What are the benefits of having or being a mentor?

Nineteen years ago this week I entered the world of work as an 18-year-old Trainee Journalist on my local newspaper.

Throughout my career I have benefitted from having professional mentors and I’m thankful for their sage counsel to guide me through my decision-making over the years.

(I’m pictured winning Campaign Journalist of the Year in the Essex Journalism Awards – look at that 90s suit!).

Are you thinking about becoming a mentor to another internal communicator? Do you have your own mentor?

Today as I look back on 19 years as a professional communicator, I’m proud to share an interview with my fabulous mentee Eleanor McManus. It was published recently by the Institute of Internal Communication @ioicnews.

Eleanor @E_McM and I have been working together for the past year and it’s been such a privilege to observe her work and watch her continue to flourish.

Here’s our interview with the the Institute of Internal Communication…

Mentoring scheme gives IC professional confidence boost

We all know the theory behind mentoring – that by bringing together less-experienced professionals with industry experts, everyone gains – but how does it actually work in practice?

We caught up with two IC professionals who are involved in the IoIC mentoring programme to hear more about their experience.

Rachel Miller (left in photo), director of All Things IC, has been acting as a mentor to Eleanor McManus (right in photo), who works in an internal communications role at The Brain Tumour Charity.

What were you hoping to gain from being a mentor or a mentee?

Rachel: I signed up to be a mentor because I hoped to provide tailored advice and guidance to help another internal communicator to succeed. I know I would have found this sort of scheme useful when I was starting out, so decided to sign up to see how I could help.

Eleanor: I joined IoIC after taking on a newly created internal communications role at the charity where I work. I was keen to join an organisation that could help me develop my internal communications skills and would enable me to meet others who work in the field.

The mentoring scheme sounded like a great opportunity, so I applied straight away. I get lots of support from my manager, but loved the idea of being matched with someone outside of the charity who could share their expertise and knowledge to help me establish my new role. And as a fan of her All Things IC blog, I was delighted to be matched with Rachel.

What have you learned about yourself through the process?

Rachel: Working with Eleanor has been a total pleasure from day one. Being her mentor has made me realise how many lessons I can share from all the mistakes I’ve made, problems I’ve solved and issues I’ve faced over the years. It’s made me realise how much I know and therefore how I can help her avoid the tricky parts by sharing the routes I’ve taken.

Eleanor: I am so grateful I’ve had Rachel’s support over the past year. As someone who has been in my position before, Rachel understands exactly where I’m coming from, so I really value being able to run through ideas with her and hear how she handled similar situations in the past. Sometimes, it’s also just nice to have some reassurance that an idea is worth a shot.

I have learned a great deal personally and the new tools and channels that I’ve introduced have changed the way everyone at the charity works.

Rachel has really encouraged me to have more belief in myself, take a step back and reflect on what I have achieved, not just dwell on the things that didn’t go 100 per cent to plan. Since joining the mentoring scheme, I feel more confident in my decision-making and ability.

Has anything surprised you about the mentoring experience?

Rachel: It has reinforced my belief that you gain more when you give. It has exceeded my expectations as I now have a working relationship with Eleanor, which is a joy, and we’ve decided to continue working together beyond the terms of the agreement. I’ve been surprised by the variety of our conversations – we cover so much, but then that’s also indicative of our roles as internal communicators.

Eleanor: I’ve been really touched by how lovely Rachel has been. She has been so generous with her time and knowledge. I really looked forward to our monthly calls – we’ve covered a huge range of topics and I love hearing about Rachel’s work and what’s happening in the wider IC world.

Rachel, people may think the scheme is intended to benefit the person being mentored, but what are you getting out of it? Is there anything you’ve learned from Eleanor?

Rachel: I’ve loved hearing Eleanor sharing her challenges and brainstorming ideas and strategies to help her succeed. I’ve realised how things I take for granted because I’ve done them for years can be really helpful to share. Eleanor has helped me realise the value of explaining why I make certain recommendations. I’ve also created a lot of content for my blog based on the conversations we’ve had, as I’ve realised those topics could be useful for other practitioners too.

And Eleanor, is there anything you have learned so far that you have been able to apply in the workplace?

Eleanor: Yes, lots! Over the past year, I’ve introduced various new channels and activities to the charity, including Workplace by Facebook, a new weekly newsletter and a culture book. I’ve spoken to Rachel about all of these things.

What advice would you give to others considering becoming a mentor or mentee?

Rachel: Do it! Meeting in person early on was incredibly helpful – I invited Eleanor as my guest at one of my All Things IC Masterclasses so we could spend time together and she could benefit from hearing comms theory and meeting peers.

I also encouraged her to volunteer at #TheBigYak unconference I ran with my fellow The IC Crowd co-founders in June 2018. Being a mentor means spotting opportunities to support, champion and encourage your mentee.

Honesty is essential too. I’ve shared things with her I’ve not shared with anyone else. Our relationship is underpinned by trust and I’m looking forward to continuing helping her to succeed.

Eleanor: It’s been a hugely valuable experience and one I’d recommend to everyone.

My advice? Make mentoring sessions count. We have a monthly phone call and I send Rachel a few topics in advance to give some structure to the session. As well as this, I know I can reach out to Rachel via email and she’ll be there. We’ve also messaged via Twitter and LinkedIn and met face-to-face a couple of times.

Be open and honest. We agreed at the start that we wouldn’t share details of our calls with anyone else.

I lack a bit of self-confidence, so really value Rachel’s reassurance when she says I’m on the right track!

Finally, just make the most of the opportunity! Rachel’s also been great at encouraging me to share my knowledge with others – she recently put me in touch with the head of comms at another charity to talk about launching Workplace. It was lovely to be able to help and give something back.

Applications for the current round of mentoring are now closed and will open again in February 2019. We are always looking to build our pool of mentors. If you are interested in becoming a mentor please email Sarah Magee at sarah@ioic.org.uk.

Work with me
I offer mentoring agreements for professional communicators, see my Work With Me page to discover how we can work together and how I can support you. I’m currently taking bookings for January 2019 onwards.

Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 11 September 2018.

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