Do You Need To Ditch Your Mentor?

Are you aware how much UK employees would want to pay for one-to-one career advice? £195 per month, according to a recent survey*. It’s pretty steep, but it’s easy to see why we place so much value on the advice of others – especially considering workers are five times more likely to be promoted as a result of mentoring. But despite it yielding so much hype, Cecilia Harvey, founder of Tech Women Today, has revealed what she believes to be the true key to success at work: Sponsoring.

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It’s mentoring, but better. Somewhere between your work wife and a mentor, sponsoring is a bit like having your number one fan sat next to you in the office. They’re usually more senior, they work for the same company and they sing your praises, not because they’re your mate, but because you’re sh*t hot at your job and they want to nurture your talent. It’s not the same as mentoring, which can be anyone, from the person you interned for a few years ago (who still offers the odd word of advice here and there) to that family friend who works in the same industry who you meet for the odd coffee, or someone working at your dream company, but has no connection to your current role. A sponsor is someone you work with on a daily basis – a colleague within your company, who takes an active role in your progression.

That promotion you’re going for? Your sponsor will put in a good word. That company meeting you want to present in? Your sponsor will suggest you take the lead. You might have a sponsor without even realising. It’s mentoring 2.0 – and we’re on board. ‘If you want to climb the career ladder, a sponsor is just the thing you need,’ says Grace Donnelly, Communications Executive at reed.co.uk. ‘They’re someone senior in the business who has serious influence. That means they can do more than just advise you on the best way to progress in your career, they can actively advance it. They’ll talk about you to the people who matter, because they believe in you and they want you to succeed. ‘Mentors are great, but there’s a limit to what they can do as they’re not directly involved in your work and they don’t have a say in your career. A sponsor will champion your successes or protect you when times are tough. They have a say in promotions, pay rises and the projects you work on. In return, you’ll need to make sure you make them look good and deliver what’s promised – it’s a two-way relationship.’ Laura Brown, 27, bagged her dream job as New Business Director at PSONA customer engagement agency last November, thanks to employer and now sponsor CEO Fiona Scott.

After impressing Fiona with her incredible work ethic, Laura knows first-hand just how invaluable a sponsor can be. ‘Fiona is by far the best boss I’ve ever had,’ explains Laura. ‘She teaches me every day and has a relentless energy that I admire. We’re totally on the same page and speak all the time, sharing life plans and keeping each other posted on clients and other agency news. Fi encourages me to attend all commercial meetings, something New Business employees don’t usually get exposure to until they reach senior board level. Recently, there were some staff changes within the team, so it was suggested that I take the lead until the business found a replacement. We actually both have mentors outside of the agency, but the working relationship we have in the office is something totally different.’ So what is it that Fiona saw in Laura? And how can we get these all-star qualities? ‘Laura is the best of her kind,’ says Fiona, 52. ‘She’s the agency’s culture, she picks us up when we’re down and keeps us moving. It’s no wonder our clients love her. I’m a firm believer in nurturing talent and speaking up about the talent we have in the business. Laura is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with and I want to fast-track her career. When I was younger, there would have been a huge hierarchal structure, meaning it could take years to reach the top table, even if you deserved it. Laura is 27 – I made the board when I was 30 – but I feel Laura is ready now. I am her biggest champion.’ Note to selves: New Year’s Resolution? Find a sponsor…

Source Your #Spon In 3 Steps

‘Many companies have mentorship programmes, but finding a sponsor isn’t always so easy,’ says Grace. Find your own with these tips…

1 Prove Yourself ‘You can’t expect someone influential to advocate for you if you haven’t shown your worth,’ Grace explains. ‘Great work isn’t enough; you need to get your achievements noticed.’

2 Network ‘The key way to find a sponsor?’ says Grace, ‘make sure you know who the leading figures are within the business, then take every opportunity you can to get to know them and start building a relationship.’

3 Be Clear ‘Once you’ve identified a potential sponsor and started to build a relationship, make sure they’re clear on your goals so that they can help at the right time,’ recommends Grace.

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