What is mentoring?

Our Senior Product Manager, James Leigh, shares his experience of giving back

Mentoring is one of those terms that is widely and freely used in the business world, but  has no defined, universal meaning. This was my discovery when I began to take an interest in possibly becoming a mentor myself. 

Broadly speaking I find it to be an established partnership; where more senior and experienced people offer their time and advice to support those with less experience or earlier on in their careers.

A good mentor is focused on helping people to develop more effectively through a  professional relationship built around confidence building and support. The aim being that the mentee(s) take control of their own development and work. This makes mentorship distinct from teaching or coaching.

mentoring a class

Why be a mentor?

People are drawn to mentorship for a whole host of reasons. This ranges from an interest in imparting their experience to a younger generation, a desire to grow and learn through a servant-leadership position,  or a heartfelt desire to provide meaningful and valuable pathways for those who may not have easy access to them.

 

How we got started in this mentoring process

Graphite has an established and burgeoning relationship with Sussex University Business School through a series of talks and support sessions provided by our MD, Rob Vherhuel, over the last few years. When the opportunity for mentorship was offered as a result of this, I was keen to challenge myself and try something new. I have a background in youth equity of access enablement and have been a passionate supporter of Graphite’s “Future Talent” programme since I joined the agency in 2018, seeking to use our platform and position in Sussex’s digital community to provide meaningful work experience, talks and support for the young people in our area.

After an initial call with the lead tutor on this module, I was kindly offered the opportunity to participate as a mentor and was matched to a group a few weeks later. 

 

The value I hoped to add for the mentee group

I discussed my background, experience and key areas of interest with the module’s lead tutor at Sussex University. She encouraged me to think about the value I hoped to add for the students. I set myself the target that I would be there to actively listen, to not take over, and to offer constructive criticism. I was committed to making myself totally available.

 

What I hoped to get from the experience

I hoped that the process would be a new challenge for me as this would be my first foray into mentorship. I find I learn well through teaching, so while I wanted to avoid being a teacher, I hoped there would be a similar benefit to my own understanding of who I am within my work space and industry.

 

First steps

The first step was, as with the start of any project, an introduction to the group and an alignment on each of our roles and responsibilities. We stated what we were bringing to the table, as well as letting the other people involved know a little about ourselves. In the normal run of things I’d have loved to have done this in person but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant an email followed by an hour on Zoom had to be sufficient.

The project

Early on in our mentorship, I asked the group to present any ideas they had for their business. These would be whittled down to a final, single choice they would all work on together. I was able to offer a small critique of each idea, with the aim of promoting further thought and discussion to help lead the group into picking the ‘winner’ rather than me acting as a tie-breaker. Given my digital product background, the group’s ideas were very much ones in that space - and I hope I was able to offer an industry view!

I also asked the group to self organise into roles and responsibilities, with them providing a timeline and key dates that lead to their “Dragon's Den’ style end of project presentation

Challenges and how we overcame them

One of the key challenges for the group was availability and capacity for meetings, both with me and with each other. Who can blame them? They’re in their final year of a degree, studying through a pandemic, and working remotely. I offered advice around roles and responsibilities, as well as attendance ‘need’ within the group, they overcame this hurdle and took to the challenge with great effect.

 

The Outcome

They came up with a fantastic food, recipe-based, community-driven social media app. Honestly, it was great! From robust research (desk and user) to a well-considered logo and brand identity. They included a finance spreadsheet that would impress even the most ardent accountant. 

The group worked diligently on their proposal, taking me through the deck and presentation to spot any areas for improvement. I was hugely impressed with the way they took on board any constructive criticism and the sheer passion they had for their idea. The hard work must have paid off as they were placed joint first. I couldn’t have been more proud.

 

Next steps

I have offered to connect with each of the mentees in the group via LinkedIn and email, and am more than happy to offer advice as they transition from their university careers into the world of work. I was delighted to have received such positive feedback for my efforts and was pleased with the contribution I made to their careers. 

“On behalf of the group, I would like to thank you for your time and input. We greatly appreciate your guidance and interest in this project.” 

I loved my first steps as a mentor. I got so much out of the experience and would emphatically encourage anyone who is tempted to give it a go. 

When I’m not supporting future talent in my role as mentor, I work as a Senior Project Manager at Graphite Digital, ensuring our team delivers the best digital customer experiences for our clients in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. Be sure to check out some of our work or get in touch below for more information on what we do.