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Getting to the Next Level: Mentoring in Business

Starting a new position usually involves a lot of stress and a mass of new information. Mentoring in business plays a significant role not only in the initial period, but also in further stages of an employee's development. Why is it such an important aspect of the corporate world, and what obstacles can be encountered in its implementation?

We asked three senior professionals from different Comarch locations around the world to get a broad perspective on the topic. Cultural differences, work environment and region all factors influence the perception of mentoring in business. 

What do you think mentoring is? What are its main purposes and characteristics?

Parida Leelaniramol - Sales Director, Bangkok:

In my opinion, mentoring in business is a collaboration between an experienced and competent person and one less skilled. The main purpose of mentoring is to support and guide in professional development. In this type of relationship, the mentor shares his or her knowledge, experiences and insights, offering guidance, advice and feedback. The features of mentoring are mainly guidance and support, sharing experience, goal setting, encouragement and trust.

Lukasz Machel - R&D Department Manager, Poznan:

Mentoring, in my opinion, is a process in which a mentor transfers their knowledge and experience to a new person at an earlier stage of a similar career path. The essence of mentoring is to share knowledge, professional experience and practical information, and to pass on advice. The goal is to support the development of professional staff. Mentoring can take place at expert and managerial levels. It is about the process.

Giorgio Aramis - Project Manager, Milan:

Mentoring in business provides guidance, support and advice to those with less experience. It should help employees develop professionally and personally. A mentor is a trustworthy person who should encourage others, support their strengths and work on their weaknesses.

Is there such a thing as an ideal mentor? What qualities should he or she possess?

Parida: The ideal mentor should have significant experience and expertise in his or her field, so they can provide valuable insights and guidanc. They should be able to communicate clearly and effectively and make sure that all information and advice is conveyed in a way that is easy for the other party to understand. In addition, mentors should demonstrate conscientious work and values that they can share with the person they are mentoring. Finally, they should be patient and allow the mentee to develop at their own pace.

Lukasz: No one is perfect. However, there are some qualities that are desirable.

It seems to me that good qualities of a mentor are broad communication skills, the ability to impart knowledge, listen and provide answers, and a willingness to provide support. The mentor should also have a positive attitude towards working with the mentee. On the other hand, it's a bit like school, and therefore the mentor must also be demanding and able to set goals. I think everyone would also like to have a mentor who inspires them and with whom, working together, they feel they are stepping up to another level.

Giorgio: There is no unequivocally ideal mentor, as much depends on the environment in which he or she operates. One of the main characteristics of a "guru" is credibility and being an expert in a particular field. People should not need to be persuaded, it should be a natural process in the field they are interested in. 

So, in your region, what is the process of supporting a new employee? What kind of training does he or she receive? 

Parida: In our Bangkok office, where I supervise the FBU sales team, I statt inducting new team members by clearly establishing goals, objectives and expectations. I then organize an online product training session from Comarch headquarters. At the same time, I provide individual high-level training tailored to the specific product for which the newcomer will be responsible. My main goal is to make sure my team is proficient in delivering high-level product presentations and demonstrations to customers. In addition, I offer guidance on how to approach customers, and conduct weekly reviews of customer interactions and the sales pipeline, a graphical representation of the customer's place in the customer lifecycle or sales process. Depending on the model adopted, the pipeline can consist of a varying number of stages.

Lukasz: The induction process for a new employee is tailored to the target job in which the new hire will be placed. We will use one process and training for a programmer and another for a documenter or project manager. The key is to conduct training effectively and to do it efficiently. I am not in favor of introducing a new employee by throwing them a pile of documents and links and expecting them to get acquainted with it all immediately. It won't work that way, well, unless we accept that the onboarding process should be three times longer than necessary. Above all, I think it's important in the initial period to have a mentor (usually a colleague or teammate) who will be in charge of introducing the new employee to their day-to-day responsibilities, have him or her read specific materials and then talk about them, listen to questions and answer them in a given area. After the initial training, the best next step is work - that is, performing the first tasks, probably simpler ones, but allowing the employee to get acquainted with how the team works, how the whole organization functions. This is how it looks in my region.

Giorgio: The first day is a welcome day, during which a coffee break dedicated to the new employee is required. New hires have the opportunity to meet all co-workers and colleagues. Basic training sessions are scheduled in advance, after the new employee starts work. They also attend meetings that introduce all Comarch sectors, all teams and all roles in the region. In parallel, standard training on security, RODO and internal tools (business trips, PT-10, ...) is conducted.

Since we're talking about beginnings, what are the first days like for a new person on the team?

Parida: On the first day, the new team member will be introduced to the entire office. He or she will receive an introduction to our company profile and organizational structure. In addition, we will give this person a brief overview of our clients and identify target audiences. We will also talk about mutual expectations as well as what we require of each other.

Lukasz: Usually the first days are onboarding. In addition to training, health and safety and ISO, the employee takes domain training. In the telco sector, we have built a knowledge base, a kind of navigator, through which it is easy to prepare one's job and acquire the necessary knowledge or request the necessary access to start further activities (in this regard, more and more is already being done by processes that are activated automatically when a new person is hired).

Giorgio: The team prepares a presentation of individual employees, explaining the rules of cooperation with local and remote teams from headquarters. The first phase consists of intensive training on the products and the key people who will help the new employee in their daily work. After a few weeks, we organize a business trip to the headquarters, which helps the new team member better understand how the company operates. In addition, they have the opportunity to meet important people from the sector.

Do more experienced employees have a significant impact on supporting new people? 

Parida: Yes, more experienced employees will have quite an impact on newcomers due to their different perspectives, including from their experience with the company and career success stories. Mentors can also offer valuable insights into the work environment and how to work effectively with Comarch.

Lukasz: Definitely, yes. A newly employee wants to feel "taken care of." He or she expects support in the initial period of work and practical knowledge of how to do their job in a particular team. It is important to remember that there are no stupid questions in the initial period. People come to us with different levels of skills and experience, so you need to support them in this initial period to give them confidence. After some time you see that the new ones "fire up", they are more and more independent and require less attentiveness, which is natural.

Giorgio: Experienced employees are very important to skillfully transmit the company's knowledge and values. They are a point of reference, helping during the introduction of a new team member and constantly supporting newcomers on a daily basis (what to do and how to do it).

We live in a rapidly developing world, where younger generations are entering the labor market. So how does mentoring work for different age categories? Is it the same for 20, 30 and 40-year-olds?

Parida: In ASEAN countries, age differences can be a challenge, given the high respect for seniority. Sometimes when a person younger in age is assigned as a mentor to someone older, it can make the trainee feel slighted. In such situations, it is important to approach business mentoring in a certain way. Instead of direct teaching, we should consider offering guidance as recommendations based on our own experiences. Engaging in discussions with the older person, where we listen to their opinions, exchange thoughts and share our own, can create a more collaborative environment. This approach helps ensure that the older person does not feel offended and is more likely to implement the issues raised in their daily work.

Lukasz: These generations are different. Personally, I prefer to look at the person and not their national insurance number. One should adapt the mentoring process to the other person’s needs, catch a common language, and break the ice.

Giorgio: Age can be one of the main obstacles. It's much easier if you have the experience to know how to approach and get along with a younger employee. Either way, with knowledge and experience, mentoring becomes easier.

In that case, what should you pay attention to when training different age categories?

Parida: Understanding people in different age groups is crucial, as they often have different perspectives shaped by previous experiences. For example, engaging younger Generation Z people requires more attention, because this generation is more confident and opinionated. Their lifestyle choices may differ significantly from those of Generation Y, such as myself.

In my opinion, it is important to pay close attention to understanding the unique mindset prevalent in each age group. This includes identifying individual goals. By gaining insight into these aspects, we can tailor training programs to the specific needs of each age group. This approach not only takes into account the diversity of individuals, but also ensures that the training offered is relevant and effective for the different perspectives present in a multi-generational workforce.

Lukasz: A student will have different experience than someone with several years of professional history. We need to pay attention to the level of knowledge transferred.

Giorgio: It's important to know what the expectations are and receive ongoing feedback. You have to be realistic, focused on specifics, and motivate and engage others.

What tips would you give to new employees?

Parida: Navigating the professional world comes with challenges, but it is not an impossible journey. The workplace is a continuous learning environment, offering opportunities to learn new skills on every project. All ventures contribute to a broader knowledge base, supporting personal and professional growth. Recalling my own professional history, during my first days at Comarch I was not at all familiar with investment products. Today, however, I can boast of success in successfully selling these products to top banks.

This is a valuable lesson: you don't need to be equipped with all the knowledge from the very beginning. Rather, the key to continuous improvement is a commitment to continuous learning combined with diligence. Effective learning is about learning from mistakes and consistently improving your approach. This journey requires resilience and a proactive attitude - you must always be open to new knowledge and experiences. Remember that success is about enriching that vessel over time.

Lukasz: Be open-minded, don't let the stress, of which there is a lot in the initial period of work, eat you up. Usually, the devil is not so terrible as they paint him. You will quickly get used to the technical jargon, and get to know how the team and the company work. What you don't know, you will learn. Nowadays, we have access to unlimited knowledge at our fingertips. This is something we didn't have 20 years ago. Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't wait for another day to consult someone about your concerns, do it today. Proactivity is a desirable trait, take matters into your own hands.

Giorgio: I think the most important thing is to be inquisitive and take advantage of every situation that comes your way. If you approach it properly, you will find your way in your new job.

What tips would you give to mentors, people who train others?

Parida: Mentors play a key role in developing potential. Understanding the differences among those they train is a must. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allows mentors to tailor their guidance effectively. By recognizing and capitalizing on the strengths of their mentees, mentors can inspire them to transcend their current barriers and increase their capabilities.

In my opinion, effective mentoring in business is a dynamic process that requires empathy, adaptability and a commitment to continuous improvement. It's not just about imparting knowledge, but fostering an environment in which individuals can grow and transcend their presumed limitations.

Lukasz: I don't feel like an expert on the subject, butit seems to me that good contact, communication and atmosphere are important. It is great to work in a good , positive and open atmosphere. It is also extremely important to prepare a framework plan of (co)work and goals.

Giorgio: The key thing is to impart knowledge and experience as a professional, but also as an ordinary person. You need to build a professional relationship and understand the individual mindset of the person in front of you.

What difficulties have you personally encountered during the business mentoring process?

Parida: In my opinion, the challenge is how open the mentee is to my advice. They may question that I may know better, especially given their age. Younger people also often have preconceived notions that make them doubt or disregard my guidance.

Lukasz: I think the most difficult thing is to work with someone who hasn't set themselves up properly for the mentoring process. In order to receive the benefits of the process, the trainee has to approach it with an open mind and be open to feedback that includes suggestions for corrective actions. The most difficult thing is when the recipient of the information refuses to accept that certain things should be corrected. The idea of the mentoring process is to improve oneself, so an open attitude is key.

Giorgio: There are two main difficulties during the mentoring process in business: time and expectations. You need time to help a new employee, and you also need time yourself to understand new concepts.  Expectations can slow down the process. Looking at my experience, a new employee wants to know everything, be a specialist and increase the scope of their knowledge within six months, after which the first career assessment is made. Positive or negative feedback is given, which can influence the next stage of the process. So, planning the right path, setting goals and sharing them with the employee are all factors that can drive the mentoring process in the right direction and eliminate negative aspects (such as wrong expectations, looking for other opportunities).

Does such mentorship ever end, or is it a responsibility that rests with you throughout an employee’s time with your department?

Parida: From my perspective, mentoring in business is a responsibility that persists throughout one's career. It remains a lifelong commitment, as mentees constantly encounter new and difficult situations, requiring constant guidance and support from the mentor in overcoming the obstacles they put up. The mentor's role goes beyond a set time frame, evolving to meet the needs of the person with less experience, providing a lasting partnership in personal and professional development.

Lukasz: The mentoring process is locked into a time frame. How long should it last? There is no definite answer, but it is usually several months or even a year. There are many opinions and practices on this subject. It is important that, at the end of the mentoring process, both parties have the conviction that the new arrival will be able to perform the assigned duties with higher competence, knowledge and transferred experience from the mentor.

Giorgio: In my opinion, it is a process that never ends. It is a continuous responsibility that should be performed every day with proper motivation passed from mentor to employee.

The above conversation reinforced our belief that properly conducted mentoring in business can bring many benefits to the employer and the employee. It is an important process that should not be underestimated and should be approached with the right knowledge as well as skills.

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