From Membership to Mentorship7 Sep 2023
I’ll always be grateful for the role that mentors have played in my career. One way I’ve tried to express that gratitude is by serving as a mentor myself. Recently, in fact, I signed up to participate in a mentorship program sponsored by the PMI Sioux Empire chapter here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was paired with Eric Folsland, another Sioux Falls resident, who works for a large healthcare organization in the Midwest.
The goal of the mentorship program is to connect members interested in mentoring project professionals who feel they would benefit from engaging on a regular basis with an experienced colleague. Many PMI chapters have similar initiatives.
I recently met with Eric to discuss our mentorship relationship. While I’ve mentored before and have benefited greatly from mentors over the course of my career, this is Eric’s first experience with a formal mentorship relationship. I was interested to learn how Eric might be benefiting from the program. And it was an opportunity for me to think more deeply about the value mentoring has brought to my life – both personally and professionally.
Karla: Welcome, Eric. Thanks for joining me for this discussion on mentorship. I know this is your first experience with mentoring, at least formally. What prompted you to sign up for the program? What were you hoping to gain?
Eric: Thanks, Karla. I’m happy to join this discussion. My motives for joining the program were straightforward. I have a background in IT but have only been in an official project management position now for about three years. The PMI Sioux Empire Chapter mentorship program seemed like a perfect opportunity to grow professionally by connecting with a more experienced project professional. I obviously learn a lot from the people I work with, but I thought there would be value in talking with someone outside my organization and my industry – someone with more varied experience who might expose me to different perspectives and different ways of doing things. It was as simple as that.
Karla: I completely agree. One of my early mentors was a former boss. Whenever I bring a problem to him now – i.e., now that he’s not in my world anymore – he seems to offer ideas that I and my colleagues often don’t see. He brings a fresh perspective, a bird’s eye view of the project that is extremely valuable.
Eric: Yes, I think we talked about that in one of our early meetings when we were laying out our expectations for the program. It’s helpful to be able to surface situations that come up in my job and to seek your experienced advice. Not necessarily to fix the problem. But just to be able to say: have you seen this before? What’s been your experience in similar situations? As you know, I now make notes about things that are happening at work so that I can flag them for you, and we can discuss them when we meet.
Karla: That’s an important best practice. Receiving those notes and questions in advance gives me time to think about my past experiences and gather my thoughts before our conversations. It makes our meetings so much more efficient and productive. I’ve also gotten into the habit now of keeping notes on our discussions so that I can catalogue topics that might be useful in other mentoring conversations. For example, you recently asked whether I had experience picking up a project mid-way through its implementation. I had to stop and think when was the last time that happened to me. Then after we talked, I went back and documented the process in my notes. As it happened, I was able to use the same information shortly afterward with another mentee.
Eric: The other thing I feel has been helpful – beyond discussing specific work situations – is to talk about broader ideas that expand my knowledge of project management. In some cases, for example, I’ve read about a particular methodology, but I’m not familiar with how it works or when to use it. We’ve been able to discuss those topics, and you’ve also pointed me to different PMI courses or resources that have helped fill those knowledge gaps. For example, I’ve now taken a few agile courses, and you’ve pointed me to resources for enhancing my relationship with stakeholders by developing my power skills.
Karla: You know, it works the other way too. I’ll surface ideas for our discussion based on things that are happening in my job. I think the discussion about power skills, for example, came about because I had just given a presentation on relationships.
Eric: Yes, and our discussion about change management resulted from a training that I had just had at work. I was interested in how you incorporated change management tools your projects.
Karla: I hope to have a follow-up discussion on that topic soon because I’m going for my Prosci change management certification shortly. I should have more insights to share once I’ve completed the certification.
Eric: I look forward to it. But would you mind if I flip roles for a moment and ask what benefits, if any, you derive from mentoring me? Are the benefits all one sided in favor of the mentee? If I were to become a mentor at some point, for example, what benefits might I expect from the relationship?
Karla: It’s interesting that you ask about flipping roles. Have you noticed that there have been a couple of occasions when you’ve been the mentor and I’ve been the mentee? Recently, for example, I was asked to address the question of how introverts can go about expanding their network. I think we realized early on that I’m an extrovert and you’re an introvert. So, I, the mentor, came to you, the mentee, for advice. You shared some of your strategies, and I plan to include them when I speak again about the importance of finding your community.
Eric: I was happy to oblige. That experience gave me a little taste for mentoring.
Karla: I’ve gained another important benefit from our relationship – something that’s a bit unique to my role as North America Regional Operations Manager within PMI: You lend me another set of eyes and allow me to see PMI offerings through the lens of a relatively new community member. If you’re not familiar with a particular PMI offering, that tells me I have more work to do to help other new members learn about it. Your input helps me think through strategies to deepen our impact on practitioners.
Eric: That’s interesting. I’ve also benefited from your role within PMI. You’re aware of so many resources. You’ve shared a lot of that knowledge with me, and I’ve learned about many new opportunities – free PMI events, for example, or new courses, or useful materials.
Karla: And I love when you give me feedback on those resources. We can create new offerings for our members, but you actually consume those offerings. Then we talk about your experience, and your input helps me do my job better. But now, as we close out this post, Eric, do you have any final words about the value of mentorship?
Eric: One of the things that mentorship has taught me is that knowledge is best filtered through people. There’s always something to learn from others. And there’s always going to be value in connecting with people, either officially or informally, to gain knowledge and be more effective in your job. So, whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, I would say give mentoring a try. You have nothing to lose.
Karla: Thanks, Eric. I couldn’t agree more. Mentoring reminds me of where I started in project management and the valuable role that mentors have played in my career. I talk about Bossler, my former boss and an early mentor, in all my speaking engagements. He taught me the power of “finding my people.” That’s so important today, especially since so many of us work remotely. And, if you’re lucky, mentorship allows you to make connections beyond knowledge sharing. Several of my mentors and mentees have become good friends. One of the things I’ve valued most about this program is that I’ve gotten to know you, Eric, and your family. We’ve bonded over having teenagers and trying to figure out the best places to vacation. If nothing else, I know that I now have a new friend in Sioux Falls.
Eric: Thanks, Karla. I’ve been very thankful for this opportunity and what I’ve learned from you. I’ve also tried to give back at work, where we’re now pairing new employees with more experienced managers. I’m now the go-to person for a new employee, and I’m helping her acclimate to her new environment. It’s an informal program, but, who knows, maybe it will lead me to taking on a more formal mentoring role at some point.
Karla: I think you’d make a great mentor, Eric. And I agree with your advice to give mentoring a try – whether formally or informally. There are many mentoring opportunities out there. All you really must do is keep your eyes open and reach out.