Peer Mentor Network

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Do Mentorship Styles have to be Industry Specific?

I was inspired by a comment leah made to our most recent post. Here's an excerpt:

This article is interesting. It's also an article that I would love to pass on to my own mentor. A lot of the time new employees (or mentees), such as myself, are not challenged enough. I don't know if it is because we haven't had time to prove ourselves or because our mentors are not willing to take the time to prepare us and challenge us.

Leah, your point is well taken, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we should look at this topic in an industry specific way. The challenges young people face and the corresponding mentorship, growth opportunities, and the methods for achieving these things vary from industry to industry as they might from culture to culture.

Aerospace Engineering firms on government contract, schools funded by local tax dollars, hospitals attached to prestigious research universities (or destitute slums), silicon valley IT companies - you'll see all sorts of different standards and measures of growth and success.

But as I said earlier, I def. agree with you point and believe that it'll be important to transfer the best practices for challenge / innovation / company culture from one industry to another.

Age gaps and attrition are also important factors.

So two questions beckon:

  1. How best to disseminate 'radical mentorship' through organizations that are anything but start-ups / high tech?
  2. How do you go about life cultivating relationships that will have serendipitous consequences down the road, i.e. when you make that big move from one discipline to another, or when you leave for an industry that tangential to your own?
I have some ideas on this:
  • Have 3 completely different internships during your college summers.
  • Stay fresh with alumni organizations / activities.
  • Always have a healthy list of informational interviews you'd like to initiate on deck (a good way to see what you might be interested in, too).

In any case I've gone off on quite a tangent here - I'm interested in your thoughts, and perhaps I'll try to compose my points a bit more concisley and will revisit this soon.


  • Thanks for the comments, leah and charon. I think company culture plays a critical role here. Smart managers and executives will create structured programs to promote the development and retention of the entry level employees. Unfortunately, these programs are institutionalized to varying degrees across different industries. I can think of two possible explanations for this disparity.

    Companies with an aging work force can’t afford to ignore the issue. The establishment of mentor programs to facilitate knowledge transfer from expert (mentor) to entry level employee (mentee) is critical to the future success of the company. This is particularly true for highly specialized or technical industries.

    Another possible explanation is that incentive structure and mentor programs may be corollary. Performance-based recognition creates incentive for employees to perform at peak levels. Tenure-based recognition merely creates incentive for employees to spend a longer career with that company. While length of service does not require significant mentoring, accelerated performance does.

    Furthermore, a tenure-based recognition system can breed laziness. We’ve all had teachers who recycled the exact same curriculum every year. No essays, those take too much time to read – just multiple choice scantron tests that you can easily find in any of your local fraternity files. While there are obviously some excellent teachers and professors out there, it is way too easy to collect a paycheck in that profession. Imagine if a teacher’s compensation was in part based on student reviews.

    To address leah’s comment more directly:

    Yes, Gen-X is more technologically advanced than the Baby Boomers. No, this does not take away from our mentors’ ability to challenge us. Keep in mind; this is theoretically a symbiotic relationship. The names “mentor” and “mentee” often imply that the elder is teaching and the student is absorbing which should not be the case. These roles don’t exclusively belong to one of the participants, but rather, they are shared. Your mentor should assume the role of the learner to take advantage of your technological knowledge.

    By Blogger hops, at Wednesday, April 19, 2006  

  • I agree with hops and charon. Private vs. public industry definetly plays a big role in the way the "business" is run. Being in education, I guess that I come from a totally different perspective. I work in what is often times called, an inefficient business. Unfortunatly, tax payers are paying for this inefficiency.

    By Anonymous Leah, at Thursday, April 20, 2006  

  • These are a series of interesting posts that begs one question:

    Why are we all consumed with gaining guidance through mentorships? Are we overlooking other viable methods of gaining experience, knowledge and direction?

    I like how Charon posted a few suggestions that were more proactive. I am a firm believer that to strive for success – we have to look to ourselves first and foremost.

    This is does not mean we have to reinvent the wheel so I am an advocate of asking others for their opinions and suggestions yet at the end of the day the only force that is the driving my personal success is how much I do for myself.

    Business is all about selling yourself regardless of the industry – if you cannot believe in your abilities why should anyone else? I have waves of insecurity – I am human but that is also because I acknowledge my limitations.

    These are a few of things I’ve been trying:
    1. Find professionals my own age in the same industry – outside my work environment so I can discuss industry specific questions
    2. Find a professional that I admire and want to be like – just by being around them I hope they will rub off on me (I took Dave’s suggestion to find a mentor and made it work for me)
    3. Continue education – just by wanting to learn I will surround myself with people who want to advance and grow
    4. Reading material – this is definitely industry related since I’ve opted to dice and slice the Wall Street Journal every morning, Fortune Magazine, etc.
    5. Network – help others as much as I can because I can only benefit from having friends/co-workers/colleagues in powerful positions

    By Blogger M, at Thursday, April 27, 2006  

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