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Eight truths about mentorship

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At the SSP Annual Meeting in June, delegates heard about the power of mentorship in scholarly publishing. Here, panellist Meredith Adinolfi outlines the benefits for mentors and mentees

If you do even a quick online search, you will find countless articles and statistics about the benefits of professional mentorship. It has ties to attracting and retaining talent, fostering career development, and building a strong and committed workforce. To have a valuable conversation about mentorship, what do we need to know about it?

1. Mentorship isn’t always formal. Some of the best mentoring I’ve given and received has been an informal part of an existing relationship. I recently gave someone advice on how to adjust to the demands of a new role within the company, and the beauty of it was that he sought out the advice because he wanted it and needed it and not because he had to. If we find ways to foster relationship building and cross-pollination, then mentorship happens organically throughout the organization, and this in turn creates an environment of support and encouragement.

2. But still, formal mentorship programs are critical. Informal mentorship has enormous value, but it doesn’t take the place of programs that aim to match up individuals with mentors from other circles. Some people need structure and predictability in order to learn and feel safe, and we all need guidance and direction from sources who aren’t as close to us or necessarily of our own choosing. Perhaps more important, though, is the message we send our employees if we put mentorship programs in place. It’s a way of showing people that we want to invest in them and care about not only their job performance but also their career growth and personal satisfaction.

3. Mentorship isn’t just for the top performers. We all have our own strengths and interests, and we need guidance and direction at different times in our careers. Of course we should support and encourage those with the highest ambitions and greatest perceived potential, but if our mentorship focus is too narrow, we could be missing out on untapped potential in the middle or even lower tiers, wherein mentorship and guidance could help the most.

4. Mentorship isn’t just for the benefit of the mentee. Mentors can get just as much (and in some cases more) out of a mentorship relationship. I recently started mentoring a newly promoted manager, and I found that there are many parallels between our groups. It is personally satisfying to play a role in the success of a new manager, and I will also get the opportunity to consider relevant questions and issues from different angles. Mentoring someone increases networking opportunities and exposure to different job roles and departments, and that added experience can help mentors perform better in their own jobs.

5. Mentorship isn’t always successful. We can do our best to form partnerships that will be fruitful for both parties, and yet sometimes there’s a personality mismatch or one of the parties isn’t fully committed to the process. This can happen despite the best of intentions, and it’s not a reason to give up on mentorship. It just means finding a better fit for that individual. No matter how many opportunities companies offer, mentorship will never be right for everyone, and that’s okay. The key is giving it a fair chance to work and, if it doesn’t, finding other ways to provide career growth and development.

6. Mentorship isn’t always one on one. A few years ago I started a program called 'Management Best Practices' with the goal of providing a regular forum for managers to come together and discuss the complex issues we face everyday. This program brings together managers of all levels and allows us to learn from and lean on each other. It also provides some much-needed peace of mind that we’re not alone in what we face. Often solutions and ideas found together are better than those that we can find on our own, even if we’ve been managing for a long time. If we push ourselves to think beyond the traditional mentorship framework, we open up many more and different possibilities for what we can offer.

7. Your manager isn’t the only mentor you need. There’s no question that our managers are critical in shaping our careers, growth, and opportunities. Good managers make strong mentors. It’s important to carve out mentorship time within those relationships, but that can’t be our only resource for learning and improving ourselves. To become fully rounded individuals, we need a variety of different perspectives, and we need to get input from people who don’t have the biases that naturally result from working with us every day. We should shoot for a combination of strong management and good mentorship.

8. Companies need to do more to encourage mentorship. People who develop loyalty and commitment to their companies often point to strong relationships and opportunities for career development as primary reasons. Putting time into people creates a supportive and cohesive environment and leads to employees wanting to grow within the organisation instead of outside of it.

It’s clear that companies are starting to increasingly recognise mentorship as a critical element of success, and this has led us to a turning point. Our challenge now is to figure out how to integrate mentorship into the way we do business.  There isn’t necessarily one right formula for professional mentorship, but we have to do the thinking about what is right for own organisations, and then we have to support our programs, encourage participation, and continue seeking ways to keep mentorship alive and dynamic.

Meredith Adinolfi is director of production at Cell Press/Elsevier