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Millennials Speak: How to have a good 1-on-1 with your mentor

Contributed by Sng Ler Jun, Singapore National Co-operative Federation

Note: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own and do not represent that of Young NTUC.

I recently celebrated my work anniversary with SNCF, also my first full-time gig after graduating from university. Over the eventful year, I have had many opportunities to interact with key stakeholders, including spokespersons from different co-operatives, notable public figures, my supervisors, and of course, my mentors.

If there is anything that I have learned this year, it’s the importance of having 1-on-1 meetings with your mentor.

Who should be my mentor? This is a befuddling one. Anyone can be a mentor, but not everyone is the right mentor for you. It is important to consider the compatabilities and differences between you and your prospective mentor, before popping the question. The ideal mentor will help you build a solid foundation in your career and gain clarity in your career or individually.

These guiding questions may perhaps help you figure out who should be the right fit for you.

Am I able to work well with this individual? It's imperative to know that good communication is key in a mentorship; an ideal mentor should be supportive, willing to communicate, and inspiring. As a mentee, you too should exhibit your willingness to learn and grow.

Does this person have the relevant industry experience to share with me? If you are looking to grow in your career, you should find a mentor from the same industry. His or her industry experience will become valuable insights for you to get a better grasp of the subject matter, especially if you are new.

Can he or she guide me to my professional goal? Beyond sharing his or her work experience and industry insights, an ideal mentor should encourage you to find answers, take risks, and steer you in a good direction.

Can he or she challenge me to be better? Mentors should also challenge you (not judge you) so that you can grow!

So can your mentor be your supervisor? The answer... yes! While I understand that not all immediate supervisors are cut out to be mentors or available to be one, I'd consider myself lucky because my mentor happens to be my immediate supervisor. Having had experience in the corporate communication industry, she shares valuable insights, offers feedback and good criticism, and is nurturing too. More importantly, she is happy with her role and takes pride in what she does - this speaks heaps, really!

Why should fresh grads care about 1-on-1 meetings? Start-ups today have embraced 1-on-1 meetings as the top catalyst for productivity. With these meetings, managers and employees can resolve and troubleshoot issues, keep each other in the loop, and give the feedback they need to grow in their respective positions.

Newly hired fresh grads can leverage these 1-on-1 meetings to gather fruitful experience and learn from their supervisors. These meetings are also capable of giving you the safety of knowing where you stand throughout the trajectory of your work. Through these feedback sessions with your supervisors, you would be able to know when to correct the course of work.

More importantly, you can make use of these opportunities to discuss career aspirations and growth opportunities, all while learning and honing your skillsets. In other words, your supervisor or manager can be your partner for success.

A study of 38,000 employees has shown that people with partner-like superiors, as compared to superiors whom employees regard as “traditional bosses”, are likely to report greater life satisfaction.

Mentors and employers stand to benefit when interacting with their mentees too!

Why should superiors bother about 1-on-1 meetings? Effective coaching often entails the need to go beyond employees’ performance numbers; it requires genuine conversations. 1-on-1 meetings are thus perfect opportunities for superiors to get to know their team members and their respective working styles.

They also make great platforms to interact with their team members, engaging and bonding with them along the way. Such dedicated sharing sessions can build trust between employees and their superiors, and in the long run, keep employees satisfied and have a part to play in retaining talents.

Since they can get information on how they can better support their team members, managers too can also gather feedback to be better superiors too. Call it a win-win!

How do I suggest a 1-on-1 meeting? It can be intimidating to ask your manager or supervisor to do a 1-on-1 meeting. I have been there too. The first step to overcoming the intimidation is to recognise that it is never too childish or needy to ask for such meetings; you telling your manager that you want to have an effective, structured conversation is something that they will recognise and appreciate.

The trick, I learned eventually, is to be transparent with your requests. In your message to your managers, show them how they can benefit from these sessions. This means setting the agenda in your emails or messages and eventually, having the agenda written out on the calendar invitations.

Here is an email template to help you out: Hi (insert name), Would it be possible to organise a weekly/fortnightly 1-on-1 meeting to discuss my performance at work? Is there a time that works for you? In this 30-minute/hour-long meeting, I would like to discuss my progress with (PROJECT A) and (ISSUE B). Please let me know. Regards, (Your name)

Many startups and big corporate offices hold 1-on-1 meetings every week or two for about 30 to 60 minutes.

Mentorship is not just a buzzword nor a trend. It's real and very valuable!

Getting the most out of your 1-on-1 meetings? So what goes on in 1-on-1 meetings? And how do you benefit from them?

Remember 1-on-1 meetings are sacred. Make use of this time to express what’s on your mind with your managers, communicate ideas and share future goals. Here are some ways for you to get the most out of your 1-on-1s:

1) Set expectations Start by telling your superiors what format you envision the 1-on-1 meeting is going to be. If it is a performance review, inform your supervisors what projects you want to highlight and what issues you want to spotlight. If it is a review on an on-going project, you can share, in pointers, what part of the project you want to focus on ahead of the meeting.

Most importantly, if you want your manager to take the lead, which is typically the case, inform them. If you are feeling confident, you may consider taking the lead too.

2) Align on communication style This is quite similar to setting expectations. Ahead of the meeting, you should align your communication style to maximise its effectiveness. If you desire unfiltered feedback and thus prefer direct modes of communication, let your supervisor know. You can also let them know if you prefer having more context and discussion before proceeding with a chat on action plans.

3) Don’t wing it My toxic trait is thinking that I can “wing” through anything. One year in the workforce has thought me otherwise. Ahead of your 1-to-1 meeting, think of the questions you want to ask! Respect your manager’s time. Do both of you a favour and add these questions into your meeting agenda for a more constructive conversation!

Here are some prompters to help you: a. What are some ways for me to improve as a (job role)? b. How would I be able to manage this project better? c. What are some considerations you reckon I might have missed out on?

4) How do you start? There is no one right way to start a meeting. But should you need a little push and format to help, I found the rose, thorn and bud method to be insightful. With this, you formulate discussion topics based on: Rose: Here’s where you highlight a small win or success; it’s always great to start the meeting on a positive note. You may also earn some brownie points by attributing some success to your manager. (“I took your advice on (context) and managed to (outcome)”). Thorn: Then, proceed to explain a challenge you encountered and require help and support. Come up with some potential solutions and have your managers weigh their opinions on them. These solutions may not be the right one for the taking, but they help convey your proactiveness in brainstorming solutions. This is usually the meatiest section. Bud: This is where you tell your manager about a new idea you have or something you are looking forward to knowing more about or to try working on.

5) Take notes! 1-on-1 meetings are still meetings. Be diligent and take minutes so you know what the updates and solutions are, when to follow up, as well as have clarity when reviewing your work and chart out your progress.

This story was first published on Singapore National Co-operative Federation.

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