Advice vs. Mentoring—What Do Your People Really Need?

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Have you ever received unsolicited advice from a complete stranger? You know the situation—you run into a friend-of-a-friend at the coffee shop, strike up a conversation at a party, or on the morning train. You off-handedly mention that you’re starting a business, seeking a promotion, or a change in your career track.

The next thing you know, your casual conversation becomes a chance for your new friend to give you some earnest (though unsolicited) advice—and they deliver those six most well-intentioned-but-unwelcomed words:

“You Know What You Should Do…?” [1]

[1] Especially annoying is the half-question mark, half-exclamation point they put at the end—as in “I’m phrasing this as a question, but I am about to tell you the answer [based on our 5-minute conversation]!”

You brace yourself for their nugget of wisdom that is either (a) so obvious that you’re insulted (“uh, did you really think I hadn’t already thought of that?”), or (b) seems so ambitious/far-fetched that you have a mini-panic attack (“wait, are my aspirations too short-sighted?”). Either way, you can’t help but feel some resentment towards your new friend—thanks for the input, complete stranger, but it’s a little more complicated than that!

That’s the difference between advice and mentoring: Anyone can give advice; it’s transactional—easy, off-the-cuff, uninformed suggestions (“Want to lose weight? Eat less carbs.” “Want to be a better boyfriend? Listen more.”).

Mentoring requires much more commitment—a deeper relationship, tailored to a real understanding of the mentee’s needs, with a long-term perspective and a sense of follow-through. The mentor has skin in the game. It’s the difference between “you know what you should do?” and “you know what we should do?”

Taking Mentoring Beyond Advice

Is your mentoring program designed to provide real mentoring, or just advice?

It may depend on how it was created in the first place. Too often, mentoring is initiated by a top-down moment of crisis (perhaps based on some friendly advice from a complete stranger!)—Consider this all-too-familiar scenario:

Senior Executive (reading CEO Weekly on the morning train, thinking aloud) : “Wow my firm is really going to be up against this so-called ‘retirement cliff’ in the next few years …”

Seatmate (complete stranger) : ‘You know what you should do … create a ‘knowledge transfer’ program … then you can extract all the technical information from your older employees before they leave … and to make it sound less threatening, you can label it your ‘mentoring’ program.’

Senior Executive : “I like it, I’ll get HR right on it.”

Programs created with this one-dimensional motivation are, not unexpectedly, one-dimensional—mentoring programs in name only. They are oriented around preventing a problem (“just get the old engineers to talk to the young engineers” is as useful as “eat less carbs!”) or addressing a shortcoming in the organization (“introduce our salespeople to more C-level executives” is as simplistic as “listen better!”). Neither mentors nor mentees will be inspired to join this kind of effort.

Your Challenge

Question: Should a high-performing organization (or a high-performing individual), focus on enhancing what they know, who they know, or how they work together? The answer is of course, yes, yes, and yes. Your challenge is to design and deliver a program that can support all of these objectives simultaneously, with specific focus on the mentee’s needs.

Here’s your chance to set your program apart—offer a platform that is less transactional, and more configurable so that your people’s interests and goals can align with your organization’s goals.

Start by making the process less a multiple-choice question, and more an open-ended essay prompt:

Transactional Approach

Choose one of the following objectives for your participation in the mentoring platform :
A. Relationship Building
B. Knowledge Transfer
C. Diversity
D. “Not sure – my boss just said to do it”

Personalized Approach

How can mentoring help you achieve your career goal and aspirations?

Mentors and mentees are much more likely to get on board with this personalized approach—less advice, and more mentoring.

Are You Ready?

How configurable is the platform you are using (or considering using)? Will it allow you and your participants to move beyond one-dimensional advice, and enter into a true mentoring relationship—to move from “you know what you should do? to “you know what we should do?”

How Configurable is your Program?

How well does your program support your broad objectives to improve?

What We Know

Managing and maximizing institutional knowledge :

  • Knowledge Transfer

  • Coaching : Technical Skills

  • New Hire Onboarding

  • Key employee retention

Who We Know

Relationship building with a more diverse network :

  • Outside my department

  • Outside my organization

  • Diversity/affinity groups

  • With senior leadership

How We Work Together

Maximizing the effectiveness/ROI :

  • Identify/nurture “Hi-Pos”

  • Coaching : Soft Skills

  • Coaching : Managerial Skills

  • Program follow through

  • Stronger leader bench

Are you offering true mentoring, or just advice? How does your program stack up?

  • Content Alignment

    Content that matches your company’s culture, branding and in-house terminology

  • Case Studies

    Case studies tailored to your industry and your specific learning needs

  • Non-Traditional Mentorships

    Support for non-traditional relationship structures (One-to-Many, Mentoring Circles, Peer-to-Peer)

  • Quantitative Metrics

    Quantitative Metrics : Driven by user profiles

  • Qualitative Metrics

    Qualitative Metrics : Customized to sponsor objectives

  • Training

    An implementation approach with training that engages mentors and mentees

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Matt Padula
matt.padula@ementorconnect.com

After 25 years in consulting and business leadership, Matt Padula now teaches IB Economics at Atlanta International School. He enjoys mentoring students by bridging the gap between the young adult mind and the reality of the working world.

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