There has been a big push at work to get staff more engaged in the past few years, and one of the findings from the engagement process has been an awareness that people wanted more feedback and more help with career planning. As a result of these findings, my place of employment launched a mentorship programme last year.

I initially signed up for the programme as both a mentor (I’ve been here 18 years, I must have some wisdom to share, right?) and as a mentee (because I’ve been here 18 years so I feel kind of stuck in a specialised niche).

Having not been matched as mentor or mentee in the first round, I had the opportunity this week to attend a speed mentoring workshop.

The event was structured like speed dating. There were blue tags (mentors) and white tags (mentees). (I was white tagged for this event.) The time was divided into short nine minute slots where you got to talk with a potential mentor so you really had to focus on what issues you wanted to explore and try to work out if there was a potential match. I had the chance to chat with seven different people from around the organisation that I hadn’t met before, and those focussed discussions helped me to get my issues down to a few key points:

  1. I have built up some great technical experience but in a very niche field. I need to find ways to broaden my experience within the organisation because at some point I will need to find a new job. I won’t be able to jump from my current job to something completely different so I will need to take lots of little steps. And I should start taking them now.
  2. I am still new to people management and not 100% comfortable with this part of my job. I need to accept this is part of what I do now and it might be good to have someone else who has gone through the process of adjusting-to-people-managing give me some guidance on how to do this. This would also potentially help me address the “needs to improve assertiveness” comments I keep getting on my annual appraisal.

It was a great opportunity to chat with some people from around the organisation that I would not normally interact with. In fact, more than one person I spoke with talked about how they feel they work in a silo and have very little interaction with other teams, and how this enforced isolation in their job means they deliberately try to get involved in cross-departmental activities like this as an opportunity to meet people and find out about things going on in other parts of the organisation.

I also had a chance to speak with other potential mentees during the short break. One of them seemed surprised that having been here so long I would be looking for a mentor. I would strongly challenge the assumption that mentoring is only for new or younger employees. A career can last a long time (40 or 50 years?) and it’s not just when you’re at the beginning you need advice; you can need support or encouragement or prodding or maybe some neutral advice when you’re mid-career (like me for example) or looking to make changes in your work. Having the opportunity to discuss things with someone you don’t directly work with, who has maybe addressed the same issues in the past, and who is not directly managing you or connected with your work in any way could be a good opportunity to look at things honestly and maybe face up to some issues you have been avoiding.

Now I just need to take the next step and contact one of the potential mentors and we’ll see how it goes from there.

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