Maximizing Mentorship

Maximizing Mentorship
October 25, 2021

Learning is a life-long process; it is essential to most endeavors, but particularly in innovation and entrepreneurship. Learning takes many forms, and happens in many ways over the course of an innovator's life and work, but at its best, is always built on a foundation of mentorship. Mentorship can mean and do many things to a variety of stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem; in fact, for many lifelong learners in this sector, the lines between mentor and mentee are often blurred, continually shifting over the arc of a career, or even a single project. The most successful founders, business leaders, and investors know this, and make life-long learning and mentorship, both giving and receiving, an essential part of how they work. This culture of mentorship is something that GIST is proud to be a part of, and a culture we work to instill at every level of our organization. 

We can approach the idea of maximizing mentorship through 3 practices: 

  • Manage, or knowing how to find and organize mentorship and what kinds of mentors are the right fits at the right time;
  • Maintain, on being a life-long learner and building a culture of being coachable, how to know when to ask for help, and how to look for opportunities to expand your knowledge base; and
  • Mobilize, or how to build and activate your mentors and advisory network to build connections, make strategic decisions, and actively serve your venture… What are the assets that they provide? 

Read on to learn more! 

Why Mentorship Matters 

Mentorship matters, perhaps now more than ever. One might ask, with all of the information we can access through technology, why personal mentorship might make a difference? The truth is, despite the quantity of information and data tools available, cutting through the noise and finding the key kernel of insight that can set you apart only comes from years of experience. Leveraging those that have this experience and knowledge, and using it towards building living information networks is a vital practice for innovators at all levels. 

It isn’t just intuition that tells us this is true, either; the latest research continually validates the role mentorship has to play. Research indicates that among employees,  25% of those who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary-grade change, compared to only 5% of workers who did not participate. Mentees are promoted five times more often than those not in a mentoring program, and retention rates were higher for both mentees and mentors than for employees who did not participate in a mentoring program. It’s not just employees that benefit from mentoring either; CEOs do as well: for CEOs in formal mentoring programs,  84% said mentors had helped them avoid costly mistakes, 84% become proficient in their roles faster, and 69% were evaluated as making better decisions. Mentors predict a greater chance of success even for entrepreneurs who already have considerable experience of their own, and successful startups are more likely to be led by entrepreneurs that have been taken under the wing by a more experienced mentor.

Managing Mentorship

Knowing what you don’t know is the essential first step to building a successful mentorship relationship. Most innovators are very good at one thing or another, but are oftentimes less experienced in other metrics; knowing the value add of yourself and everyone on your team allows you to go into a mentorship relationship knowing what you need. According to reporting from The Kauffman Foundation, the reasons why entrepreneurs might seek mentorship are as varied as the types of innovation out there; however, there are a few key trends.  One of the  most notable  is that for the most successful ventures, while the type and purpose of mentorship might change, mentorship still plays a part at all stages of business development, even for businesses that have accrued years of experience. As far as managing and building this mentorship infrastructure, think seriously about what your startup needs. Mentorship can come from many sources, even ones you might not expect. This can include what one might expect in the form of external mentors, or those that exist and work outside of the company (as in accelerators, mentorship programs, or larger networks) as well as places that might be more surprising. Look within your team for insight from team members who possess very different skills than you might. Somewhat unexpectedly, you might also consider the “customer as mentor” method, approaching learning as a process that might come from all kinds of sources, including letting customers show you the way forward through deep engagement and challenging internal assumptions. 

Maintaining Mentorship 

Being a lifelong learner takes serious work, and often a healthy dose of humility. Maintaining a culture of mentorship throughout an organization and over time requires deep commitment, as well as effective processes. Startup culture benefits from innovative approaches to mentorship paradigms: commit to self-analysis and get specific about what you need help in and why; build a culture of coachability from the ground-up and view mentorship as a team effort, not just the wisdom of any single “guru.” In this, it is also central to maximize the diversity of voices and perspectives you might attain, looking to incorporate feedback from all sides of a problem. Building a culture of mentorship allows you and your venture to be more resilient as well; for instance, the shape of mentorship has changed considerably due to the pandemic. However, as this deep insight from Harvard Business Review articulates, there are key strategies available to find ways to not just rise to this occasion, but find opportunities to thrive in hybrid workspaces and new models for how we conduct work today. This is contingent on a holistic mentoring approach and developing meaningful human connections and networks. 

Mobilizing Mentorship 

Building structures around mentorship that can be incorporated deeply into your venture framework is an essential approach that will allow you to leverage mentorship meaningfully toward action. One surefire way to do this is by building an advisory board. While the relationship between personal and professional mentorship can sometimes be blurred, advisory boards allow one to filter this feedback, compartmentalizing information and building in structures of accountability into the venture foundation. There are many approaches to formalizing a board structure, but building one early and meaningfully in your venture journey can be an extraordinary asset. It can allow you to incorporate a diversity of input and build a network of accountability, allowing you to shift rapidly in the face of new and emerging challenges and building a system of fail-safes to course-correct and self-reflect. Whether you pursue a more formal board system or rely on one-on-one personal mentorship, the drives and culture are grounded in the same pursuit and will serve you and your venture enormously. 

Making Mentorship Count 

Mentorship guides so much of what we do, and it’s our mission to make it count. Mentorship can be a key driver of diversity, building representation and fostering the real-world connections that make innovation matter and make our work meaningful. Whether it’s through building models of learning for investors, our masterclass or start-up trainings, or the mentor match program, we are committed to building and instilling cultures of mentorship and learning at all levels and parts of the global innovation ecosystem. 

Follow us @gist_net for more information, insights, and opportunities on this topic and many more! 
 

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