It might seem like an unusual topic but the way you organize your workspace may say more about your personality than you think. Look around at yours right now. Is it perfectly neat or does it have a more “lived-in” look? Do you display personal mementos? Or prefer plain walls? Do you hang professional certificates and awards? Or have you designated a drawer for items of organizational recognition? Whether you share cubicle space, work remotely from a corner of your home or are tucked inside a private office with a door, your work space paints a picture of your personality and working style. To make sure your desk is saying what you want it to say about you, we will share some ideas for organizing and personalizing your space: Communicate Power and Efficiency with a Clean Workspace If you are interested in communicating power and having command of your workload, keep your space open and streamlined. Declutter your desk by getting rid of things you don’t need. Go paperless if possible; scan important documents and file them electronically on your desktop. Pick one spot for digital devices, cords, and chargers. Keep in mind some clutter is virtual, like the clutter of icons on your desktop. Having too many icons may make it difficult to find things quickly and can even slow down your computer. De-clutter your desktop frequently. Encourage Openness by Sharing Your Friendly and Unique Flair There are a couple of ways to add some personality to your workspace and express to your colleagues that you are an outgoing and interesting person with a happy life inside and outside of work. For example: 1. Pick the perfect wall calendar: A wall calendar makes it easy to reference dates and double-check commitments without always having to pick up your smart phone. Pick something that reflects your interests or aesthetics. Run a search on Etsy, check out a local stationary store, visit your favorite museum’s gift shop, or even make your own on Snapfish (or other photo website) with pictures from your phone or social media accounts. 2. Display 3-5 photos: Of course, you don’t want to clutter your desk with pictures from college or a wild summer barbeque, but just a few photos of a beloved pet, family members, or a scene from a recent vacation are great conversation-starters and can make you feel happy throughout the day. 3. Curate a small collection of your favorite things: If you love poetry books or collect Star Wars memorabilia, displaying just a few of those items in your office communicates that you have rich interests and a unique personality. Establish Stability and Harmony With their dreary corners and humming equipment, offices can feel at once hectic and stale. To brighten things up and balance the environment, add simple flourishes from the Chinese study of dynamic energy flow by adding a bit of Feng Shui: 1. Air-purifying plants: Low-maintenance is a must. Try cacti, spider plants, jade, or peace lilies, which do not require full-sun or daily watering. 2. Ion-neutralizing Himalayan salt rock: Believed to counteract positive ions produced by your computer and smart phone, many are outfitted with small lights that emit a peaceful glow. 3. Happy family photos: Communicate that you are a family-oriented person who treasures and draws support from your loved ones. Curate them into nice frames in a single spot. 4. Small mirror behind your desk: Ideally, your desk should face the door so that you see everyone who passes or enters. If that furniture layout is not possible, place a small mirror next to your computer so that you can see behind you, eliminating any feelings of uneasiness. 5. Desk lamp: natural light is the best alternative to Narsh fluorescent lighting in an office, but a small task lamp also produces a calming light. Demonstrate that You Are Organized and On Top of Details There is more to being “on top” of your projects than simply having completed them. Being able to communicate to your supervisor where your projects are in the process and reporting critical details will make you feel more confident about your workload and sound competent to your team leaders. For this reason, having an inbox and an outbox is not enough to encapsulate the middle of projects. Engineer a three-step routine at your desk that will make it easy for you to touch each project on your plate daily and report back on them concisely: 1. File: Create a master list for each project, either as a hanging file or electronic list or both. In it, take the time to break your project into a series of smaller tasks. It will make your work seem less overwhelming but also give you the freedom to take on easier tasks on already busy days. 2. Board: You can hang a simple wipe-off board or download an online task board like Trello, to color-code tasks according to priority level and move them through the process from “start” to “submitted.” 3. Tray: Take a day, weekly or bi-weekly to review progress against the project plan. Is the deadline still manageable? Will you have enough resources? Flag any issues and place them in a tray on your desk so that you remember to raise them with your supervisor or team leader. Taking the time to situate your desk will demonstrate competence in your job but can also make you feel more content and satisfied while you’re sitting there! Ask a Mentor!Your mentor has seen a lot of desks in their professional lifetime. Talk to them about what they like to see and what irks them. Here are some possible questions you might ask: Who has the neatest office space you can think of? What stands out most about it? What are the challenges you face when trying to feel at home and satisfied with your own office space? Do you have any personal items hanging in your office? Organizational certificates? What is an absolute must for you to feel productive when sitting at your desk? What is your pet peeve when you look into someone else’s office?
"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll—Alice in Wonderland. Creating a practical plan for a mentoring relationship starts with building your vision. What do you hope to get out of a mentoring partnership? Providing clear descriptions of where you are going with your career will in turn help identify mentors who can optimize this journey. This vision then serves as the basis for developing a plan. But oftentimes, we find ourselves thinking, "I’m not sure where I want to go,” or "I don’t know what I don’t know,” or "Where do I start?” Lewis Carroll provides the idea for the first tip, and we’ll add a few more to get you started: Begin at the beginning. It matters not where you are in your career; you had a starting point—a beginning. Most likely, that beginning had a job description, and you might even have had some career goals at that time. Check that description, those goals, and review what you’ve accomplished. As you check things off your list, what remains can be used as a new beginning for revealing your vision. Your performance reviews can also provide insight into your strengths along with areas needing improvement. Put aside any personal feelings you might have about them and use them as a starting point—a beginning. Uncover opportunities. Review your job description (or perhaps one for another job of interest) to identify the competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities required. Again, be objective. Which of these items can you check off your list, and which could you use some help improving? Perhaps you want to explore other career opportunities. If so, use similar resources to identify job elements that match your skills to give your exploration a starting point. Look at your strengths and talents. Ask yourself if your natural talents are being used to their fullest potential. Are there opportunities to showcase your talents? How can you let others know that you would like to help out by applying your strengths and talents to their needs? Uncover blind spots. Don’t worry about what you don’t know; start with what you do know that will point you towards areas and topics you want or need to learn more about. Ask for help. One of the best ways to uncover blind spots is to ask your supervisor, manager, co-workers, or even someone you supervise for specific and useful feedback. "What am I doing that is holding me back?” or "What could I do to manage you better?” Write down those growth opportunities and thoughts until you finish with what you know. Before you know it, you’ll have the building blocks you need to create your mentoring plan.
There’s power in a pause. A pause can come in many different forms – the pause for summer or holiday break, the pause of a good night’s sleep – even the visual “pause” of the white space a graphic artist might use as a design element. But interestingly enough, one of the most powerful pauses can come in the form of a simple pause in a conversation. All excellent listeners are masters of the pause. They are comfortable with silences. When the other person finishes speaking, they take a breath and relax before saying anything. They know that the pause is a key part of good communications. Pausing before speaking or responding has many benefits, including: 1. Avoiding the risk of interrupting the speaker if he or she has just stopped to gather his or her thoughts. One of the pillars of good communication is building trust - and active listening does just that. When pausing for a moment before responding in a conversation, the speaker will often continue speaking. He or she will be sharing additional information and insight which greatly improves the chances that your response will speak directly to the points the speaker is trying to convey. 2. Showing you are giving careful consideration to what the speaker has just said. By carefully considering the other person’s words, you are paying him or her a compliment by giving them the gift of attention and contemplation. You are implicitly saying that you consider what he or she has said to be important and worthy of quiet reflection. You can often give the speaker a feeling of value with your silence, raising their self-esteem and confidence in the process. 3. Giving you, the listener, time to actually hear, absorb and understand the speaker more fully. The more time you take to reflect upon what has just been said, the more conscious you will be of their real meaning. You will be more alert to how the speaker’s words connect with other things you know about them, increasing your ability to craft your response with a more holistic approach that takes into consideration many factors. And pausing isn’t just useful for listeners, it can be a powerful tool for a speaker as well: 1. The easiest way to pause effectively is to use the moment of silence to take a deep breath. A deep breath sends oxygen to the brain, which can help a speaker to be more functional and alert, think more clearly and even reset the timbre and tone of voice. A deep breath can also calm nerves – which tend to result in speakers talking too quickly and breathlessly, which becomes a vicious cycle. A pause for a deep breath can break this cycle. 2. Pausing increases credibility. A pause suggests a speaker is thinking about what they are about to share. It requires a tremendous level of confidence to purposely pause during a presentation, as there is enormous pressure to talk continuously when in front of a group. Inserting periodic pauses when communicating with others, or when presenting to a group, will convey a level of composure, poise and confidence – it’s also an effective tool for grabbing or refocusing attention. 3. A pause can substitute for those “filler” words – the "you know," "um," "ah," "like," "so," "whatever" – words that add no value and, when repeatedly uttered, will distract your listeners. The secret to eliminating filler words is to use a pause instead. This sounds simple, but it's not always easy and will likely take practice and diligence. But the results will be well worth the investment.
The practice of mindfulness has been around for centuries, dating back to 500 B.C. as an integral element in Buddhist teachings. It has been woven into many cultures and philosophies since then, and made its way into American considerations in 1979 via the efforts of Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Over the years, Kabat-Zinn and others have helped mindfulness grow in popularity, partly by playing down the religious and philosophical elements that often turn off prospective practitioners, and focused on its potential to help people reduce stress and increase focus on everyday tasks. A quick internet search generates a plethora of books and articles on the subject. They all center on the same core premise that practicing mindfulness involves learning how to be more aware of what is going on around you in the present moment. And a key element in every approach is making an intentional effort to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without passing judgement or making commentary. Many resources teach you to implement mindfulness techniques into your daily life, and how the practice can improve physical and emotional health as well as improve relations with friends, family, and co-workers. Some resources delve into diet, exercise, and leveraging everyday opportunities to practice awareness. So how do you choose which path is right for you? Start with your own search and tug on the threads that catch your eye. Are you interested in the roots of mindfulness as they relate to Buddhist teachings and the practice of Vipassana and Metta meditation? Or do you just want to learn a few exercises that can help reduce stress and improve focus? Perhaps you are interested in recent studies conducted that show the science behind the potential benefits of practicing mindfulness. Learning more about practicing mindfulness can benefit mentoring partnerships in at least two ways. First, it can help partners discover ways to be more in tune with their mentoring moments, and more aware and present for each other during their meetings. Second, partners can explore the topic together, identifying things about practicing mindfulness that they share an interest or curiosity in.
6 Keys To Building High Performing Teams A high performing team is not just a group of people who have learned to cooperate with one another. True teams share a common, compelling mission and capitalize on the uniqueness that each team member brings to the table. High performing teams create a culture that values people and clearly defines the character and behavior the team strives to achieve. These organizational philosophies vary from place to place and working toward a common purpose is critical to the team’s success. Ask any manager what they look for most when hiring a candidate, and they will likely tell you it is the ability to be an effective team player. High performing teams hold themselves accountable at both the individual and team level. Team members count on each other to complete assigned tasks with a standard of quality within an agreed upon time frame. Individual team members are the key to overall team success. In order to become a high performing team, each team player must participate fully by committing to the following guiding principles: 1. Define clarity of purpose and set expectations When all members of the team have one common goal, it is much easier to assign tasks and establish timeframes and deadlines. Clear and direct expectations sharpen the focus and lessen the chance for division among the team. Commit to cooperation and thoughtful consideration of other members Strong and successful teams are not only cooperative, but considerate. It is perfectly fine for a team member to make an alternate suggestion provided it is presented in a way that is constructive and positive. The focus should always be on the project, not the person, so any and all new ideas should be encouraged for the betterment of the project. If those ideas are not implemented, team members know not to take it personally. Embrace the collective Highly effective teams understand that every member brings specific technical and interpersonal skills to a task or project. What may be the best role for a person on one project, may not be the most optimum role in another. Accept feedback from all members of the team but understand the specialized talents certain members of the team possess and get the most out of those talents. Build camaraderie The best way to tighten the bonds of the team is to lift its members. If there is a common respect among all team members, these differences can be used as advantages. Acknowledge acts of kindness, jobs well done and great ideas. Navigate the team’s values with integrity Strong values ensure a positive, productive and ethical working environment. Values are the emotional rules that guide behavior, attitudes and actions. Although values are generally slow to change and strongly held, they actually define the character and culture the organization strives to possess. Each team member should clearly understand their level of empowerment, decision-making authority and team norms. For example, your personal standard might be to respond to an email within 24 hours. But, if the team’s collective behavior places a high-premium on work-life balance, you may want to send that email on Monday morning rather than disrupting team members by sending it on a Friday night. Celebrate success and commemorate the journey When a great project has been successfully completed, it is important for all members to celebrate. A casual get together can strengthen the bonds of the team members and gives them even more motivation to successfully complete their next task! Conclusion High performing teams hold themselves accountable at both the individual and team level. Team members count on each other and bring a strong sense of purpose and an internal compass that gives the team what is needed for success. One of the most important (and sometimes the most challenging) contributions you can make to the team is your ability to find balance between your technical expertise, your interpersonal skills and your ability to understand team norms and guiding principles. How do you accomplish these things? Become known as that expert on your team that adds value to the team’s mission and purpose. Build high quality, positive relationships with people at all levels within the team and learn how to quickly put people at ease. And lastly, understand what you value, what the organization values and navigate those values with integrity!
Every generational workforce has brought its own stereotypes and perceptions - and the latest workforce is no different. Millennials – those born 1981 to 2000 – number nearly 90 million of the U.S. population and are now the majority of the workforce. They are considered the “social media” generation and are very tech-savvy. They prefer life experiences over material gains and are marrying later, having kids later, and owning homes later. But millennial employees are still young and have a lot to learn before they become the next wave of leaders. They tend to leave a job earlier than their older colleagues after only a few years unless they have a compelling reason to stay. This is where mentoring programs can play a vital role in the retention of this emerging talent pool. Traditional mentoring relationships aren’t particularly appealing to millennial workers – just as they don’t respond to the same recruiting strategies and have unique and different expectations of their employers - so it’s worth reconsidering how we approach mentoring them. The first step is understanding what’s different about the millennial generation. Millennials are generally regarded as quick learners, are comfortable with change, and incorporate and appreciate creativity in their work life. The following tips will help you mentor, manage and motivate this younger generation: 1. Mutual Respect. If you’ve ever had a tech problem and immediately turned to a millennial for help, then you already know there are just some skills they have more experience with. From social media to cloud storage, concepts that still seem unfamiliar to older generations, millennials are digital natives and technology has almost always been a part of their lives.So, a millennial mentoree will have a considerable amount of tech savvy they can teach their mentor – and they WANT to. If you’re facing an issue, consider bringing your mentoree into the problem-solving process. Ask them what they think is the best option. Don’t be surprised if their answer sheds some much-needed light on the situation. Furthermore, for millennials, honesty is the most important quality in a leader — more so than their vision, confidence, or patience. Even if the truth involves negative feedback, millennials would rather hear it straight. And don’t withhold vital information from them as a learning tool. The adage “you learn more by figuring out the truth for yourself” won’t cut it. In fact, this group will more likely feel betrayed, and it will do more damage than good. Millennials prefer that you save them time and energy by giving them all the information they need up front, so they can properly apply it. 2. Collaboration. Millennials want more than the typical boss-employee relationship where the boss directs and reviews the worker. Millennials crave feedback and collaboration and working with a mentor over the course of 9-12 months can help satisfy this need. Millennials also have seemingly unlimited access to information. They can watch how-to videos on YouTube to learn how to network effectively, and they can follow industry leaders on Twitter to get up-to-date tricks of the trade. But they still need the guidance and the wisdom of experience of a mentor who knows how the organization “really” works. Anyone can write a blog about being successful in business, but that doesn’t make them an expert. Help millennials navigate through it all by connecting them to real-world people and places they can turn to for more advice and tips. Introduce them to collaboration partners in your own network, as well as worthwhile podcasts and insightful articles. That way, you play a role in providing reliable sources to them to gather the information that is right for them. 3. Integrity. Going hand-in-hand with the previous point, as the most collaborative and inclusive generation to date, these young adults expect their place of work to share the same idealism and values they embrace. A recent survey found that 82 percent of millennials who stayed with the same organization for more than five years felt their values aligned with those of the organization. Here’s the thing about millennials: if they’re not happy, they will leave. The Millennial Generation is the most educated generation, meaning they feel secure moving from one job to the next if they are dissatisfied. A perception of knowing what they want and having the confidence to seek it out can be misconstrued as void of agency loyalty. While you don’t need to agree with every opinion they have, a good mentor will show their millennial mentoree how to incorporate his or her values into their work, making the job more meaningful. For example, if a millennial feels strongly about environmental sustainability, encourage them to find ways to help their department incorporate “green” initiatives. Also, take any opportunity to tie those values back to the organization so they can see their personal values at every level of what they do. A strong mentoring program can be an integral element in employee satisfaction and talent retention — particularly with this younger generation which continues to grow. Tailoring mentoring relationships and approaches to workforce needs will keep top-notch employees from moving on!
The office is a dynamic place. Deadlines are in constant motion, work volumes fluctuate, org charts shift and departmental responsibilities change. And that’s just when things are moving along normally. Today, this quick pace is even further compounded by several concurrent trends. For one, we are all navigating a historically robust workforce with as many as five generations working side-by-side in some offices. With our age differences comes different expectations from our social interactions. Also, rapid advances in technology means we regularly need to take time to learn new systems and alternative approaches to productivity, which can be stressful and require us to speak with employees outside of our regular workflow. While the physical workforce is changing, so is the way we work, including flex schedules and more time spent in home offices. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 74% of American workers spend between 1 and 10 hours a week working remotely with either their computer or electronic device. This means less in-person collaboration and more reliance on email to get the job done. Successfully navigating a changing workforce and organizational culture requires a firm foundation in effective communication. Things might feel confusing and hectic at times, but in this newsletter we will share some simple strategies for your written correspondence and face-to-face interactions that will improve your office relationships and set you apart as a competent employee. Five Tips for Communicating Effectively Every interaction in the office is an opportunity for you to both positively impact your projects while also asserting your competence and leadership potential. Here are some tips to remember in your next correspondence or meeting. Share ideas when communicating issues. When explaining a problem to your supervisor, think ahead to some possible solutions. Instead of simply dumping a conflict on their plate, use your critical thinking and decision-making abilities to take the first stab at developing the fix. For example, consider the difference between these two messages: Example A. “I’m stuck on the proposal paperwork. The budget isn’t coming out right. Can you help?” Example B. “I’m having some trouble with the numbers on the proposal paperwork. If we allocate three employees to the project for three months, we’ll go over budget. I wondered about having two fixed employees and asking a third to come on at the very end. Or, instead, we might ask if we can be assigned one of the summer interns.” Be clear and concise. Whether writing emails, leaving voicemails, or speaking in person, steal a page from a newspaper journalist. Share the most important information first. Be direct and clear. Follow-up with the details. With everyone’s inboxes overflowing, assume you will only have the reader’s full attention for the first two sentences. Listen. Remember the old saying, “Listen more than you speak. That’s why you have two ears and one mouth.” Listening is a difficult skill because our brains are busy with ideas and interjections. Practice putting them on hold here and there. When communicating, let the other person finish their thoughts. Intense listening communicates sincerity, trustworthiness, and caring. Drop defensiveness. Things go wrong. Every day. The way you handle those problems speaks volumes about your leadership potential. If your supervisor approaches you with a question about a mistake on the meeting agenda, instead of replying, “That was Briana. I wrote the agenda but Briana was the one who was supposed to be editing it.” Try something like this, “I’m sorry to see that. Would you like for us to distribute a clean copy to the team?” Read communication preferences/styles. We each have different preferences when it comes to communication and decision-making. For example, if your colleague is quiet and reserved try to limit the chatter, write your notes out ahead of time, speak a little quieter and stay focused. Plan your discussion in bullets. Have all the details in hand. Don’t just drop by - plan the meeting in advance so they have time to prepare. Get your emailing skills together As we said, keep your communication clear and concise. This is especially true when it comes to email which - because it is one-sided- can become long-winded and disorganized. Fast Company suggests this brilliant acronym for a well-constructed email: BRIEF. B- Background: Provide some context. R- Reason: Tell them why they should put this issue on their radar. I- Information: Share 2-3 details and consider putting them in bullet form. E- End: Set the tone here. Are you asking for help? Or letting them know you’ve put things on track? F- Follow-up: Consider the kinds of questions the recipient might have and get the answers ready. Shut down your email every once in a while A recent Forbes article discussed the risks of an organizational culture that is completely reliant on technology. They argued that email is too fast, too organized and, that its “effectiveness” can at times be its greatest flaw. Wrapping up our response quickly and streamlining our questions might squash the possibility of discussing what they call “the first whisper of a new idea or potential solution to a problem.” Although face-to-face communication is hard work, can be messy, and leaves us open to being challenged, it’s often how innovation is born. A quick reminder about non-verbal communication What you say is important. But don’t underestimate the impact of what you don’t say. Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate poise and focus without uttering a single word. Check your posture. Both feet flat on the floor, shoulders back, neck straight so that your ears are just over your shoulders. Stop to notice their eye color. When you meet someone, pause to see what color eyes they have- the extra second will communicate your sincerity. Give them a little room. If the person you’re speaking to folds their arms- step back a little. They might be telling you that they need more space. Show that you are calm, pleasant, and optimistic. Plus, smiling makes you feel good.
As a mentoring company, The Training Connection’s mission is all about helping organizations grow and develop by tapping into their most valuable resource – their people. Many of our mentoring programs include shadowing as an integral component – a method of passing on technical and institutional knowledge and expertise, and a valuable developmental experience. And you don’t have to just take our word for it. Thursday, April 26 was “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” – a popular idea intended to get children thinking about their future careers. This kind of cross-generational mentoring can be extremely powerful. But why not take participation to the next level? An idea from the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation is encouraging organizations to include children from housing authorities and shelters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends, granddaughters and grandsons, and more. Often, children find themselves in similar positions as their parents on the social and economic ladder, not due to lack of ability, but from lack of opportunity – or even awareness of options! Given this, the case for exposing kids to a wide variety and type of jobs is pretty clear – and the same can be said for the other side of coin. Teenagers from more advantaged backgrounds often live in a bubble, surrounded by friends, neighbors and fellow students who share similar backgrounds. While we’re at it, why not make it a standing quarterly effort? It’s a great way for organizations to give back – and you never know, you may be inspiring the next tech wizard or design prodigy!
As part of any successful mentoring program, offering participants unique and valuable opportunities for growth is paramount. In their ongoing series of Benchmarking events, the VA ORD mentoring program participants are doing just that by partnering with other organizations to learn about their mentoring programs. Benchmarking is a continuous learning process which involves the sharing of knowledge inside and outside an organization, or among organizations. Through this process, mentored employees can learn how other organizations are implementing mentoring and other programs for positive change. This Benchmarking session was a collaboration between the mentoring programs of the VA ORD and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the Leaders and Learner Mentoring Program (LLMP) which spans a variety of EPA offices and regions. This Benchmarking event was held at the Washington, DC EPA offices and attended by nine VA ORD mentoring participants and the program coordinator, Rebecca Crawford. Brian Twillman, from EPA’s Office of the Administrator, served as the lead presenter and facilitator for EPA, providing a history and broad overview of the EPA’s mentoring efforts and initiatives over the years. Several other EPA LLMP Program Coordinators, including Allen Maples, Lorraine Butler, Lisa Treadwell, Jack Naylor and George Hammer also fielded questions from attendees. Brian kicked off the session with an overview of the EPA LLMP mission, program parameters, funding details and information about the overall diversity of the program participants. Brian also covered EPA LLMP future plans – to build a robust situational mentoring cadre and to further develop supervisory engagement and support. A lengthy and dynamic Q&A period followed, with VA ORD participants asking questions regarding overall employee satisfaction, leadership buy-in, program resources available to participants and program successes. Brian also shared a few best practices for ensuring and sustaining the success of any mentoring program. For example, there must be leadership support and it must be demonstrated and communicated often. Maryann Petrole, a senior executive and champion of the program since its initial launch, attributed the success of the program to “the superb collaboration and teamwork provided by the LLMP Program Coordinators.” She went on to say that, “the LLMP was the best run developmental program in the Agency.” While there must be an attitude of partnership as a skill that can be learned at any level, it is essential that these skills be exemplified and displayed among the program coordinators as it is essential to the ongoing success of the formal program. Bryan Bloomer, an active mentor in the program, also shared that from a supervisor and mentor point of view, “the mentoring program offers a safe place to explore career goals and aspirations, develop relationships of trust, attend networking events and explore organization to enhance engagement and satisfaction.” Finally, two participants from the EPA LLMP provided their testimony regarding their experience as a mentee and a mentor, Patricia Hemmer, a mentee, appreciated being matched with an SES mentor and took full advantage of the program’s resources, to include online tools, trainings and her mentor’s personal availability. Mentor David Meredith, who had just returned from providing hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, said the program structure contributes to its success, with enough latitude to personalize mentoring experience. David also stressed how the DISC assessment has been helpful and has changed the way he interacts with those inside and outside EPA. Two main take-aways from the session debrief that really piqued the interest of the VA ORD mentees: the EPA LLMP allows mentees to repeat participation in the program; and the EPA also has online resource tools that connect participants to available developmental details.
Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits offered by being involved with a mentor is the opportunity to learn pragmatic tips and techniques that can help you do your job better. Certainly, anyone entering into a mentoring relationship does so hoping to improve personally and professionally. Long-term goals, five-year plans, and skills and career development goals all tend to find their way into action plans that help define the bigger learning needs. But what about the microlearning needs? Examining every aspect of your program goals helps shape your plans for navigating a mentoring partnership throughout the program’s course. Addressing these elements helps you identify topics of conversation and potential activities to help you attain your longer-term goals. But wouldn’t it be great to be able to take something back with you from each meeting? Something that you can immediately apply to your job. Some of that just-in-time learning that helps solve a current need so you can be more productive, or more effective at completing your current tasks. Discover the not-so-big-secret by simply paying attention to your day-to-day tasks, and work small bits into your short-term plans: Create a meeting agenda. Your agenda should be a staple element of each meeting with your mentor. When you work on your agenda, include time for discussion on your overall goals, status or follow-up on your current activities, and a little time devoted to strengthening your partnership connection. Now, add a few minutes to mine one small nugget of knowledge from your mentor; something that you can take back to the desk, field, or customer site simply by considering the things you do day-to-day. Focus on one skill you can take back to your job. Think of the “little” things that you do on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Using MS Excel to track progress or calculate project costs, for example. Was there some issue you were having with creating a more effective formula or approach to completing tasks there? Examples of how to improve skills with software tools are endless; and you don’t always need to take a full-fledged class to make gains. Many mentors have skills with a variety of software tools that you are currently using; you could benefit from their experience. The possibilities extend well beyond software tools. Many occupations require the use and application of hardware or technology, some involve developing skills for customer interaction, and every job benefits from improving communication skills. Almost everyone can think of a situation they’ve been in where they wondered, “How do I ask this person something about what I need in the best way possible?” For example, “What’s the best way to ask my supervisor for more responsibility.” “Better feedback on how I am doing.” Or “Help with a troublesome task.” Ask your mentor for advice. Asking for help with something that might seem trivial to you is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of ability or motivation. Certainly, you can do the homework and figure out many issues on your own. But sooner or later, everyone runs into a snag that can be simply resolved by asking someone else for their thoughts. In the end, a little insight often helps resolve a smaller issue that might be holding you back from taking the next step toward a bigger goal, or it might just help you simplify a common task and make your day go just a little bit smoother.