Mentors vs Sponsors — Professional Relationship Development Stages

I was in a one on one with a team member when the question of mentor came up. It seems that having a mentor is something that everyone desires, could be due to everyone wanting to

  1. Talk to someone outside of their organization about their current jobs
  2. Learn from other folks who are “successful” in the company, about their choices
  3. Understand the organization structures and how to move ahead in the company
  4. Discuss their current choices about further education and next move

Initially I was a bit confused about the aim of wanting a mentor but the more it was explained the more I was able to build a structure in my mind about everything mentoring related.

In my mind there are four stages of professional relationships that people want to develop and each have their own qualities.

  1. Network — This is a term overused and mostly focused on building contacts with certain people who you may or may not have worked with
    a. Unstructured relationship — There are no specific agendas, set meeting
    times etc.
    b. Work background — Similarities in work background can help foster the net
    c. None-sided — Nod at each other when passing by, recognize existence
  2. Advisors — An underused term focused on an individual trying to ensure relationships with people continues through one-sided efforts
    a. More structured — There are specific agendas, meeting frequencies etc.
    b. Senior/Junior combo — Generally a junior person in the company seeks out senior employees to learn more about the “success” factors
    c. One-sided — The junior employee is more interested in learning and hope to be able to provide a care-free time for the senior employee
  3. Mentors — Overused term to describe an exchange of ideas through self-motivation
    a. More structured — There are specific agendas, meeting frequencies etc.
    b. Senior/Junior combo — Generally a junior person in the company seeks out senior employees to learn more about the “success” factors
    c. Two-sided — Clearly both the parties are interested in learning about the other and wanting to help each other achieve bigger tasks. Can involve coaching of junior employees
  4. Sponsors — Increasingly more used term to describe specific senior employees who can market certain junior employees to others in the company
    a. Structure is irrelevant — Sponsor and sponsoree/mentee relationship transcends the boundaries of mentoring and a structure is not required to ensure the relationship continues as both are highly motivated to ensure each others success
    b. Senior/Junior combo — Definite combination of senior folks trying to build an army or protégés of junior employees who would be either considered as replacements for the senior employees or for spots on that person’s staff. They are in on a strategy for moving up in the company as well as moving the company up ahead
    c. Two-sided — Of course! Involves coaching as well as organizational guidance

Mentorship can, certain times, scare people from being able to give time to junior employees as it carries a lot of weight and some people might take the word more seriously than others. Recommendation for junior employees is to

  1. Work through the relationship from start to bottom in order to be able to set expectations as you go along
  2. Very important to clearly state the end goal of what you are trying to achieve out of the relationship
  3. A frequency of meeting time can be developed and increased as you move through the stages. Preemptively doing this can be a turn off for certain people
  4. Share! I learned this from my brother and feel a conversation is so much more beneficial to learn about the other person rather than an interview. So share your own experiences as well.

What do you think about the stages? Do they jive with you?