Helping mentoring pairs stay connected
Across the many programs and thousands of mentors and mentees currently connecting via Art of Mentoring’s platform, we have seen two types of responses to mentoring since COVID-19 started.
The first, and most productive, is when mentee and mentor acknowledge that the goal posts have shifted and agree on new goals. Perhaps the mentee has lost employment or has reduced income. Maybe it’s the opposite problem – for many people, workload has actually increased and it may be hard to cope. Hopes and dreams for career advancement may have to be put on hold. We’ve heard heart-warming stories of mentees being helped to adapt under the most extraordinary circumstances by their wonderful mentors. When a crisis hits, having a mentor with whom to discuss challenges can be a much-needed lifeline. We’ve even heard examples of mentees who have provided support to mentors who have in turn lost their jobs.
The second response is understandable, but unfortunate. Some mentees and mentors have been so overwhelmed with current circumstances that they have dropped everything, including their mentoring relationships, for lack of time (or energy perhaps?). Luckily, this group is in the minority.
So how can you keep a mentoring relationship on track when there are a thousand reasons to let it go? This advice is for mentors, mentees and mentoring program managers.
Reach for the oxygen mask
In times of great and continuing change, self-care is so important so that sensible decisions can be made, including whether to continue with mentoring. Routines and rituals, like a regular body scan or daily walk, can help, so can keeping a journal to record not just what’s happening but how you feel about it. A mentee journal can be useful for later conversations with a mentor. If you’re a mentor, make sure you look after yourself first before you try to help a mentee (remember what they tell you on an aircraft about fitting your oxygen mask before helping another?). If you are a program manager, it might be time to look for some new resources to support the mentors and mentees in your program. If you’re not sure what would be helpful, ask.
Use a compass
We find the Bridges Transition Model incredibly helpful when thinking about how to navigate change. When home isolation was first introduced, most of us would have struggled with having to adapt to working from home and not seeing family and friends. There was a sense of loss that we had to work through. Having come through the Endings phases, the next phase, the Neutral Zone, can be a disorienting time between acceptance that things need to change, and successfully navigating to the third phase, New Beginnings. As we start to transition back to the office, an ‘adapt back to work’ process may well land people right back in phase 1. Ask yourself where you are in this model, and if you are a mentor, consider how you can help a mentee who is back in phase 1 or 2.
It’s OK to change goals
Just because you set a particular goal for a mentoring program, doesn’t mean you have to hang onto it. If priorities have changed, so can your goals. Mentees who decide they don’t have time for mentoring are missing a golden opportunity for support, encouragement and perhaps, dare we suggest, some gentle challenge about how they are dealing with the cards played to them. Program managers and mentors – make sure mentees know they have permission to switch goals.
It’s also OK to reciprocate
Mentoring often becomes a reciprocal arrangement towards the end of a structured mentoring program. With COVID-19 we are just seeing more of this, and earlier in the relationship, especially when circumstances really change for the mentor.
Virtual works, (really!)
We’ve been running virtual programs for over a decade so we’ve seen them succeed, but in fact, virtual mentoring is well researched and proven to be effective. Even though some people prefer face-to-face contact, we know many virtual mentoring relationships can really flourish. Rather than drop out of touch with a mentoring partner, continue the relationship by Zoom, Skype, chat, email, phone. You may need slightly more frequent check-ins to keep momentum, and you may need to experiment with which medium you both prefer. Program managers may also need to check in a bit more frequently when there are no face-to-face all group meet-ups.
We have a webinar coming up dedicated to the topic of Virtual Mentoring – Registrations are now open: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/8883036211221588237