Mentoring and sponsorship networks are excellent sources of inspiration and support that can help professionals grow. Virtual sponsorship and mentoring relationships are often provided in companies and organizations, and can provide great value to employees who are looking to advance in the company and in their field.
Before you build the kind of mentor or sponsor relationship you want, it’s helpful to know the differences between the two. Sponsors can advance your career in a way that mentors can’t. In a mentorship, a more-experienced person usually provides guidance to a more-junior person. In a sponsorship, a more-senior person proactively invests their network and status-power in helping a more-junior person develop and advance. They create opportunities that help you progress more quickly, boost your confidence, and encourage you to take risks. For example, a sponsor can directly recommend you for a promotion or get you placed on an important work project.
Mentors help you by listening, sharing their experiences, and providing advice. Mentoring is a powerful tool that organizations can use to reduce employee turnover and increase engagement. Mentoring programs help you in your professional growth. They can also help you build a more-socially connected workplace. Mentors can help you set goals, communicate more effectively, and fill in the details on succeeding in your virtual setting. Check with your manager or human resources professional to find out whether there is a mentor program in your organization.
Here are tips for how to build a mentor or sponsor relationship:
You’ll need to define the purpose of the relationship. What do you expect to get out of it? Do you hope to prepare for an advancement? Do you seek new skills? Are you interested in working better within the organization culture, especially since most of the connections are made through a virtual setting? Set clear goals, such as skill development, onboarding, or joining a project.
Create expectations about the relationship
Whether you are meeting online or in person, setting expectations around the mentoring relationship is a critical step. To ensure success, both the mentor and you, as a mentee, have to agree on how and when to communicate, the roles each of you will play, how to be a resource for each other, and the desired outcomes.
Set a plan for regular meetings
Set up a structure that determines the frequency of meetings and time of each session. Schedule recurring meetings and add them to your calendar. To develop a long-term mentoring relationship, set the monthly for 45 minutes to an hour. This time frame will allow enough time to dive into deep discussions about pertinent topics.
Without in-person communication, video conferencing is the next best option. Use applications such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or FaceTime to facilitate the conversation. Turn on your camera and engage with your mentor or sponsor as if you were in person. While it might be tempting to have a phone call while multitasking, setting aside time to connect will benefit the mentoring or sponsor relationship.
Tap external mentors or sponsors
Reaching out for a more-senior teammate outside your team helps build a broader network. The relationship you build can also help you to find a sponsor down the road. Learning from others outside of your current organization will help you further broaden your skills.
Be prepared, honest, in the moment, and consistent
Have questions prepared and topics ready to discuss with your mentor or sponsor. If there is a specific topic that you want to discuss in length, make that known in the beginning or before the meeting, so you can dedicate ample time for it. Start your meeting with an icebreaker. For instance, ask how their day is going or how they spent their weekend. Spend the first few minutes building rapport and ensuring that both of you are comfortable. This sets the stage for the remainder of the conversation. Conversations can then be based on upcoming projects, challenges, or recent lessons. Be sure to ask for feedback.
With the rapid shift of the workplace, it is normal to have questions and concerns. Address them earnestly during your virtual-mentoring sessions. Brainstorm ways to leverage your skills and connections to be a resource for each other. When you have open-ended conversations, you are more likely to understand each other and ultimately deepen your relationship. This helps build trust.
Set a goal or action plan to discuss in your next meeting
Before wrapping up each virtual mentoring session, be sure to reinforce when you plan to meet next, and discuss any actions you need to take before then. If you agree to share resources, set an exact date when your mentor or sponsor can expect those items. Finally, express gratitude for the time given for the relationship.
These steps will help your relationship develop more organically and ensure accountability for both the mentor/sponsor and mentee. Whichever path you choose, working with a mentor or sponsor, keep the relationship engaging and rewarding for both of you.