Strong mentors: The secret weapon of savvy SME owners

The next step is to help employees at all levels in the company find mentors that they can engage with. While small, tight-knit teams can be brilliant for tackling seemingly insurmountable challenges, it can present a real challenge for workers who need a fresh point of view, or to stress-test new ideas that might be controversial. 

I’m often asked my thoughts on those fostering the best mentoring relationships with women – particularly as women represent a minority in startups and in the tech sector overall. 

Personally, I’m a mentor to several women, as well as men. I believe the success of the relationship depends on chemistry and a commitment on both sides. You both have to share a common professional passion, of course, but there has to be a genuine personal connection as well. And in this regard, the gender of a mentor is secondary. 

It’s important to acknowledge that we all need different mentors for different stages of our careers. Smaller organisations are often fast-evolving, so getting multiple perspectives and facilitating a range of mentors for individuals is particularly important in helping employees adapt and thrive in a changing business.

A mentor can also help people shed a new light on the most challenging issues – whether it’s a professional short-coming or a business problem that requires a tough decision. According to mentoring guru David Carter, a mentor’s “passionate disinterest” in your business is something consultants or internal conversations with colleagues just can’t offer. 

When creating a more formal mentoring programme it’s important to keep in mind that mentors aren’t there to replace training, or to teach hard skills. But they can help give people the insights to focus on key areas for professional development as well as practical advice such as thriving in a particular role, sharpening business strategy or growing a business.

It’s important to note that a mentor is not there to do the “heavy-lifting”, but instead to help people make more informed, better decisions. Think of the mentor like a personal trainer, imparting advice for self-improvement which helps the mentee get better outcomes.

I think it’s fair to say that mentoring is a “no-brainer” for smaller organisations, whether it’s the owner of a start-up looking for the essential guidance they need to ensure a decent night’s sleep – or for more established small businesses looking to empower teams to succeed no matter how quickly the business is evolving. 

Let’s hope that in a few years, the statistics around big business’ commitment to mentoring are mirrored in smaller companies too.

Chris Ciauri is senior vice president for Salesforce EMEA.

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