A recent article in the Washington Post told of a group of old friends who regularly met at a deli to shoot the breeze. Thinking it might be interesting to share their collected wisdom beyond their own group — as well as looking to break up the monotony — they started offering free advice from a booth at a local farmer’s market.
“It started as a joke, but it’s become a phenomenon. Somebody told us the other day that we’re the most popular attraction at the market, said Caputo, founder of Caputo’s deli, the group’s regular meet up spot.
The group faced some tough philosophical questions, like: “Where can I find someone to love?” and “Why does my cat pee on everything in the house?”
But regardless of the type of questions being asked, the old coots noticed a common theme: People needed a sounding board. Each Saturday, they received 30 to 40 advice seekers — all with different problems and different questions. And even though they weren’t sure they had much wisdom, the old coots found that they had more to offer than they thought.
The relevance for business leaders is that there may be some wise owls in your organization who could be tapped as mentors for less-experienced employees.
How do you find them? And how do you connect them with others in the organization who could benefit from their wisdom and advice?
Here are three suggestions:
- Form a volunteer group of mentors.
Just the act of asking for volunteers will create visibility. Also, a volunteer network of mentors is more likely to garner people truly interested in helping, rather than choosing folks you think would be helpful.
- Establish some ground rules for mentors and mentees.
Keeping it simple, but clearly outlining what the mentorship program is for should make it more effective. Simple rules like “establish clear goals for each mentorship meeting,” or “the program is for helping employees grow skills and advance their careers” should be enough to make the purpose of the program clear. After that, let the mentor and the mentee decide how to best use the advice.
- Check in from time to time!
You’ll likely find that once you start pairing mentors and mentees together, it kind of runs itself. Periodically, though, you’ll want to check in with both (and even with the mentors as a group) to ensure the ground rules are followed and that both are getting value from the program.
And when you put out a call for volunteers, don’t be surprised if you find some hand-raisers who aren’t necessarily “old coots.” Even younger mentors can have a lot to offer.
Question: Who was the most effective mentor you’ve ever had and what made their mentorship so effective?