Mentoring Through The Decade – Employee Speak

Author: Santhanakrishnan Ramabadran

In continuation to part one, this blog (sequel) aims to elaborate on how the mentor-mentee relationship works across role groups: Individual contributors, leads, and partners/portfolio leaders.

Each section begins with an introduction, followed by personal accounts of our mentors and mentees.

Mentorship: For Individual Contributor Roles

Individual contributor roles tend to have ownership of unambiguous tasks and require turning in high-quality deliverables on time.

At this stage, the mentor-mentee discussions focus on skill development. This involves:
– Highlighting key skills required for the role
– Pointing out gaps, if any, based on inputs from project teams
– Prioritizing key areas (hard skills vs soft skills)
– Suggesting helpful training programs from Tiger Academy

Mentor discussions also serve as safe spaces to raise tricky topics around collaboration issues or aspiration mismatch. For first-time managers, a “two-heads” approach helps in getting a richer perspective.

Contributions:

Me as Mentee (Sivagami Sakthivel):

I have been with Tiger for over 1.5 years. Initially, it was a culture shock for me as my previous organization was much larger and we rarely had access to leadership. At Tiger, the work culture is heavily symbiotic. Our work is recognized and its impact is visible thanks to the flat and collaborative organization. With a culture that enables individual growth, there is always room for improvement, learning, and exploration. This is mainly because of our focus on mentorship.

My mentors have helped me understand my responsibilities better and also acted as a checkpoint on my quality of work. Mentors help me contribute additionally towards the company’s growth, even outside of the half-yearly review cycles. What I like the most about it is that instead of my mentors posing questions that gauge my performance, they just point me in the right direction, thus helping me come up with solutions independently.

Me as Mentor (Ankita Dhar):

For over two years, I have watched my mentees grow into independent creative solvers. This process is enriching for mentors, especially when we see our mentees exceed expectations in areas where they once needed support. When this is followed by accelerated growth, it is just the cherry on the cake. Actionable feedback has been the key to managing competency and perception. Tiger Academy’s customized training programs, blueprints, case studies, and capability documents have guided us all along. The material is all available: we just act as guides.

Areas I focus, while playing a mentor for individual contributors:
– High deliverable quality (be it code, spreadsheets, presentations, or others)
– Deep-dive exploratory data analysis
– Thought process on hypotheses generation
– Storyboarding for visualization
– Attention to detail

Areas I focus, while playing a mentor for Leads:
– Problem discovery & definition
– Analytics Solution Design
– Project Management (#FTE, Effort, Timelines, Timely escalation, Risk & Dependency Mitigation)
– Nuanced Business-to-Analytics Translation & Value Articulation
– Client Expectation Management
– Team Management
– Account Mining Opportunities
– Multitasking, yet not missing any work item

Mentorship – For team leads

Lead roles require an individual to develop simultaneously across multiple competency dimensions:

– Sustaining (and building on) technical competencies acquired in prior roles
– Sharpening their ability to
   a) translate business problems to relevant hypotheses that can be explored through data, and define an executable solution blueprint, and
b) translate back from a technical solution to impact on business & financial metrics to the point that a mentee is able to independently perform these activities on a client project.
– Mastering program management competencies (project, team, client, and quality management), which help in balancing the many aspects of keeping a project on track.

Clearly, that’s a handful to juggle so the mentor-mentee exchanges metamorph into a coach-student equation. Anecdotal memoirs of the mentors’ transition from individual contributors to leaders help mentees understand the importance of letting go (vs micromanaging) but also know enough to dive in when necessary.

Contributions:

Me as Mentee (Nivas Athimoolam):

When I joined Tiger Analytics, I knew little about mentorship. Having worked in traditional organizations, I wasn’t sure how my mentor would understand and enhance my day-to-day contributions.

The answer lies in “Transparency”. Mentorship at Tiger is largely shaped by how transparent feedback is collected and acted upon. Before joining Tiger, I was managing individual projects. Now, I oversee multiple projects. This huge transition is chiefly because of the collective feedback from my mentor. I had guidance in understanding how much I needed to be involved in the projects and how that would increase the breadth of my portfolio while ensuring that I had enough information to drive them effectively.

Me as a Mentor (Rahul Jain): 

At Tiger, mentors and mentees are more like guides and students. The mentor focuses on learning about the mentee, planning each interaction to continually reflect and evaluate the mentee’s performance. They help the mentee develop newer skills, assume more responsibility, and carve a successful career for themselves. 

The mentee seeks inputs from the mentor about technicalities, challenges, and growth. When nurtured with continuous and open interactions, this relationship matures in meaning. Both mentor and mentee treat each other as ‘humans’, not resources.

Project Managers might keep changing but this is a more consistent relationship. It reflects on the mentee’s career progression, which is monitored with continual trackable feedback. Often, mentees mirror their mentor’s professionalism and problem-solving attitudes.

Mentoring is influential. The positive pay-it-forward culture creates a synergy that makes the relationship rewarding for both. It assures us that the mentor is a capable leader and fulfills us to see mentees improve continually. It’s a great way to hone your leadership skills as it involves interacting with a diverse set of people. Mentors need to break barriers, understand the mentees’ struggles and offer creative suggestions.

This system allows me to be vested in another individual’s growth. This is empowering – like nurturing a plant and watching it spread its roots and shoots and blossom into a beautiful tree. Additionally, it helps me become a better manager and better leader by providing insights on how my team members feel about project duration, redundancies, and long work hours. This is vital for both career progression and for learning about our place in the company’s evolution.

Mentorship – For portfolio leaders

Leadership development is now more about readying up talent to encounter unknowns in a rapidly scaling business. By the time someone starts on a “partner” role, most skills and competencies have been demonstrated, observed, and evolved (some, such as tracking the technology landscape and revenue growth management continue to evolve). Here, the focus is on maintaining consistency at unpredictable scales and complexities.

Mentorship focuses on helping emerging leaders learn to prioritize time across the many things needing their attention, and applying the Tiger Way guidelines (around setting up team structures, governance mechanisms, and managing conflicts) keeping in context the differing needs of each program.

[In understanding organizations & contextualizing actions, I have personally found it helpful to view client businesses as well as our own, through the three lenses – Strategic (future), Political (present), and Cultural (past), that Prof Van Maanen beautifully articulates in this MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar. (Here’s the YouTube link)]

Finally, as leaders tenure in their roles, growing a strong second-line to create a leadership pipeline that could help manage growth, and take up organizational initiatives (practice building) comes into focus too.

Contributions:

Me as Mentee (Harini Shekar):

Thanks to mentorship, I learned several aspects of work and have evolved into a better worker and human. Time management, prioritization, collaboration, and conflict management have helped me deliver consistently at scale. Mentorship helps us mentees become better leaders.

These are some things I learned:
– Self-discipline and single-minded focus towards every task
– Coach second line leads to collaborate more with the team
– Be genuine with praise and encouragement
– Respect every individual’s value addition

Me as a Mentee (Rahul Jain):

The best thing about mentorship for me was the feeling of assurance because my seniors helped me reinforce my strengths and reflect on weaknesses through every phase of my career. Personally, I am also a better person and leader thanks to my mentors. As they aren’t direct managers, their feedback tends to be unbiased and well-rounded.

Since the mentor is at least 2 levels above you, mentees gain knowledge and experience about future organizational goals. Else, they’d be stuck in their project cocoons. I learned new tools, methods, problem-solving tactics, and leadership skills from my mentor’s experiences. I also received career stream guidance and domain switch opportunities.

Employees liberally share concerns about their projects or the organization without fear of repercussions. Mentorship is a proxy for Tiger Culture. Founders are approachable, and employees are treated humanely. This program is an organic extension of Tiger’s personality – openness, learning, and constant improvement being key. Mentorship helps us course-correct continually. The more we reorient roles and responsibilities to individual strengths, the greater the work satisfaction.

Me as Mentee (Soumya Sethuraman):

People are Tiger’s biggest asset. While we are a highly driven team, the sheer variety of projects, technologies, and stakeholders we handle can sometimes be daunting. Mentorship is a primary pillar of support in this respect.

Mentorship at Tiger is reflected in 3 ways.

– Formal: The mentor is typically an experienced senior in the same stream. This gives access to someone who may not be involved in your project but can guide you towards better performance. They also double up as your performance reviewer and are a large part of your journey at Tiger.

– Informal: These are the project, program, and tech leads, managers, SMEs, and Partners who are part of your project or account. The feedback cycle is shorter, accurate, and active. It was a boon in my early years. Now, I have a natural inclination to provide my juniors with regular feedback, pointers, and tips to navigate difficult circumstances, and acknowledge their every day wins – however small or big.

– Leadership: Curated forums help connect juniors with our leaders. This is a great chance to interact, hear their experiences, and gain insights. Leaders spend considerable time listening to our challenges and concerns and providing actionable feedback. Leadership coaching is an emerging formal program and can potentially become another flagship within Tiger.

Conclusion:

As you could see from the personal stories of some of our mentors and mentees, each person perceives and derives a personalized value from the mentorship process. All in all, the goal is the same: an honest, effective way to develop individual careers, and create better versions of ourselves.

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