The 6 Mentorship Best Practices You Need to Know

Perspectives from Tammi Warfield, VP of Customer Success at Microsoft

Mentorship is critical to our careers, but what does an effective mentorship look like? At a Microsoft Canada Women Who Lead event, Tammi Warfield shared that she was an avid believer in the power of mentorship. Her passion about this area of career development shines through when she talks about her mentoring process and experiences.

Adding to the Mentorship Series, today’s blog post shares Tammi’s best practices for having great and successful mentorships.

1. Understand the difference between “mentoring” and “networking”

Sometimes, we may confuse these two different types of relationships. To clarify, mentorship is longer term, ongoing, and confidential. Mentorship happens when two people are working towards a defined goal together. Usually, the mentor is experienced in the area that the mentee is looking to grow in.

Networking is more short term, usually done on an ad-hoc basis, and non-confidential. Networking is useful for informational exchanges, like coffee chats, to learn about others’ career paths or fields of expertise. Since networking is non-committal, it is easier to have a greater variety of it compared to mentorships.

2. Create a safe space for mentorship conversations

It is important for mentees and mentors to make efforts to share trust and candour with each other. To do this, both sides must acknowledge that stories and perspectives are shared in confidence. Mentors should keep their mentees’ challenges and concerns confidential while providing appropriate guidance and advice. Mentors may also share their own personal stories and examples to help their mentees think through conflicts and gaps. In these situations, mentees should not be sharing these stories with other people (unless the mentor says it is fine). Ultimately, having a safe space is important for having any uncomfortable conversations around sensitive topics.

3. Avoid mentorship with those who are in your direct line of report

It is important to find mentors who are outside of your team because of the need for safe space conversations. Mentorship is also more effective when mentors have the outsider’s perspective, and are not affected by their mentees’ situations. This prevents any conflicts of interests or biases from getting in the way of the potential solution(s).

The lines can become blurred when mentors are direct managers or skip-level managers, especially when you need to talk about conflicts with other team members. Since managers have a fiduciary duty to the business, managers may need to adhere to a higher priority of obligation. If necessary, this would mean breaching the confidentiality of the mentorship conversations. Moreover, if there are any issues with your direct manager, then you may be creating an HR issue in the coaching moment.

4. Take the responsibility to set clear goals and expectations

In any mentorship, the mentees must take ownership and put in the work. First, clarify why you are seeking mentorship from someone and map out the skills and experiences that they have. Next, determine what you want to achieve from meeting with them on an ongoing basis. Once you have defined the goals of the mentorship, take the initiative to plan it out:

  • Clarify the cadence and agenda of your meetings
  • Determine what activities you will participate in together (e.g. meeting 1:1, job shadowing, attending events)

Some mentors may also give you “homework”, so make sure to share your progress in future conversations.

5. Acknowledge that all mentorships will naturally end

As with many types of relationships, there will come a time when your mentorship has run its course. This happens when both sides have achieved the goals that were originally set. It may feel awkward to end a mentorship when you do not set clear goals or expectations in the beginning. Hence, make sure that you both mutually acknowledge which goals you’re working towards.

When setting goals and expectations in the beginning, you should discuss how long you think it would take. Use this time estimate as a checkpoint. This way, it doesn’t seem like the “we need to talk” conversation is coming out of nowhere. Once that time comes around, talk about the pace and progress of the mentorship and whether it makes sense to continue or conclude.

6. Mentor no more than 2 mentees at a time

Despite our best intentions to help as many people as we can, it can be challenging to effectively mentor multiple people at once. Compromising your focus and attention will result in more shallow relationships and less impact. Whenever you’re considering a new mentorship, consider the time and effort that need to be invested into your mentee. Since schedules are busy, you should also set up recurring invites to block time in both of your calendars. You can always reschedule these as the dates come up, but it is better than having ad-hoc meetings.  

Key Takeaways

  1. Recognize the differences between mentoring and networking, and when either of these are appropriate.
  2. Avoid mentorship with those in your direct line of report and avoid mentoring too many people at once.
  3. Set clear goals and expectations and acknowledge that every mentorship will eventually end

Make sure you check out my Meaningful Mentorships webinar and stay tuned for more in the Mentorship Series!