Kat Turner, Education Portfolio Manager at ITSM Zone facilitated a popular Hot Topic Roundtable discussion all about ‘mentoring’ at this year’s SITS, which took place earlier this month. If you missed it, find out what key points came out of the session here…

I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to facilitate a Hot Topic Roundtable session entitled ‘Mentoring for Success! at SITS.  I have been a mentor for 12 years and initially I carried out the role informally, but as I developed my understanding of the relevant competencies I realised that often people are thrown into the role without much support and can sometimes be apprehensive of taking on the role, or even seeking help from a mentor. Therefore, I have begun sharing my knowledge to hopefully enable and continue a two-way process of learning, and SITS proved to be an excellent platform for this.

So, what is mentoring? a helpful definition comes from David Clutterbuck (2014) who states that mentoring is:

‘A relationship between two colleagues, in which the more experienced colleague uses their greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of the less experienced colleague’

Going further, it is important to point out that the aim is autonomy and self-reliance while accelerating the communication of ideas across the organisation. Mentoring is very effective in transferring tacit knowledge within an organisation by highlighting how effective people think, take decisions and approach complex issues.


What follows are key points from Hot Topic Roundtable discussion:

Point 1 – Sponsorship versus developmental mentoring, they are different, and it matters!

Often a manager in an organization will ask a member of staff to be a mentor to another member of staff. This would imply a sponsorship mentoring model, here the learning is one-way from mentor to mentee and the mentor intervenes on the mentee’s behalf. Usually the mentor is more powerful and older than the mentee. This relationship often ends in conflict when the mentee outgrows the mentor. On the other hand, in the developmental mentor relationship there is two-way learning; power and authority is removed from the relationship. The mentor helps the mentee decide what they want and how to achieve it. Help is provided through stimulating insight. Age is not important, it is experience that counts.

You may be asked to mentor in your organization and not have a choice concerning who to mentor, however you can still apply the autonomous approach by utilising the techniques of the developmental mentor.


Point 2 – Competencies are important!

Having the right set of skills is crucial when embarking on a mentoring relationship, some key competencies are to have both an understanding of yourself and an understanding of others, coupled with an interest in developing others’ skills whilst also wanting to improve your own. Been business savvy with a wide range of professional skills to pass on, as well as a sense of humour and shared world view with your mentee will also stand you in good stead, not forgetting being a good communicator, listener and observer! It is fine to not know all the answers as a mentor, but you should want to take the time to develop tools to support your mentee and facilitate them in their own learning.


Point 3 – Informal v formal mentoring – there are benefits to doing both!

Formal mentoring provides some control over a process that, left alone, may not always work for the organization and creates an umbrella to help the mentor and mentee establish more specific goals. It includes a practical framework of support which may involve initial training, and some form of continuing review, to ensure that both parties understand what is expected of them.

Informal relationships take longer to develop and last longer overall, so there is more opportunity to create strong trust and to achieve medium-term goals. Formal relationships are often under considerable time pressure, whereas informal mentors are less likely to be in the role out of some form of obligation; they are there because they want to be. Informal mentors tend to have better communication and coaching skills than formal. The danger with informal mentors is that you may have a situation where a mentor does not have the same view of the organization and can undermine organizational goals.

Can you use both formal and informal practices? Yes!

Examples include:

  • An online matching scheme so people can seek their own parings
  • Sufficient visible role models of good mentoring available
  • A mixture of voluntary training resources for mentoring
  • Mentor support group
  • Good practice snippets to be sent to managers and employees

Point 4 – Online Mentoring can be a more time efficient way to mentor

An objection to mentoring can often be the time it takes out of your busy schedule, but online mentoring allows more flexibility and, if the relationship is conducted in writing, it can provide some thinking space, so the mentor can ask more insight-provoking questions than in the heat of face to face discussion. Equally, mentees have increased time to compose their responses and review the answers to their queries. E-mentoring can allow much more rapid responses than the traditional meeting scheduled approach and opens up a world of potential mentors from a global pool! A virtual mentor is another way to target respected industry experts. Through using a virtual mentor, the mentee has the chance to enter into a longer term commercial relationship with their mentor. The mentee could have a conference call to discuss their training, career and how they might use their skills. With no set agenda the mentee can ask about whatever is relevant to them. Find out more about virtual mentors at ITSM Zone by accessing this link: https://itsm.zone/about-us/training-plus-mentors/


Point 5 – There is a difference between coaching and mentoring!

Often the word coach and mentor are interchanged but they are two different things. A mentor can use coaching skills as part of their competencies so perhaps this is where the confusion lies. Additionally, an agile coach is often a mentor, especially if they are working with a ScrumMaster to establish new best practices and patterns by leading, assisting and observing.

Coaching is a short-term relationship and is focused on achieving specific immediate goals. It revolves around specific personal development areas and issues perhaps related to behaviour, attitudes, self-awareness, skills or performance. The coach uses powerful questioning to enable their client to unlock the answers themselves. A coach would not offer their own advice or opinion, but help the individual find their own solution.

Mentoring is relationship and development driven rather than task oriented and performance driven. Coaching doesn’t need a design phase, meaning that you can begin to coach someone straight away, whereas when mentoring you will need to find the strategic purpose, the areas to focus on and the most useful mentoring models and components that will guide and support the relationship.

So, what if you want to start a mentoring programme but fear you will face resistance from your team? Here are some tips…

  • Invite popular mentors to speak at your organization
  • Promote mentoring as a positive experience through staff development sessions
  • Address concerns and fears using a no-blame approach by introducing an anonymous feedback tool
  • Set up a small coaching workshop session
  • Promote positive mentoring success stories, either in your organization or your industry, through organizational news feeds

Once you have created some interest, and got some buy-in from staff, the next step could be to start a hybrid formal/informal programme. Remember that successful mentoring relationships are characterized by people who are open and realistically ambitious for the relationship, and also willing to take responsibility for it.

Mentoring should be embedded from the ground level of the organization up and needs to become part of the culture or exponential problems can arise. Being a mentor and implementing a mentoring scheme is a cost-efficient way to gain a more engaged workforce, increase job satisfaction and show you care about your staff.

Guest post by:

Kat Turner

Kat Turner is the Education Portfolio Manager at ITSM Zone. She has twelve years’ experience in writing and validating courses.

Email: [email protected]

Linkedin - kat-turner-62b59b52/
Tiwtter - @Kat_Turner5
ITSM Crowd 39 - Mentoring in an Agile World:

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