November 27, 2017

The Value of Mentorship

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This past April I was meeting with one of my team members about her career goals. Catherine Bariesheff is a young, confident human resources and marketing graduate who we’ve identified as having high potential.

My team jokes about how often I give them homework, and this meeting was no exception. I asked Catherine to review the feedback she’d received through her recent performance assessment and consider how we could continue to support her goals. The next time I met with her, Catherine had prepared a thoughtful development plan. One of her asks was that I mentor her. Thinking of how much I believe in Catherine’s potential, and how much I could learn from her, I said yes on the spot.

From the first time I met Catherine in her job interview, I could see her capability. It wasn’t just sink or swim with Catherine; she was going to swim around the lake five times more than everyone else. She had been a competitive athlete, and that desire to succeed was evident in her approach to her career as well.

When I began mentoring Catherine, she had an extensive development plan in place. We work hard to create development experiences for all of our HR team members, and so Catherine had worked for several managers to experience both different roles and different management styles. We have deliberately put her in difficult situations and given her high profile files. Our plan is to expose her to all the right relationships, competencies and skill sets.

This robust development plan allows us to make the most of our time together. Mentorship can’t be the only element in career planning. At its best, it should be an ongoing dialogue with someone who sees your potential. There is so much to be gained by sharing our experiences informally. Catherine and I chat about what’s happening. We share successes and tough lessons learned. We brainstorm ways to approach everything from interpersonal interactions to important presentations. No matter what we’re talking about, we keep our focus on what we are adding to every situation.

As Catherine’s mentor, I try to ask good questions and offer my own experiences when I think it would help. Occasionally I recommend something I’ve been reading or provide fuller context on a decision that’s been made. I try to bring another perspective to her experiences. After we talk, she goes away and thinks about what she can do differently.

This month I sat down with Catherine to ask her a few questions about how mentorship is helping her build her career.

What’s next for you?

Catherine: I feel like I have a good handle on recruitment. Next, I want to hone my skills in labor relations and training and development. I’d like to improve my skills in facilitation. Once I feel more confident in all parts of my current role I’ll start to think about what’s next. One day I may be interested in a role leading people. For now, I want to make sure I fully understand the groundwork.

What made you want a mentor?

Catherine: I started at Tolko when I was 23. When I first joined the organization I found it difficult to find my place. As I started to move up, I realized I was missing a few things and wasn’t sure how to grow my career in a male-dominated environment. You stood out as a great example. You have accomplished so much, present yourself well and are extremely effective. I admired you and your drive and thought I could learn a lot from you.

Has anything we’ve worked on together made a difference in how you work today?

Catherine: It’s helped me look at myself more critically. You really help me see it from a broader lens and see what I’m contributing to the situation. For me it’s been helpful to have someone who understands my workplace, so you can give specific advice on how to flex my style and navigate our culture.

What does Tolko’s Women in the Workplace Strategy mean to you?

Catherine: I remember my first week on the job a male manager came up to me in the lunchroom and started grilling me because I was new. I felt so unwelcome. Every time I dealt with him after that it was uncomfortable. I don’t experience that kind of environment anymore.

The Strategy has raised awareness for all employees. At the core, it’s about ensuring everyone feels welcome and inspired to build their career with Tolko. Since the Strategy launched, I’m definitely seeing people take an interest and the dialogue has opened. We all come at things from a different approach – it’s good for all of us to recognize this. We still have challenges, but there’s a bit more appreciation of the benefits of our differences. For me in my role, I’ve always thought being a younger female I’ve had to prove myself. Lately, I feel less pressure, I feel like people are open to what we’re doing and therefore have more respect for female counterparts.

The level of confidence that Catherine displays is inspiring. When I see her respectfully hold her own in challenging situations I think, if she can do it, I can do it, too.

When we first started on this mentorship journey, I was worried I wouldn’t have the time to fully commit. What I see now is how much I get back from our time together. Mentorship is reciprocal. If you are considering either getting or becoming a mentor, I encourage you to take the next step.