Photo courtesy of: Greg Land

How to Build and Maintain Effective Mentor-Mentee Relationships

November 24, 2020  |  Larynette Ndah

The uncanny steadiness of what is becoming an unexpected reality during this pandemic is pushing us to accept the fact that change has come to stay. When the pandemic hit in March, the switch to remote work was swift. However, it is not so easy to move the relationships that help us persist in uncertain times. Now is the time to reevaluate our mentor-mentee relationships. Here are a few ideas that can help us develop and maintain these relationships.

Get a Mentor or Mentee

In the era of COVID, we are feeling the burden of physical disconnection. Most of us operate in a virtual world and no longer have the luxury of bumping into each other at the coffee machine at work. Maintaining relationships now requires some intentionality, and we must go out of our way to create new ones.

I have not stepped foot into a B&D office since I started work in March. However, I was assigned a mentor based on my preference immediately. This relationship has helped me feel connected with the rest of the B&D family. I have multiple mentors in and outside of B&D; they all play different roles in both my personal and professional life. Mentorship gives both the mentor and the mentee the chance to know the person, not just the professional. Because mentorship has a ripple effect, it keeps us connected to the whole and gives us a sense of belonging. Get a mentor or a mentee if you do not have one.

Make Sure the Mentor-Mentee Pair is a Good Fit

My mentor contacted me immediately and set up an initial meeting when I started as a new employee at B&D. I knew from the start that she was an individual who, like me, was comfortable to go first. We connected instantly, but not every relationship is a great match.

In 2020, it is not uncommon for five generations of employees to coexist in a workplace: traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation Xers, millennials, and Generation Zers. In past generations, where production and the service economy was alive and well, the hierarchy of relationships was clear. Today, in the gig economy, everything is a conversation. These conversations are guided by the relationship resumes we bring to work, and these resumes are shaped by family, culture, environment, and society. These differences should enrich the relationship, but just like any other relationship, some mentor-mentee relationships do not work. Choose the right person from the beginning or know when to break up.

Define Expectations

Every relationship whether professional or personal straddles these three elements: roles, boundaries, and hierarchy. People want different things from work and each mentor-mentee relationship should define expectations and convey clear goals.

I thrive in a breadth of knowledge, skills, and experiences and it is the basis on which I craft my career path. As a B&D employee, this translates to me working on diverse projects that use my skills and also expose me to new learning opportunities in order to serve our clients in all the areas we operate. Thus, it was important that my mentor understood what I was hoping to get out of our relationship. She, likewise, communicated her expectations and we set clear goals on how we are going achieve these expectations.

Take a Holistic Approach

Mentorship involves both personal and professional development. The mentor and mentee should build a relationship that maintains boundaries, but also one that enables them to enter both the personal and professional spaces as change occurs.

One of my mentors uses a tracker to keep him actively engaged in my growth and development. This helps him to track the information I share with him, my goals and vision for the future. It also helps him develop a plan on how he can help. As a mentee, I trust that he is invested in my growth. Effective mentorship requires nurturing.

 Connect Regularly

Effective mentorship requires meaningful recurring interactions between the mentor and the mentee. The only way to sustain relationships is to connect regularly- the frequency will depend on the preference of the mentor and mentee and their circumstances. While quarterly or monthly meetings worked pre-COVID, connecting frequently might help people feel less alone as they deal with the loss of physical connection and normalcy during the pandemic. Life happens and as people’s connection needs change, the mentor and mentee should adapt accordingly.

Focus on Long-Term Goals

Move beyond the zero-sum game and see mentorship as value creation. The gig economy is here, and it is going to take strong relationships that create value for people to feel rooted. Use mentorship as space where experienced employees can use their knowledge and experiences to teach less experienced employees, so they do not have to reinvent the wheel. It also provides a space to demonstrate and instill the company’s attributes and expose mentees to tools that will enable them to succeed in the company and industry.

Mentorship should provide a space where less experienced employees can ask questions, learn more about the company and its people, challenge the quality of their work as they craft their path, and find better ways to create value. Mentorship should help employees achieve their full potential. It should not only stop at helping individuals answer the question of what they want to do next but also who they want to be next.

A company is only as strong as its people, thus work relationships are part of the bottom line. The role of mentorship in building the leadership of character cannot be overstated and we must make the choice to show up in these relationships, willing to invest and be better. As a B&Der, I know better is better.

"The leadership and information from B&D, and the clarity with which they provide it, brings added credibility to the process and ensures that a range of university stakeholders, including senior leadership and our board, are fully informed for – and confident in – their required decision making.”

B.J. Crain, Former Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration
Texas Woman’s University

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