Business mentoring can be a highly effective way to improve business performance. A business mentor is "someone whose hindsight can become your foresight". This article is a guide both for prospective business mentors and for individuals seeking 1-2-1 business mentoring. It answers several questions:

  1. Business mentoring – what is it?
  2. What is the role and value of the business mentor?
  3. What are the benefits for the business mentor?
  4. What are the benefits for the mentee?
  5. What makes a good business mentor?
  6. What makes a good mentee?
  7. How to manage the business mentoring relationship?
  8. What remuneration can a business mentor expect?

1. Business mentoring – what is it?

Business mentoring is often confused with management consulting and business coaching, but it is different.

  • Management consulting is based on the expertise, knowledge, skill set and technology of the consultant. The consultant's skill set is focused on building their own internal resources, in order to apply them for the client company's benefit.
  • Business coaching assumes that the client has the necessary capability and helps them to discover it for themselves.
  • Business mentoring targets the personal development of people who are well versed in their fundamental technical skills but need extra assistance in other skills areas, expertise or knowledge.

2. What is the role and value of the business mentor?

This article is about 1-2-1 business mentoring, not group business mentoring such as you find with Vistage, the Academy for Chief Executives and similar organisations. Group business mentoring can work but tends to be less effective than 1-2-1 business mentoring.

Business mentors lever their knowledge and experience by providing advice, counsel, network contacts and political and cultural know-how, together with ongoing personal support and encouragement. The business mentor's interest is to foster the career development of the mentee.

The value of business mentoring to the organisation

At its best, business mentoring is a process that activates the skills of the mentee within their current role and helps groom them for their next. Business mentoring helps them to produce high quality decisions that define them, their authority and their effectiveness. A business mentor provides a confidential sounding board, thinking room, and support for working through crucial and often complex decisions.

Business mentoring can also help organisations to retain their best people and increase staff loyalty.

Business mentoring programme quality

The quality achieved in a business mentoring programme often hinges on the expertise of those establishing the programme in achieving the right fit between mentee and mentor. The best results are often achieved when the mentor and mentee like and respect each other and where the personal chemistry is right.

3. What are the benefits for the business mentor?

The primary beneficiary of a business mentoring programme will be the mentee, but those who mentor can find themselves benefiting in unexpected ways. In the most successful business mentoring relationships there is always something in it for the mentor, not just for the mentee.

Benefits for the business mentor can include:

  • personal development – growing by growing others
  • increased job satisfaction
  • honing of skills such as coaching, listening, giving feedback and adapting your leadership style
  • development of self-knowledge and self-awareness.

While these may be "softer" benefits, there are also harder benefits that your mentee can deliver to you:

  • sharing their network of contacts with you
  • giving you a temperature check of the organisation (what is really going on)
  • raising your visibility within parts of the organisation that would not otherwise be aware of you.

4. What are the benefits for the mentee?

A business mentor, by virtue of their experience, will be able to help the mentee steer through the organisation. Perhaps more importantly, the business mentor will help the mentee to understand some of the more informal ways of getting things done and some of the unwritten and unstated ways of working (the world of corporate politics!), and therefore develop the mentee's professional expertise and career.

The business mentor is someone with whom the mentee can discuss and work through concerns or opportunities that they may not want to expose to their immediate superior. Indeed, it may be that the superior is one of the mentee's concerns. Remember, the superior may well be under pressure to come up with short-term deliverables, and may therefore not be sympathetic to the mentee's longer-term career goals.

The mentee may feel that they are working in an environment that does not fit with their preferred ways of working. They may not even be aware of this, perhaps just having an undefined feeling of things not being quite right.

Talking with someone such as a business mentor, who can bring a wider perspective, may help the mentee to recognise what is happening and identify the culture that is right for them.

5. What makes a good business mentor?

As a good business mentor, you will have certain characteristics.

  • You will have a strong desire to help others to grow and develop. You may in the past have been referred to as a "gardener manager". Ideally, you will have a track record in developing others.
  • You will have a strong understanding of how organisations work (formally and informally), and ideally a knowledge and understanding of the key players in the mentee's organisation. You will combine this with an understanding of both the strategic direction of the organisation and what its drivers and those of the wider industry are.
  • You may feel that you have more to offer than you are currently contributing.
  • You will have strong listening skills.
  • You will be self-aware.
  • You will be able to understand and deal with cultural and gender differences and be sensitive to these differences.

Be honest with yourself: if this is not something that sparks you, then do not take on a mentee – it will not be fair on the individual, or on yourself.

The practicalities of business mentoring

There are some things that you, as the business mentor, will need in order to optimise the return on your and the mentee's time.

  • Make yourself available and accessible to your mentee. Where you have contracted to meet every so often, you should be sure to honour that commitment.
  • You may need to provide some initial structure to the business mentoring relationship, particularly if the mentee is relatively inexperienced.
  • Follow through on any actions you pick up in your meetings, thereby demonstrating to the mentee your commitment and your professionalism. "Do as I do" is a good motto for the business mentor.

Being a business mentor requires you to be highly skilled in listening, coaching, giving feedback and, where appropriate, pushing the mentee along faster than they think they can go. Furthermore, you will need to adjust your style as the mentoring relationship develops and according to the issue you are addressing at any one time.

6. What makes a good mentee?

A mentee must, of course, be prepared to take feedback. But to get the greatest possible benefit from a business mentoring relationship, there are several other things a mentee must do.

  • Own the business mentoring relationship

First and foremost, the mentee must own and take responsibility for the business mentoring relationship. Owning their career is an important principle of career development. No one has more interest in, or more to gain from, the progression of the mentee's career than the mentee.

  • Be proactive in the business mentoring relationship

This means taking the initiative and setting the pace – with the agreement of the mentor. The mentee must look at the business mentoring process as a project they are managing: as with any project, they should set milestones and make sure that they are achieved.

  • Manage the business mentoring agenda

The mentee, not the mentor, should define the agenda of the business mentoring programme. If the mentee does not work out what it is they want to do, they are in effect handing it over to others to determine their direction.

  • Set objectives for the business mentoring programme

It is essential for the mentee to:

- set himself or herself some objectives to work on during the mentoring relationship

- discuss these objectives with the business mentor and obtain their agreement

- write the objectives down and give the mentor a copy

- review these objectives regularly with the mentor.

  • Progress actions

The mentee also needs to make the business mentoring programme action-oriented, and always follow through on those actions they agreed. It is reasonable to expect that the business mentor will do the same.

7. How to manage the business mentoring relationship?

Be systematic in managing the business mentoring relationship, focusing on the three key areas:

  1. The first meeting
  2. The business mentoring contract
  3. The ongoing business mentoring relationship.

(A) The first meeting

The first meeting between business mentor and mentee serves four purposes:

  • To get to know each other better

This can start with some introductions, followed by a brief run through what the business mentor and mentee have done in the past. This is important, not only as an ice breaker, but as a way for both parties to decide if they are happy to continue beyond the first meeting.

  • To articulate and agree expectations

Different or unrealistic expectations can be the cause of business mentoring relationships not working. Unrealistic expectations include:

- the mentee expecting the business mentor to sort out their next job

- the mentee expecting the mentor to make their own personal network of contacts available to them

- the mentee expecting the mentor to tell them what to do – or, worse, to do it for them

- the business mentor expecting the mentee to do exactly what they tell them.

  • To set and agree ground rules

Ground rules are things such as frequency and length of meetings.

  • To set objectives

The mentee should come to the meeting with some draft objectives covering what outcomes they would like to achieve through the mentoring. These should be discussed and agreed with the business mentor.

(B) The business mentoring contract

By the end of the first meeting, you will be in a position for the mentee to go away and draw up a business mentoring contract by which you will both work. This covers some important principles, such as confidentiality. It also provides structure and ensures that mentor and mentee have a common understanding of how they will work together.

The business mentoring contract will cover some or all of the following:

  • frequency of face-to-face meetings and/or telephone meetings, with a schedule of dates
  • mechanisms for communicating between meetings (for example, email or phone)
  • duration of the business mentoring relationship
  • a statement on confidentiality that applies to mentor and mentee – usually the Chatham House Rule
  • tracking and review of the business mentoring process and reporting back
  • objectives – a statement of what they are, plus dates for review
  • scope of the mentoring – it is usually best to be explicit about what is and is not included
  • a statement from the mentee agreeing that they will be proactive and drive (project manage) the business mentoring relationship
  • date for final review and closure – although the mentor and mentee may decide to continue beyond formal closure.

(C) The ongoing business mentoring relationship

Both the mentor and the mentee have a role to play in managing the ongoing business mentoring relationship.

The deal for the business mentor is to honour the terms of the contract:

  • achieving agreed objectives and reviewing outcomes
  • attending the agreed meetings and not rescheduling
  • following through on any actions agreed
  • respecting confidentiality
  • exercising skills such as listening, giving feedback
  • as the mentee and the relationship progress, stepping back and adapting your style to fit the new circumstances.

The mentee's responsibilities are:

  • to be proactive, ensuring that the terms of the business mentoring contract are adhered to and that scheduled meetings take place
  • to ensure that the objectives jointly agreed at the first meeting are being worked on and the outcomes tracked thereafter
  • as they grow in confidence and experience, to take the lead and lessen any dependency they may have on the business mentor
  • to aim to move towards closure on the formal business mentoring relationship
  • finally, to think about what they can do to make a contribution back to their mentor.

8. What remuneration can a business mentor expect?

What can you expect to earn from business mentoring? It's a little like "How long is a piece of string?", because it depends on whom you are mentoring, the value you are adding, and who is paying the bill!

However, as a general guideline, your business mentoring fee could be between £50 and £500 per hour.

Typical business mentoring contracts are for four hours a month, delivered in one or two sessions, over a period of six to twelve months. However, we have several clients whom we have been mentoring for over four years.

TCii Strategic and Management Consultants offers a 1-2-1 mentoring service to people who wish to become business mentors themselves.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.