National Mentoring Month: An Informal Approach to Mentorship

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The following was published on January 16, 2020 as a LinkedIn blog post by Kristine Freind, Human Resource Director for North America.

An Informal Approach to Mentorship Animated Graphic

Kristine Freind HeadshotKristine Freind, Human Resource Director for North America

This National Mentoring Month, I’ve thought a lot about what having a mentor—and being a mentor—means in a changing workplace dynamic. The traditional image of a mentor as a more senior, seasoned employee to help guide a career has gone by the wayside, in many cases making way for more informal mentorship and growth opportunities.

In my career, I have been blessed with a few very senior women (and men) who served as traditional mentors, deliberately pushing me to the boundaries of my performance and stretching my capabilities. As those businesses changed and senior leaders retired, I realized that I had become the mentor that I had looked to in the past.

As I assumed that role, it was without a formal program that is often characterized by sophistication and structure. In many cases, smaller and more nimble companies don’t have the resources to institute these mentoring programs. Some companies, like Trinseo, foster a culture that promotes ongoing mentorship in lieu of that formal mentorship program. Here are some things to consider when seeking informal mentorship across any company or industry:

Don’t wait for a formal mentor to emerge

You don’t need a formal mentoring program to share skills, knowledge, and expertise in a positive way to make an employee feel that they are not alone or facing something that they cannot successfully overcome. I often seek peers with a positive attitude about learning and growth, and I ask for feedback and coaching from anyone who I feel is “in my corner” and rooting for me.

Seek out your peers

There is an excellent quote from Training Magazine that characterizes a refreshing approach to mentoring: “Who better to commiserate with, and seek support from, than a person running alongside you in the same race?” You don’t need to wait for someone from the c-suite to guide you and push you in your career; that role can easily go to a peer you work with on a regular basis and respect.

Know what you don’t know, and value honesty

As your role and responsibilities grow at any point your career, expectations grow too. As I’ve felt changing expectations, I’ve never been afraid to admit that I don’t know it all. It’s important to recognize when you may need help from others, and that’s when a mentor can become particularly valuable. It can be easy to seek a mentor who will tell you what you want to hear, but I recommend seeking out someone who is going to tell you the truth and is willing to have a difficult conversation with you, even when you might not want to hear it.

As you go about your work during National Mentoring Day and throughout out the month of January, I challenge you to look for opportunities to mentor a colleague or identify an individual to provide career guidance or feedback, outside of a formal process.

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