When Social met Business: A few tips on how to make the most of corporate mentorship

by Greg.Winfield

Valentina Recla, Vice President at J.P.Morgan, gives some advice for both mentors and mentees


"I work as a Vice President in the Investment Bank’s Risk Management Division at J.P. Morgan.  As part of the bank’s employee community engagement initiative, Good Works, I have been working with The Young Foundation devising and implementing ways in which J.P. Morgan can support social entrepreneurship through skill-based volunteering.

Based on this experience, I would like to offer a few practical steps to help both mentors and mentees make the most of a corporate mentorship relationship.

For both Mentees and Mentors:
1. Define your respective objectives upfront – It is easy to see a mentoring relationship as a one-way street, where the mentor gives and the mentee receives. However, it is important to realize that this is not the case. A mentor could be seeking the satisfaction derived from helping another, the opportunity to learn how entrepreneurs (and social entrepreneurs in particular) operate or a more in-depth knowledge of a certain social issue. From a Mentee’s perspective, goals will be driven, among other things, by the business’s stage of development and growth strategy: one entrepreneur may aim at being ready for social investment by the end of the relationship, while another may need help defining a new range of products and presenting it in a fashion that is compelling for a local authority commissioner. It is important that the ultimate goals are understood by both parties upfront, in order to make the most of your time together.
2. Decide the rules of engagement – This should also be done right away. While it is not essential that all your meetings be in person, in order for the mentoring relationship to be most beneficial you ought to ensure that you are speaking on a regular basis. It is a good idea to schedule all of your meetings or calls for the duration of the program in advance. In all likelihood many will need to be rescheduled; however, having them in your calendar upfront serves as an important anchor to ensure that the busy schedules do not take over.
3. Be accountable to one another - Once you agree on what you are willing to commit to, make sure you deliver: as in any relationship, being able to rely on the other person is crucially important. At the same time, make sure that you are flexible enough to accommodate your respective commitments outside of the mentoring relationship.
4. Communicate with one another and with those coordinating your mentoring  – If something is not working, it is best to address it right away, rather than letting it fester. Many “issues” are really just misunderstandings, so it is important to clear them away immediately, before they become problems. Also, the program coordinators are there to ensure that you make the most out of your experience and to provide any additional support or information you may need. However, their ability to assist you depends on their being in the loop: you won’t do anyone a service by saving all of your comments, questions or concerns for the final feedback form (this includes the positive feedback: it can be extremely rewarding for both your Mentor/ Mentee and for the Program Coordinators to know that things are moving in the right direction)! 

For Mentees
1. Don’t be afraid to ask - The worst that can happen is that your Mentor will be too busy to deliver what you need right away, but most often a good compromise can be found. Also, Mentors appreciate initiative!
2. Think creatively about how you can leverage on the strengths of your Mentor’s organization to support your business - This could be as simple as making an introduction. Your Mentor may well not be personally able to deliver what you need; however, they could still be a very good resource to help you think of other ways in which you can benefit from your association with the organization.
3. Help your Mentor help you - Keep in mind that in all likelihood your Mentor will not be as knowledgeable as you are around your industry sector or around the typical challenges faced by social enterprises. It is therefore very useful if you can send your Mentor some additional information to help her/ him build up some general knowledge. At the same time, it is good to be selective on the type of information you send across: one well written, clear and concise report is going to be more helpful (and easier to digest) than a pile of assorted information (remember that your Mentor also has a full time job!).
4. Keep your Mentor up to date with the progress made in the program - Your mentor will not know what you have been up to in class unless you tell her/him. It is very valuable to discuss your learning and thoughts on the materials covered in the program, as well as the exercises, as this is all information that will ultimately feed through the assumptions underlying your business plan.

For Mentors
1. Make sure that you are on the same page - Concepts that are basic for you (like Profit and Loss Account) may not be so for your Mentee!
2. Help the entrepreneur think more broadly - Your goal is to be a discerning supporter, rather than a cheerleader. Therefore, do not be afraid to question the way your Mentee thinks about his/her business. Think about other ways in which your organization could support your Mentee’s business beyond the program: the Program Coordinators will seek to have these ideas implemented as much as possible.
3. Be mindful of the cultural differences - Running a small social enterprise is quite different from working in a large for profit organization. Remember that your Mentee will in all likelihood be pulled in many different directions to manage the business, while at the same time spending time on the program and planning for the next growth stage.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no. It is wonderful if you want to go the extra mile, but it is ok to say “no” or “not now” - By becoming a Mentor, you agreed to devote a certain amount of time to your Mentee. Many Mentors become so passionate that they often go above and beyond this minimum commitment. However, if you are too busy with work, family or other commitments, it is perfectly fine to decline to take on extra deliverables or to negotiate with your Mentee what they can expect from you and when.