“The problem is great mentors are hard to find”

It is our great privilege to introduce Victor Udoewa as our guest blogger today. Victor who is a great mentor and works as a Science & Technology Policy Advisor in the States writes for Urbane on how to find a great mentor – his insight is eye opening!  

Most of the time I hear people talk about mentoring as if it is only about finding the right person who can give you pearls of wisdom. The problem is great mentors are hard to find, not because they are invisible, but because they are too visible. In other words, great mentors tend to be highly impacting people: their work is visible, their impact is visible. Many eyes are drawn to them, many people want to be like them. Because of this, they receive many requests for mentoring. Since they are already busy people, they can only mentor a certain number of people. So there is competition due to limited resources. In short, excellent mentors are hard to find.

As a mentor, myself, I know you can view the situation from a different lens. Instead of trying to find the right mentor, ask yourself “Am I attracting the right mentor?” I can tell you from first hand experience, excellent mentors (and some poor ones) will often reach out to people in whom they see promise and initiative and potential. These mentors are not asked or solicited; they voluntarily contact people whose potential attracts mentors and these mentors offer to mentor, start relationships, and help guide. You want to be the type of person who attracts a mentor, rather than competing for a mentor.

That means you need to have a vision. You need to feel a call to do something, serve someone, improve life for others, or some type of call that agitates and burdens you and keeps you awake at night. Many people feel it but they stop there. Secondly, you need to take initiative. You need to try to create something, build something, change something for the better, innovate something, improve something. It’s ok if you fail, but you need to be experimenting and exploring. Lastly, you need to reflecting on how it went and learning from your mistakes in order to improve your product or service for the next experiment. When you are doing those things, mentors have something in you they can mold and guide. It’s very difficult for a mentor to mentor you when you don’t have any aims or directions or vocation. If you simply want more money, you don’t necessarily need a mentor (though a mentor can help). Again, what are you doing that naturally attracts mentors who admire your work ethic, initiative, drive, perseverance, vision, results, learnings, etc.? What are you doing?

Lastly remember, if the only reason you want a mentor is for pearls of wisdom, there are less time-intensive ways to learn pearls of wisdom rather than mentoring. Mentoring is a relationship that can offer deeper benefits.

  • Feedback – This has nothing to do with your analytical skills. It has everything to do with an objective, outside voice. You need someone who is not involved in your project to give their opinion. This can be through listening, mirroring, reflecting, advising, counseling, troubleshooting, analysis, evaluation, etc.

  • Network – Sometimes mentors connect you to a broader community of people who can help you with various parts of your life or work. The best mentors know their limits and readily introduce you to others who can help in particular area.
  • Learnings – This is deeper than a pearl of wisdom. This can be directly communicating things learned, but usually much deeper. Deeper versions can be in the form of shadowing period where a mentee can follow a mentor around and learn about things that are not articulated or even when a mentor introduces a mentee to team members so that the mentee learns not just individual learnings but team or organisational learnings from those around the mentor.

I could say a lot more about mentoring. But let me say in my last company both of my mentors approached me. As for me, I mentored many people; some approached me and some I approached. And in those situations, I was able to take part in the development of my mentees as they moved into roles that aligned with their passions and vocation. I wrote references and letters of support, and I have been told by hiring managers that it was my referral, reference, or letter that made the candidate the first choice of the hiring team. That was all because we had a mentoring relationship that was vulnerable, goal-oriented, and honest.

Victor Udoewa
Design Innovation & Education Specialist
Science & Technology Policy Advisor

Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

“Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world.”

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook now has a net worth of a mind boggling $34.8 billion.  Facebook itself currently boasts an astounding 1,415 million active users, something most tech startups can only dream about.  So how did he do it?

One of the key influencers Zuckerberg attributed his success to was his mentor – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

Despite their business rivalry, the two bonded on their desires to change the lives of others, rather than simply to build businesses.  Zuckerberg himself admired Apple’s focus on building beautiful products for the user experience, which he has stated formed much of the connection they developed in the early days of Facebook:

“He was just so focused.  For him, the user experience was the only thing that mattered.”

In an interview with American talk show host Charlie Rose on PBS, Zuckerberg revealed some of the invaluable pearls of wisdom he received from Jobs, which proved instrumental in turning Facebook into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.  This included building a strong team that was as focused as Zuckerberg on building “high quality and good things”.  Zuckerberg indeed took on Jobs’ laser focus and approach to hiring a team that was committed to his vision.  Glimpses of Jobs’ advice were also found in other work by Zuckerberg, including his F8 conferences.

When Jobs passed away from pancreatic cancer, Zuckerberg publicly paid tribute to him on his Facebook page, thanking him for being a mentor and a friend.  That is the beauty of having a mentor – a trusted friend, advisor, and role model who can help you along your way.


In an earlier post, we talked about how one could go about starting a mentoring relationship.  Whilst we may not all be a budding tech entrepreneur, or have the same missions as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, but we can all learn some invaluable lessons from them:

  • Find a mentor – someone you look up to, either in your field or with the same life mission.
  • Be intentional about the mentoring relationship – think about the qualities you admire about them and ask them for advice that you can apply to your own situation.
  • Be open-minded, and understand that they often have trodden the path before you.  You can learn from their experiences and whether or not you choose to take their advice, you will often find a pearl of wisdom that you can apply.
  • Once you find the right mentor, proactively build the mentoring relationship by spending time together and keeping in touch.  Not all mentoring relationships will be long-term, and you will inevitably need a mentor for different areas and circumstances.  However, playing an active role in the mentoring relationship will enable you to make the most of it.
Andrea S. Tang
Co-Founder & Programme Implementation Director at Urbane.
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

It is with great pleasure that we introduce today’s guest blogger, Anna Thomlinson. Anna boasts excellent credentials in all things mentoring; she is currently the Mentor Manager at Mass Challenge, and previously was the Mentor Manager at Start Up Loans Company.  Today, she writes for Urbane on the appeal of mentoring:

In big cities you can now find mentoring programmes for most age groups and across a wide variety of topics, from sports teams, to recovery from an illness, to career advancement. The appeal for mentoring programmes is ever increasing. Why? Because individuals and organisations are recognising the value of what we have to learn from those that have trodden a path before us. Mentoring is also cost effective, bespoke and covers niche topics, upskills both parties taking part in it, is easy to understand and therefore set up, and often utilises learning patterns in a very natural and unforced form.

For many decades, it was thought that upskilling a workforce required paying coaches or trainers to deliver workshops, or structured programmes where much more senior staff support the younger staff, or giving people training material such as videos. However, the process can be much more simple and tailored to someone’s needs, and mentoring does not assume in a highly tech focused age that the younger audience must be the mentee.

If I wanted to go about starting something new, the reasonable step that I would expect to take is to ask the person that has been there before me, who is also available and amenable. I would do this in some free time, in a format that works for me absorbing information, which is informal so that I am less stressed and more capable of taking in information, asking questions whenever they arise, and getting tailored responses using real life examples. Within reason I could also stop and start this when needed. This is mentoring. And the value is truly starting to be felt, widely.

A mentor offers a bespoke solution, without even asking this of the mentor, it is just the nature of meeting one-to-one. And to be a good mentor, you do not need to be highly skilled in training and coaching (although some training in good mentoring techniques can be very beneficial), so mentoring is an activity that many more people can get involved in. Mentoring is leveraging and sharing the knowledge from the specialities within an organisation in a way that a paid external could not.

Mentoring can be attractive to all types of employees. For the high flyers who want to keep moving up the company, they can stay motivated through having someone to consult on whether there is more that they could be doing or different things that they should focus on. Those taking on a new project can learn and get to grips with it faster through being given a space in which to ask questions. For the mentor, they not only gain satisfaction through their mentee’s achievements but they learn from the mentee; it is not a one way process. They can practice their leadership skills, hear about areas that they do not work on, and show their success of their role as a mentor on their CV.

All of the benefits that individuals receive can lead to retaining and better development of good talent, reducing recruitment and training costs. This is now being better understood now than ever because as results from previous generations of mentoring programmes come through, they are starting to provide the anecdotal evidence that mentoring works. However, with few options in the market to measure the effectiveness of programmes, statistical evidence of workplace mentoring programmes is hard to find.

Finally, setting up a mentoring programme is easy; the barriers for establishing one are low in terms of cost and management. Organisations are really starting to see that staff who are able to access learning support from their peers can be more happy and engaged in the company, more innovative through accessing knowledge from niche areas, and more empowered through enabling them to access support at any time.

Anna Thomlinson
Co-Founder & Mentor Manager at Mass Challenge.
Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Is mentoring vital to succession planning?

Succession planning is vital for any organisation to survive. It works as an insurance for human capital ensuring the continuity of the business without interruption, but also helps organisations navigate through a VUCA world by having key young leaders ready to step in when top management ceases to be available.

Organisations never fail to have an annual succession planning in place, but do all succession planning instances deliver results when mentoring is not part of it? Here, we are reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s quote which says that learning only happens when the individual is involved in whatever they want to learn:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Young leaders have to be involved with top management in order to be ready for leadership positions when the time comes for these young leaders to be the new drivers of the business.

Involving the right young leaders to be mentored by top management is not straightforward. On top of having a successful mentoring programme in the organisation, both the young leader and the leader at the top need to have the right chemistry before they can start working together. Thus it should not be the sole decision of the HR/L&D practitioner to connect staff in an organisation for a mentoring role, instead they should select staff for the mentoring programme and allow themselves to choose their role models and the right mentees to form such a mentoring relationship. This may be so even where the mentee and mentors are from totally different disciplines, but are keen to work together.

The L&D practitioner needs only to identify a pool of young leaders and some of their top leaders who want to get involved in the programme, allowing those involved to connect with whomever they would like. Once these mentoring relationships are forged then making sure that the mentoring is done in line with the business strategy is key to reap the full benefits of successful succession planning.

As Benjamin Franklin said, young leaders have to be involved in order to learn, and we know that in organisations this is best achieved through mentoring. When a leader mentors a younger aspiring leader and shows them the ‘ways’ of the business (by involving their mentees in key meetings and 1-2-1 mentoring), the younger leader becomes truly prepared for key leadership roles in their organisation. Additionally, combining mentoring with coaching and more training can bring the very best in young leaders shaping them to be the best leaders that any organisation would desire to have on standby for when leadership positions need to be filled to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Therefore having the right talent available to step in for key positions can be achieved through mentoring. Any succession planning strategy should take mentoring as their most important tool to develop the next generation of leaders and continue to propel the business forward.

Teodor R. Hlihor
Co-Founder & Partnerships Director at Urbane.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Hack your way towards a more effective mentoring programme that actually drives tangible results.

We all know what mentoring is inherently relationships-based, and so it might be tempting to think that technology would detract from these valuable relationships.  After all, we live in an age where social media and virtual communications are increasingly the norm!

However, used correctly, mentoring software can be a valuable aid to enhance (not replace!) those mentoring relationships and help you monitor the success of the programme more easily and efficiently.

Check out our infographic below to see why!

Mentoring Software Infographic (8)

Andrea S. Tang
Co-Founder & Programme Implementation Director at Urbane.
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

3 Dynamic Ways Measurement is Key to Mentoring Success

International performance improvement guru Dr H. James Harrington famously stated:

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement.  If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it.  If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it.  If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

This is where workplace mentoring schemes tend to suffer.  After some lengthy implementation, there is often little way to measure their success beyond participant-reaction smile sheets.  Yet without the right measurement, companies are unable to reap the full benefits from their mentoring programme as a powerful and strategically focused training tool.  In the face of ever tightening budgets and greater accountability in an increasingly competitive environment, this is all the more relevant.  L&D practitioners face greater pressure than ever before in reporting quantifiable outcomes to senior management that are demonstrable on the bottom line.  Measurement is therefore key to any successful workplace mentoring scheme.

1. Understanding the Data

Why are students measured by test results, stores by number of sales, or sportspeople by athletic performance?  Well, these quantifiable results help them to understand where they are, what they need to improve on, and how they can measure their progress.  They know where they want to go and are motivated to create better results.

Mentoring schemes are no different.  At first glance they may seem to reap only qualitative data being very much relationship-based.  Yet identifying key success metrics, including those on the bottom line, will unlock the greatest potential in the programme.  They will bring out the hard, quantitative data that will help companies fully understand the strengths and weaknesses within their organisation, how to increase efficiency utilising existing talent, and how effective their mentoring programme is in achieving the business strategies and goals.  They will be able to understand how the quality of the mentoring relationships in practice, and where connections are most sought.  They will understand the goals and career aspirations held by their employees, what they need to do to achieve these goals, and how long it takes them to do so.

Understanding each of these elements arms L&D departments with unique knowledge and data that could only emerge from measuring their mentoring schemes.  By truly understanding the organisation as a whole and how each employee links into the bigger picture (a gigantuan task, particularly in larger, hierarchical organisations), L&D departments can now strategically control the direction of the programme in line with the company vision.

2. From Understanding to Control

The Hawthorne Effect is a psychological phenomenon that emerged from a series of studies on worker productivity.  Essentially, it showed that employees increased their efforts and productivity when they thought they were being observed or watched closely, as a result of the motivational effect of the interest shown in them.  The feeling of being an integral part of the group and desiring to stand well amongst one’s fellows, was found to be a key determinant of employee output by reference to the group’s conception of a fair day’s work.

With this in mind and armed with greater understanding from their measurements, L&D departments can strategically focus their mentoring programme whilst motivating a result-based culture amongst its participants.  Identifying KPIs in line with the organisational objectives and tracking them at key points will provide a powerful tool for all involved.  The L&D department can get a detailed snapshot of the progress of each employee and the effect it has on the bottom line, which can then be reported to senior management and key stakeholders.  They can focus the mentoring relationships in a goal-oriented manner aligned with the organisational strategy.  Knowing they are being measured, the participants will be motivated to actively maintain focused mentoring relationships and achieve their goals in a timely manner.  They will understand the organisational strategy and know where they fit in in relation to it.

3. Improvement: Unleashing Human Possibility

In their article ‘A New Vision’, Professors Anteby and Kuruna said on the Hawthorne Effect that:

“Management… was not about controlling human behaviour but unleashing human possibility”.  

The increased gains under the Hawthorne Effect only last for a limited time unless another change occurs.  But now, with greater understanding and focused control of the mentoring programme, L&D departments are in the position to continue to mold the programme to facilitate a culture of continuous learning and identify areas for improvement.  If the mentoring programme has been well implemented to be aligned with business strategy, participants will be motivated to improve, will feel like a valued part of the company and will understand the connection between their actions and the organisation’s ability to fulfill a common purpose.  By continuously measuring the mentoring programme, L&D departments can ensure this golden state of being remains.

In a nutshell

As we can see, understanding, control, and improvement are an essential cycle to any workplace mentoring scheme.  This can only be done through continuous measurement.  Without this, mentoring relationships will inevitably collapse or lose the necessary focus.  Being able to find the right measurement and strategically focus and structure their workplace mentoring scheme, L&D departments can maintain the golden state of continuous learning as employees are motivated to improve as a valued and integral cog in the organisational wheel.

Andrea S. Tang
Co-Founder & Programme Implementation Director at Urbane.
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.