Sometimes, the concept of having a learning buddy doesn’t go away after elementary school.
Connie Bentley, U.S. general manager at global people development company Insights, has cultivated a mentor-like relationship with a peer thanks to their mutual job descriptions and different backgrounds. Although she said a peer mentorship isn’t something that can be assigned, it is a dynamic that can be encouraged through example and affects the bottom line.
Bentley talked with Chief Learning Officer about her experience in a peer mentorship and how it can be conducted properly without too much constriction. Edited exerpts follow.
How did you find a peer mentor, and what does the relationship look like?
They hired a new general manager for the U.K. I met Alex in the meeting when he was brand new, and we had similar backgrounds but not necessarily the same. From that first meeting, we realized that we each had a lot to offer to the other, not only because I had done the job for four years before he got here, but also because he had different experience and I could learn from him.
We are each other’s mentor. Sometimes we talk to let off steam, sometimes to have a thinking partner. Sometimes he’s already tried something that I want to learn about and vice versa. It’s like when you’re a kid, you have to go swimming with a buddy: He’s my buddy.
What are some of the benefits of peer mentoring vs. a traditional mentorship?
It’s a safe place to try out ideas, and inevitably when I’m trying out a new idea or he is, the other comes up with a “Have you thought about this?” kind of thing. It’s our job to ask each other the tough and embarrassing questions.
It’s always easier to work on somebody else’s stuff than it is your own. You can be objective and bring fresh eyes and ears to it.
What are some challenges that come with peer-to-peer mentoring?
If you ask for advice you have to listen to it, even if that’s not what you think you’re going to do. Not every piece of advice is going to be the perfect thing. You have to make your own decisions.
What if peer mentors become competitors for a position or promotion?
It hasn’t happened here, but it could happen. Maybe that’s when the mentorship ends.
If Alex went on and took a different assignment in the company, or even left the company or got promoted to a job at a higher level, our collegial mentorship would continue. It all boils down to the relationship you’ve built. It’s a relationship, not an assignment.
How would a learning leader promote peer mentorships without making them assignments?
They can lead by example. At Insights, we have a leadership intensive (learning program), and all of the top leaders have been through it. You’re assigned a learning buddy, just like when you were kids, and there are exercises throughout the four-day intensive where you sit with your learning buddy and reflect on what you’ve learned, talk about your development plans moving forward, and those partnerships have continued. There’s a whole slew of peer mentorships here at Insights that have never been called “peer mentors.”
Would applying goals to a peer mentorship conflict with its need to be organic?
I don’t think it’s constricting at all, but you have to have the right goal. “We’re going to increase revenue by 40 percent” is not the goal. The goal is to have a thinking partner, a sounding board, someone who knows enough about what you do so they can give input on what to do, not tell you what to do.
What are other ways to keep a peer mentorship successful?
It’s important that the relationship is under a cone of silence. What we talk about with each other, we don’t share with others.
We always tell what’s true for us. I don’t pontificate and tell what’s true in the world, I say what’s true for me.
And we give one another the most respectful interpretation. We call it MRI here — it’s mutual respect. You come into the conversation not making assumptions and not making up the story until you’ve heard what’s going on.
How does a peer mentorship benefit an organization?
When we have the opportunity to serve on a team together, we’re a force to be reckoned with because we have each other’s back. When you have a common belief with a colleague, you can get twice as much done.