5 Ways to Make Mentoring a Personalized Learning Experience

Laura Francis
Written by
Laura Francis

Core Elements of a Mentoring Relationship

Personalized attention. Individualized conversations. Tailored activities.

These are just some of the reasons why people want to be involved in a mentoring relationship. Add in the fact that you can grow your professional network, impact your career, and build critical skills, and it’s no wonder that people are clamoring for mentoring at work.

To help you make your mentoring relationship a personalized learning experience, here are five elements to adapt to your needs and individual situation.

1. What should I focus on in my mentoring relationship?

Mentoring for personalized learningThe focus of your mentoring relationship epitomizes personalized learning at its finest. The learning areas you choose to work on during your mentoring relationship should be the ones that will make an impact on you (or your mentee, if you are a mentor). These will be unique to your situation and can change over the course of your relationship as you progress with your development.

For example, you could work on building or improving your leadership skills, such as strategic thinking, visioning, or creating value, if these are areas that require your attention and that you will benefit from developing. Or perhaps you need to focus on more technical skills like planning budgets, giving feedback, or presentation skills.

Regardless of what you need to learn about and work toward improving, the final focal point should be decided upon by you and your mentor (or mentee). This blog on “5 Questions All Mentees Should Ask” is a great starting point.

Special Note: Some organizations choose to dictate what the overarching focus of mentoring relationships should be within a particular program. For example, perhaps in a high-potential development program, the company wants their mentees to focus on a handful of leadership skills. In that case, the focus for the relationship may already be defined for the mentee and mentor.

2. How long should my mentoring relationship last?

The short answer: Your mentoring relationship should last as long as it needs to. The long answer is, well, longer.

Mentoring can be beneficial whether it lasts for two weeks, two months, a year, or even longer. The duration of your mentoring relationship is less important than making sure you are progressing toward your goals and improving in those development areas you identified for your relationship (see question #1). You may very well be able to address your learning needs within one month, so you could potentially only need your mentoring relationship to last for one month. In a different scenario, you might need your relationship to last a year (or even longer) as you work on improving the core competencies you’re targeting.

Ultimately, you and your mentor (or mentee) will need to discuss how long you want to engage in a mentoring relationship. Many people will set a timeframe with their partner, with the understanding that the relationship can be extended if need be (or shortened if that is the case). Consider setting up your relationship to last for six months, at which point you can evaluate if you need to extend the relationship or not. This blog on “Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Your Mentor?” can help you assess your situation.

Special Note: Again, some mentoring programs are fairly structured in nature, with the organization setting the duration for mentoring relationships within a particular program. For example, an onboarding program may require all relationships in that program to last for 12 months, with the mentee and mentor not being able to shorten the duration.

3. How often should I meet with my mentor/mentee?

Mentoring pairYou should meet as often as is necessary to accomplish the established goals within the overall duration of the relationship. Best practice shows that you and your mentor (or mentee) should meet at least once a month, but in no means should you limit your meetings to monthly if more frequent meetings will benefit the achievement of your established goals. Even if meeting only once a month, as a mentee you should be applying knowledge learned from your mentor so that you can report back during your next meeting. Of utmost importance is agreeing to a cadence of meetings with your mentoring partner so that you can hold one another accountable.

These meetings can be face-to-face or virtual; the choice is yours. Many people take advantage of technology to video chat in place of a face-to-face meeting, which allows more flexibility in the relationship. You no longer have to pick a mentor (or mentee) who is in actual close proximity to you. Whether it’s video chats, email, phone calls, texting, or conversations over coffee, you should pick the communication options that are right for you.

Special Note: For those structured, formal mentoring programs that the organization wants more control over, you may be asked to meet in person at least once, perhaps as part of a program launch event. You might also be asked to take part in periodic events for the program where mentees and mentors meet with one another in a larger group setting and come together as participants in the overarching mentoring program. This is completely dependent on the organization and how they want to set up their program.

4. What should we talk about?

Mentor AdviceYour conversations with your mentor (or mentee) should focus on the topics identified by both of you as critical to the relationship. One meeting could focus on a particular competency you wish to improve, then at the next meeting, you can check in with your mentor (or mentee) to discuss your progress and assess your development plan for that area of learning. A subsequent meeting could center on a learning assignment you tried or a work situation that arose—it is truly dependent upon what you want to learn from your relationship.

The conversations that take place in your mentoring relationship are where you can begin to partake in personalized learning. River has a Practical Guide for Mentoring Conversations eBook that can help you get the most from your relationship.

Special Note: Just as some programs may give you a focal point for your mentoring relationship, administrators may also wish to provide you with some specific topics that they want you to cover. Learning activities can be built into the mentoring relationships in River, providing you with a pre-set learning agenda designed by your program administrators that helps drive the conversation.

5. How do I know if we are making progress?

Determining if you are making progress in your mentoring relationship will be dependent upon the goals you set for the relationship. A self-assessment by the mentee and an independent assessment by the mentor can both work well here. You may want to ask such questions as:

  • Have you improved in some way or to some degree in relation to one of your learning areas?
  • Have you pushed yourself to try something new?
  • Have you overcome obstacles?
  • Have you learned a new approach or technique to address your learning need?
  • Have you seen a positive impact on your work because of what you are doing in your mentoring relationship?

The way you assess your progress will again be unique to your relationship, but the point is to compare where you started in terms of your skill levels and where you are currently in those same skill areas.

Special Note: River offers check-in surveys through our mentoring software and we strongly encourage our clients to run these periodic surveys to help them keep track of the mentoring relationships taking place in their organizations. The administrators may ask survey questions that hone in on topics they are tracking, such as retention rates, promotion rates, satisfaction rates, etc. that fall outside the questions a mentee and mentor want to ask themselves. Both types of questions are recommended when assessing progress.

By addressing these five core elements of a mentoring relationship, you can set up a personalized learning experience that focuses on you and keeps your needs at the center of all decisions that are made. It’s no wonder mentoring is having a moment.

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