How to get the most out of mentoring

Mentoring can be a tricky practice. CIOs from VMware and Rice University share their tips for getting it right.

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Mentoring isn’t just about bringing talent along so that they understand the workflow and process norms of a company; it’s about culture and nuances of learning a profession, communication skills, leadership skills and growth as a professional and as a person. It’s also about a building a deeper connection with someone who has ‘been there, done that’ and lived to tell the tale. The most successful mentoring relationships foster mutual respect, trust, communication and career growth.

Especially for women and racially underrepresented minorities in IT, a mentor can be a lifeline. Mentors provide support and guidance, can vouch for employees’ achievements and accomplishments and can help high-potential talent keep moving up the corporate ladder.  

In an era of skills shortages, mentoring can also be an effective way to extend the knowledge of expert tech talent to new hires and other less experienced staff. A 2014 APQC report found that 89% of organizations use mentoring or apprenticeships to leverage or grow experts, and 59% said that those methods were either effective or very effective. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

In fact, formalizing mentoring into a standardized, organization-wide program is difficult and can backfire if potential mentors and mentees feel they’re being forced into a relationship.

“The logistics of mentoring isn’t that hard, but it can’t be something that’s demanded by HR – mentors and mentees have to feel like they want to take part, and mentees don’t want to feel like they’re just another checkbox on their mentor’s to-do list,” says Bask Iyer, CIO and GM for Edge Computing/IOT for Dell and VMware. “The last thing you want is a mentor thinking, ‘Oh, Lord, I have eighty other things to do and now I have this mentoring meeting.’ It has to be a solid, ingrained part of your culture and that has to develop organically,” he says.

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