“Mentors and those whom they are mentoring have to select each other. It’s a mutual thing based on chemistry.”
Mentoring frequently comes up when AEC firms work on their strategic planning. As we can all agree, good people in our industry are in short supply, and firms are desperate to do anything they can do to retain and develop their best people. So, mentoring programs are frequently seen as a potential solution.
I always get a kick out of it when I learn about a company that is instituting a formal mentoring program. That “program” usually starts with some arbitrary assignment of mentors to mentees by management. That rarely works. Mentors and those whom they are mentoring have to select each other. It’s a mutual thing based on chemistry and many other intangibles.
Here are some of my other thoughts on what I have learned about mentoring over the years that will hopefully benefit those of you who are currently mentoring someone or considering doing so:
- Mentoring takes time. Mentors are usually more senior people (principals) whose time is valuable. These people have many demands pressing them for their time. And in project-driven AEC firms, that time usually goes to clients as a first priority. With that being said, if mentoring is going to be real, mentors will have to treat it as a priority. Who you spend time with is an indication of who and what is important to you. For example, you, as a mentor, can’t schedule meetings with your mentee(s) that never happen. It will have to be a commitment you make time for and treat seriously.
- Mentors have to be responsive. At times, mentees will have critical, urgent problems that they need your help with. You can’t put them off. It may mean you have to talk or meet with them on weekends and evenings. That can be stressful or annoying. But don’t forget that you can also use text and email as a means of communication. If you have someone you are mentoring who always expects a face-to-face meeting and a company-paid meal, you may have to educate them on other communication options that could allow you to provide more timely responses to them.
- Mentoring is a tremendous responsibility. When someone seeks you out for advice that may impact their careers and the rest of their lives, you, as the mentor, have to be very careful of the advice you give. It’s serious stuff and you have to be sure you give it your best thinking. You should also always qualify your advice as just that – advice. It should be worthy of consideration but always respect the individual mentee’s right to pick and choose what advice from you that they actually follow.
- Mentees who rarely listen and act on the advice of their mentors run the risk of turning off their mentors. The flip side of point number three above is that mentees who don’t ever follow the advice they are getting from their mentors should be prepared for their mentors to bow out at some point. Time is valuable. Mentors – who probably don’t expect total compliance with their directions – do want to be heard and respected. That “respect” is demonstrated by the mentee acting on the mentor’s advice rather than ignoring it.
One more thought. Mentoring is hard to sustain. People change. Their life situations change. They do move on to new jobs and new cities. That typically results in mentor-mentee relationships changing over time. Some of these relationships can last 20 to 50 years, but most don’t. That’s OK. If the relationship dies, it does so for a reason. It’s probably best to not force it.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.