Combating IT failure with mentoring

Mentoring offers an ideal method for organizations to create pockets of excellence around IT project execution and delivery.

Many IT failures could be avoided if successful senior stakeholders took time to share lessons with less experienced colleagues. Mentoring offers an ideal way for organizations to create pockets of excellence around IT project execution and delivery.

Healthy and durable mentor relationships require both parties to possess a blend of personal chemistry, shared professional goals, and common values. For these reasons, establishing a solid mentor/student relationship takes time.

I asked scholar and prolific author, Tulku Thondup, who has written extensively about student/teacher relationships, for his view on the essential characteristics of successful mentoring:

Most importantly, mentor relationships should be based on common values and mutual benefit, rather than superficial attractions or ambitions. As with all relationships, hidden agendas can distort the process, bringing a negative outcome. On the other hand, shared values and mutual respect establish a positive foundation for success.

If you seek a mentor, look for someone who is:

  • Qualified and well trained. The best mentors possess skill, experience, and good judgment. Before diving in, find out whether the potential mentor is capable of imparting the knowledge you hope to receive.
  • Open and available. Mentoring can be a demanding and time-consuming role, especially when the learner is highly committed and engaged. Therefore, a mentor must be willing to invest the time required. Healthy mentor relationships are based on trust, so you should also be comfortable with the mentor's personal character.

Likewise, the learner should be:

  • Serious and committed. Unless the student is engaged and willing to make a strong effort to learn from the mentor, the entire process ultimately becomes a waste of everyone's time.
  • Sufficiently capable. The learner must possess aptitude and capability in addition to interest and commitment. Therefore, the prospective mentor should evaluate the student carefully before agreeing to embark on a long-term mentoring relationship.

The most common risk to mentoring involves wasted time. If either side is not fully committed, they will go through the motions without accomplishing anything useful. Therefore, it's important for everyone concerned to enter the relationship with open eyes, clear goals, and stated intentions.

Handled correctly, mentor/student relationships offer a fantastic method for interrupting cycles of IT failure. This is especially true in organizations where at least some experienced senior managers have a track record of implementing IT projects successfully.

[Inspired by a post in the Energized Accounting blog. Photo from iStockphoto.]

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