Mentor Development: Conquering the Knowledge Gap
Not every mentor ends up mentoring a entrepreneur in their industry or even one that’s related. We’ve provided mentoring techniques to support entrepreneurs regardless.
Knowledge Gap – Case Overview
Thierry has been working with his entrepreneur, Renée, for almost a full year. The catering business that Renée founded has had a slow start but after sampling what the business offers, Thierry is confident that Renée will succeed. Many people in the community of Pointe Claire in Montréal have now heard of Renée’s business thanks to very positive word of mouth and her clientele continues to grow.
In early months, Thierry was able to provide excellent suggestions around fine-tuning the business plan, establishing banking arrangements and negotiating payment terms with suppliers. He is a first time mentor and has really enjoyed helping Renée overcome the obstacles involved in setting up a new business.
In a recent planning session, Renée expressed her desire to increase the sales of the business. She believes that her marketing plan has not provided the results she expected and put the topic on the next meeting agenda with hopes that Thierry can provide some guidance and suggestions. Thierry is at a loss for what would draw businesses and individuals to hire Renée’s catering services.
Thierry recently retired from the retail tire sales industry after more than a decade of running a successful outlet in a national chain. He feels like he is about to let Renée down because he has very minimal experience in marketing – let alone for the food services industry. Perhaps he should suggest that Renée be re-matched with a new mentor.
- How has this mentoring relationship changed? What can Thierry do to adapt his mentoring to the current needs of the business?
- What can Thierry do to help Renée find the marketing suggestions she is looking for?
- How can Renée supplement the support offered by her mentor?
- What are a couple reasons why an entrepreneur should be re-matched with a new mentor? Does this situation warrant a change of mentors?
Knowledge Gap – Best Practice Solutions
Best Practice Solutions:
- While in the early months of the business, Thierry was able to present many specific suggestions, he must now adjust his mentoring to support Renée’s problem solving through this issue. This may involve asking questions, identifying potential issues, or simply listening to Renée’s ideas and offering a simple opinion on the alternatives. Thierry may need to refer to the business learning resources offered by Futurpreneur Canada to provide some guidance as to how to proceed.
- The first thing Thierry would do in this situation is to listen to the ideas that Renée has created to address the gap in her knowledge. As a mentor, Thierry’s primary goal is to help Renée develop her knowledge and skills to become self-supporting. Thierry’s role as mentor is to offer ideas and support but not necessarily to provide ‘answers’.
- Renée can supplement the support of her current mentor by recruiting additional advisers. This network of advisors may include people with subject specific knowledge and may be volunteers or paid consultants. Thierry may be able to assist in identifying other professionals in the community that have the marketing expertise Renée needs today.
- A mentor re-match would be advisable if:
- Other commitments are preventing the mentor from devoting the time needed by the entrepreneur
- Personality conflicts or style differences are preventing the mentoring partnership from adding value to the business
- The business needs have significantly changed and the mentor can no longer provide support or guidance.
In this situation there is no need to replace Thierry as the mentor. While there is a gap in knowledge, this can be easily addressed by Renée starting her knowledge network. If Renée’s catering business had grown significantly and was considering franchising, this may be a trigger to review the mentoring needs of the entrepreneur and her business.
Knowledge Gap – Key Learning Points
Key Learning Points:
- The mentor is not expected to be all things to the entrepreneur. A mentor is a trusted advisor who will often be able to provide targeted advice and transfer knowledge in his or her area of expertise. Beyond that, a mentor can support the entrepreneur by providing general guidance and ideas or options. The entrepreneur is ultimately responsible to make all business decisions and may require additional advisors.
- Develop a network of advisors. Take a proactive approach to meeting the needs of the business by identifying the knowledge gaps of the entrepreneur in relation to business priorities. The mentor can then recommend which areas may require additional advisory support. The entrepreneur may then recruit additional mentors or hire professional support in their effort to develop a network of advisors.
- Mentor re-match is necessary in certain circumstances. The mentoring relationship is intended to be a long-term match. The way the mentor contributes will change as the business develops, however the cache of knowledge and experience together makes the mentor relationship strong. On rare occasions it may be necessary to re-match an entrepreneur – if you believe a re-match is required, contact Futurpreneur Canada to discuss the situation.