Monday, August 11, 2008

Speed Mentoring - almost as fun as speed dating!

This past week I participated in a speed mentoring session at my place of employment. What's speed mentoring? Well, it's very similar to the format used for speed dating. There were about 40 of us that signed up to be mentees. We were divided into groups of eight and then five distinguished mentors from the company rotated around to each of the groups for 10 minutes of Q&A.

I signed up because 1) I thought it sounded interesting and maybe even fun, 2) the lure of a free lunch and 3) visibility or exposure to upper management is key to career advancement at this company. After all these years, I think I actually know how to play this career game! When I first hired in, I was naive and stubborn to think that hard work and first-rate engineering would do all the talking for me. LOL

The mentoring sessions were very quick paced and informative. Any question could be tossed out. Based on the questions that were posed, I would say that most people were interested in the direction of the company more so than they were in the direction of their individual career.

I started with questions about the technical career ladder. I wanted to know why it seemed more like a step ladder than the escalator that is the program management career ladder. The response was fairly typical - that the company is trying to balance these paths, so that they are more parallel. The mentor mentioned that at least nine people had made director level in the technical career path. No numbers were given for the program director level, but it is several magnitudes greater. The takeaway is that progress is being made. I wanted to keep pushing and ask if a metric had been established so that we could measure this progress, but I refrained. ;)

As the sessions progressed, the questions centered more on the company direction. I steered clear from those questions that illicit the usual company line. I wanted to dig a little deeper to get actual numbers or data that substantiated what the company is saying they are doing and what they are really doing behind the scenes. For instance, we hear a lot about more money being spent on internal research in an effort to bring in new business. My question is how serious is the company about this? How much more are they spending? 1%, 10%, 50%? The Director of Strategic Planning would only say that the budget for business development is more than last year! C'mon now, we're engineers, we want numbers, evidence, not just words.

One other observation from the experience stayed with me. It seems that many employees feel like they are in the dark about what is going on in the company. For instance, one mentor mentioned an intranet web address for finding more info on telecommuting policies. No one in the group was aware that the company even had a policy! Many times I have heard people say they didn't know this or that and they are frustrated that the information is not made available.

Is communication that much of problem between management and employees? When I look back, I recognize that communication is much better now than ever before. There are so many more ways to get the info out and the company is trying to speak to us. But alas, it's an endless pit. The more info that goes out, the more we crave. Sessions like this mentoring event go a long ways to getting the two sides together so that each becomes more comfortable talking with the other.


  1. Sounds like it was a good experience. I mentioned this idea to my company and they liked it too.

    I agree, that in many cases the career climbing instructions are not always clearly defined and still tend to favor who you know vs what you know.

    We also had the same communication issue with out intra website. It took several iterative designs to finally get it to where it was user friendly with getting the latest information fast.

  2. in many cases the career climbing instructions are not always clearly defined.

  3. when will you update again your blog? Can you do a post about Speed Dating Questions? thanks!