Mentoring has become something of a buzz-word of late. In part because the recent economic turbulence has propagated many nascent entrepreneurs, but also as these new businesses start and grow, support and advice is needed to assist their trajectory.
What is the value of mentoring?
The value of mentoring is regularly questioned, often without justification, however, its impact and usefulness can be diluted for many reasons. In my own experience, mentoring can be prescribed as a ‘quick fix’ or generic support for a business. Undoubtedly, this is not the right approach for any individual or organisation.
First and foremost, any soft support must be needs-led, and not simply delivered as a one-size-fits-all solution. While new entrepreneurs grapple with the almost-overnight requirement for multi-disciplinary skills – there are always aptitudes which can be quickly harnessed, and weaknesses that need to be addressed.
Mentoring for Start-Ups
For many start-up business owners, any help is some help – however I am a firm believer in defining or scoping out where you most require a knowledgeable mentor, and focusing on the right fit for your need. That may sound like a pretty basic assumption, but in times of complete chaos [which is the standard terrain of a start-up], these things can be overlooked.
Identifying the right fit means finding the right personality too; in fact, engaging a mentor is almost the same as a new-hire. Your mentor should understand the culture, vision and character of your organisation – otherwise, the relationship will not be a fruitful one.
Objectives and Outcomes
Another basic assumption often overlooked? Objectives and outcomes. Working with a mentor is absolutely pointless without a series of clear objectives. They should be discussed, agreed and a timeline adopted for delivery. Ultimately, a mentor is someone who simply provides the right set of skills required at a crucial time in the organisations’ development – they should guide, inform and shape – with a clear focus on engagement and collaboration.
What’s the difference between a mentor and an advisor?
Most organisations will have experience of both during their life-cycle, and for different reasons. Typically, an advisor will operate slightly differently to a mentor – though with a similar frame-of-reference. They may be akin to a virtual manager or member of staff, and will normally undertake a core area of responsibility or project as their focus. Mentors tend remain as an external ‘viewpoint’ on the general development of the organisation – or a specific area of it – they will suggest alternative options and flag concerns. In essence, depending on your organisations’ stage of development or requirement, you may need a mentor or an advisor… perhaps both!
Finally, it’s always worth measuring and validating mentoring (and indeed, advisory) inputs – ask yourself, what did we really achieve? Can we articulate the distinct benefits created or did we realise intangible but beneficial outcomes? Business, particularly start-up is an ever-evolving creature, which demands plenty of learning and evaluation – find out what works and what doesn’t work for your organisation.
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