The New Rules of Mentoring in a Knowledge Economy

Catriona Walkerden

Mentoring as a concept has been around for long time, I have been fortunate to experience both sides of the fence, as a mentor and a mentee. Times have changed since formal 1:1’s with a senior person imparting years of acquired wisdom to the newbie starting out. In the knowledge economy we see today, we need multiple sources of knowledge to plug our gaps and navigate our futures. Knowledge has become a competitive commodity and organisations are falling over themselves to harness it.

Today, the role of a mentor covers everything from life coach, career sponsor, counsellor, psychologist, interpersonal relations guru. There has been a shift in the ‘rules’ around mentoring and an evolution from formal to informal. Here are some of the trends I’ve noticed forming the ‘new rules of mentoring’.

1. Mentoring is no longer limited to a 1:1 relationship.

There was a time when a mentor was like a careers counsellor that you solicited for 1:1 formal guidance. While for some that is still the most appealing option, the conventional wisdom that one size fits every problem has been challenged. In my own decision making and career navigation I access a range of advice, from formal mentoring catch ups where I’m explicit in the advice I’m seeking, to attending thought leadership conferences, or shadowing someone I feel is a great role model either in business or life.Networking is also a key way to build relationships with people across a range of disciplines letting you exchange ideas or ways of getting things done.

2. Your mentor’s values are more important than their chosen career.

This is something I learned from experience. I was nominated to be a mentee through the Females in IT and Telecommunications (FITT) national program a number of years ago, but when I met my mentor who was an engineering lead from Cisco, I could barely hide my dismay. Why had they paired me with an engineer when I’m a marketer? Had they looked at my resume during the matching process? As we got to know each other through the process, I realised we had been matched perfectly, but on values and work ethic rather than on career path. I then understood how important it is that the person advising you on your career or lifestyle choices shares your values, otherwise their advice won’t be relevant.

3. Mentoring is not just for high flyers.

A mentor can offer a perspective on a situation you may not have experienced before, it could be an important board meeting at which you’ve been asked to present, or how to deal with a situation of conflict.I had a situation a couple of years ago where I needed to manage my own career expectations whilst balancing my family. This required working through with someone what success really meant to me and redefining my career goals. It was very helpful to have a sounding board and someone to offer some guidance on my perceived limitations.

4. Mentoring is no longer just seniors to juniors.

In the knowledge economy, senior baby boomers and generation x have a lot to learn in terms of technology and the rate and pace of change into which digital natives have been born. Particularly in the areas of social and digital and agile ways of working, you’ll find senior executives eager to play catch up and understand this brave new world through the eyes of the new generation of customers and employees.

5. The mentor stands to gain as much as the mentee from the relationship.

Firstly, it’s a great honor to be asked to be someone’s mentor. So if you’re feeling shy or don’t want to put yourself out there, remember the mentor gets something out of the relationship as well. If the mentor is not yet a people manager it’s a great step in that direction for them and a good resume builder. Secondly, they learn a lot from the process themselves.I have been a mentor with the FITT program for the past three years and I have also roped in a few colleagues along the way who also get so much out of it. Having the opportunity to reflect on your own situation or how you would handle something when working through a mentee’s problem is a wonderful time for reflection. It’s also a great feeling to give back and know you’ve helped someone on their journey.

Ultimately, there are more resources out there than ever before but the self-help landscape can feel crowded and noisy. Deciding what’s right for you can be challenging. My advice would be to start with someone you respect and think can offer you some perspective on your current situation, and then build from there.