily for those who would know what I needed to know, and those who would and could share this information with me in a positive collaborative manner. And sometimes the best sources of this type of expertise have come from what in the businesses involved, would be the least expected directions and from very experienced people who were more taken for granted there than anything else.

And with that noted, I repeat a point made at the end of an earlier bullet point here, that I would hope this posting has at least somewhat clarified:

• “The most effective mentoring can come from essentially any direction in that regard.” It really can.

I have primarily been addressing this topic from the mentee side here and will switch to focus more on the mentor side of this in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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