As I was working on Success for Hire, I had the good fortune to meet an excellent blogger and radio show host, the Recruiting Animal. Animal’s got one of the most hilariously combative shows you’ll ever listen to, and I had a great time as a guest earlier this month. Anyway, Animal flagged a very interesting article from the MIT Sloan Management Review. The authors, Kathy Kram and Monica Higgins, claim that the traditional mentoring relationship just doesn't work anymore. As they say, typically, you choose a single senior colleague - or get assigned to one - who can show you the ropes and open the right doors. But the world of work has gotten too complicated for one person to provide all the guidance and opportunities you need to manage challenges and prepare for the future.
According to Kram and Higgins, a better approach is to create and cultivate a developmental network - a small group of people to whom you can turn for regular mentoring support and who have a genuine interest in your learning and development. You can think of it as your personal board of directors. The composition of the group depends on where you are in your career and what you're looking for. If you're just getting started, you could certainly turn to your boss or assigned mentor for help. But you should also look further, seeking out peers to get feedback on areas where you need to improve, such as public speaking or working in teams. At midcareer, you might look to other managers and people outside the organization; someone you know from a professional association might have insight on new ideas in your industry, for instance. Senior managers might get coaching from peers on the next steps to take in their career, from family members on achieving a better balance in their lives, and even from junior staff who have crucial technical expertise vital to immediate business challenges.
What sets this group apart from people you network with more generally or from casual or one-time relationships? The relationships have a high degree of mutual learning and trust in which both individuals give and receive various kinds of informational, emotional and strategic support. What's more, these individuals have been enlisted by you to provide the guidance and support that will enable you to take the next step forward, whatever that next step may be.
I love this concept, and wonder if any of you have institutionalized programs for developmental networks in your organizations. If so, I’d love to hear about your experience with them.