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The Importance of the Mentoring Match

15/07/2015 11:56 BST | Updated 10/07/2016 10:59 BST

The importance of "mentoring" within the corporate world is widely discussed these days: by leadership and HR teams to assist with talent retention, to CEOs who see the monetary value of mentoring. In fact, a Department for Business Innovation and Skills survey found that mentored businesses reported an increase in turnover (44%) compared to their non-mentored counterparts (23%) and from an HR/leadership proposition, mentored businesses hired more staff (10%), compared to non-mentored businesses (5%).

We have clear stats to highlight what mentoring champions have been preaching for some time; mentoring should not only be part of your personal career development plan, but also part of each company's leadership scheme. I have spent many years talking about the importance of mentoring, partly through my work with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women - Mentoring Programme, but also because as Chairwoman of Halebury, I try to help lawyers think like commercial advisors, not just legal advisors, and mentoring can be a key part of that process.

Before rushing out to find a mentor or to become a mentor, think before you approach your mentor or mentee. The relationship is a fundamental aspect of the mentor/mentee arrangement. You have to work with each other for the next six, twelve or twenty-four months, and you need to know that you can work with each other. If you ask most mentoring programmes, they will tell you that they spend ages "matching" people.

As a potential mentor, start by considering what you want to achieve from the mentoring experience. For our lawyers who are looking to be mentors, I recommend external mentoring programmes such as the Cherie Blair Foundation Mentoring Programme, Aspire Foundation or Pilotlight to help them become more 'commercial', as working with businesses and individuals on the ground helps you do just that.

For mentees, the same holds true. What do you want from the mentoring relationship? Some people go to their friends, colleagues and family friends to be their mentors. That is great if it works for you, but otherwise there are many mentoring programmes to make sure you are matched correctly. In Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In', she devotes a chapter to "Are You My Mentor", in which she talks about the importance of mentoring, but also that the mentoring relationship is fundamental. It seems appealing to ask someone you admire to mentor you, but that is not necessarily how relationships are formed and not how effective mentoring relationships are formed.

There are a few key guidelines to make sure your mentor/mentee relationship works:

For Mentees:

1. Are you looking for a business mentor or a personal one?

2. If you are looking for a business mentor, think about what you are looking for; as a CEO do you need help expanding your marketing campaign, or do you need to focus on recruitment and retention? As with most aspects of business, look for your weakness and where you most need external support.

3. If you are looking for a personal mentor, make sure they understand your business. Do not worry if they do not specifically understand your market place; a good business person will work it out.

4. Be clear - mentors are not your unpaid business or personal advisors. Many mentees expect the mentor to highlight, create solutions and implement changes. They can guide you, but it is still your problem to solve.

5. Make sure you are ready to commit to this relationship. If a mentor has taken the time to help you, you must make sure you have taken the time to prepare for your meetings.

For Mentors:

1. I know you are busy, but this should really take approximately one or two hours every month. You have the time.

2. Mentoring helps you think outside of your zone and therefore makes you a better businessperson and a better manager. This should be part of your leadership training.

3. Try to find a match that works for you: a market or cause you know or are interested in. It is also worth looking at something outside your market place as you might learn something completely new.

4. Do not worry if you do not know everything about the mentee's marketplace. They can find facts and opinion on Google - they really want your thought process.

5. This is not your chance to be a judge on The Apprentice - it is not your role to say whether a business succeeds or that the mentee might not make it to be the CEO of a FSTE 250 company. You need to guide and support. In some cases, it is about being a sounding board and a voice of reason and motivation, especially during the tough times, and we all have those.