Geometric Success Through Mentorship

YodaBusiness processes and operating plans don’t get things done.  People do.  And the true blocker of progress is not bureaucracy; it’s the lack of clarity of people.  And that’s why mentorship is so important.

My definition of mentorship is: work that provides knowledge, support and advocacy necessary for new people to get things done.  New can be new to company, new to role, or new to new environments or circumstances.

Mentorship is about helping new people recognize and understand unwritten rules on how things are done; helping them see the invisible power dynamics that generate the invisible forcing function that makes things happen; and supporting them as they navigate the organizational riptide.

The first job of a mentor is to commit to spending time with a worthy mentee.  Check-the-box mentorship (mentorship for compliance) does not take a lot of time.  (Usually several meetings will do.)  But mentorship done well, mentorship worthy of the mentee, takes time and emotional investment.

Mentorship starts with a single page definition of the projects the mentee must get done.  It’s a simple spreadsheet where each project has its own row with multiple columns for the projects that define: what must get done by the end of the year, and how to know it was done; the major milestones (and dates) along the way; what was done last month; what will be done this month.  After all the projects are listed in order of importance, the number of projects is reduced from 10-20 down to 3-4.  The idea is to list on the front of the page only the projects that can be accomplished by a mere mortal.  The remaining 16-17 are moved to the back, never to be discussed again. (It’s still one page if you use the back.)

[Note: The mentee’s leader will be happy you helped reduce the workload down to a reasonable set of projects.  They knew there were too many projects, but their boss wanted them to sign up for too much to ensure there was no chance of success and no time to think.]

Once the year-end definition of success is formalized for each project, this month’s tasks are defined.  Using your knowledge of organizational dynamics and how things actually get done, you tell them what to do and how to do it.  For the next four weekly meetings you ask them what they and help them get the tasks done.  You don’t do the tasks for them, you tell them how to do it and how to work with.  Over the next months, telling morphs to suggesting.

The learning comes when your suggested approach differs from their logical, straightforward approach.  You explain the history, explain the official process is outdated and no one does it that way, suggest they talk to the little-known subject matter expert who has done similar work and introduce them to the deep-in-the-org-chart stalwart who can allocate resources to support the work.

Week-by-week and month-by-month, the project work gets done and the mentee learns how to get it done.  The process continues for at least one year.  If you are not willing to meet 40-50 times over the course of a year, you aren’t serious about mentorship.  Think that’s too much?  It isn’t. That’s what it takes. Still think that’s too much?  If you meet for 30 minutes a week, that’s only 20-25 hours per year.  At the end of a year, 3-4 projects will be completed successfully and a new person will know how to do 3-4 more next year, and the year after that.  Then, because they know the value of mentorship, they become a mentor and help a new person get 3-4 projects done.  That’s a lot of projects.  Done right, success through mentorship is geometric.

Companies are successful when they complete their projects. And the knowledge needed to complete the projects is not captured in the flowcharts of the official business processes – it’s captured in the hearts and minds of the people.

New people don’t know how things get done, but they need to.  And mentorship is the best way to teach them.  It’s impossible to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for mentorship.  You either believe in mentorship or you don’t.  And I believe in it.

My mentorship work is my most meaningful work, and it has little to do with the remarkable business results. The personal relationships I have developed through my mentorship work are some of the most rewarding of my life.

I urge you, for your own well-being, to give mentorship a try.

Image credit — Bryan Jones

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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