What Katy Did…
Early in my career I was fortunate to be able to join a structured mentoring programme. This was where I was linked up with someone else in the organisation to be my mentor for an agreed period of time. This person was not necessarily more senior, but with the skills to take an interest in my development needs and provide support and challenge outside of line management arrangements. I was paired with Katy for about two years before we both moved jobs, but during that time she helped me in a number of ways. In an early, terrifying, example, she observed a number of meetings I chaired and then gave me some tips on improving and then came back and observed what changes I’d made. Thinking back to the guidance she gave me then, I think she may be disappointed if she observed my team meetings, but there are things that we worked on that still live with me strongly now.
Anyway, the most significant thing I feel that came out of that period of being mentored by Katy was where we went through something called Career Anchors. I didn’t look into the theory at the time, but according to Google, this comes from someone called Edgar Schein. The Career Anchor process attempts to help you identify the things that are important to your view of life and then challenges you to seek out a career path that helps you align with those. The anchors Schein identifies are:
• General Managerial
• Entrepreneurial Creativity
• Service/Dedication to a Cause • Pure Challenge
The assessment process I used had a number of questions — no four-box grids to be seen anywhere, which is probably why Schein wasn’t mentioned at all when I did my MBA a number of years later. I did the process at the point where I could see my career moving away from writing code and further into management. If I’m honest, I felt pretty sad about that at the time — a betrayal to all I thought I held dear (but not quite as bad as moving into Sales). However, the Career Anchor process helped me identify some scenarios where I realised that the buzz I got out of writing software was not so much about the code itself (Technical Anchor), but the intellectual challenge of getting stuff to work and that feeling of being in the ‘the zone’ (Pure Challenge Anchor). Since then, I’ve worked through the career anchor process with a number of people I’ve mentored and everyone has found it useful. You’ll get some value in doing it yourself, but the real value comes when you are brave enough to share with someone else, who reads what you’ve said and probes some more. It is through that conversation, which can feel uncomfortable at times, that the things that make you tick slowly emerge.
Since that first positive experience, I’ve always sought out a mentor, and I reckon I’ve had three since Katy. They have to be the right person — able to coach and guide, to be a good fit for your stage of career and your personality. Some last longer than others, you outgrow each other or things no longer click, but that’s part of the understanding of the relationship from the off. The key is understanding what you need from that mentoring relationship and seeking a good match. Good luck in finding your first Katy.
[This is an edited version of an article that I originally wrote on the NHS Choices internal blog in February 2016]