Or, Types of mentees and how to approach them so you’ll achieve the best outcome.
Hi! We are Tal Atzmon and Benny Reich, and we are two freakishly proud mentors! We joined Product League as mentors the minute Moriya Kassis launched it, on Oct 2017. Product League is a unique 4-months long mentoring program, where product managers with at least 2 years of PM experience, have a chance to be mentored by experienced product managers from the Israeli tech community and recently, from around the world.
The Rookie Product Manager
Being a product manager is, at its bottom line, the aim to bring continuous value to your company’s customers. It sounds simple, but behind the scenes, it’s a struggle between keeping yourself and the team focused on the greater strategy and, making sure to keep a fast pace of execution.
It’s a daily juggling between gathering customers feedback, planning the future roadmap, orchestrating the upcoming release along with other stakeholders (R&D, marketing, sales, customer success, and growth), performing continuous tests, measuring KPIs and drawing conclusions while always being innovative and thinking about new great ides.
We probably forgot a few tasks, but you get the picture. And trust us, this challenge is hard on any product manager. But when you are only a few years into the trade, this challenge is even harder, and you better not deal with that by yourself.
Here come the mentors!
Out of this need, Product League was founded to bridge the knowledge gap between veteran and freshman product managers and giving the two an opportunity to grow, together.
With that goal in mind, successfully matching a mentor and a mentee is a hard task!
It’s not a one size fits all.
The program harnesses machine learning algorithm (oh yeah, we just love tech buzzwords) to match and pair a mentor to a mentee — a veteran product manager who’s going to guide and inspire a less experienced one, for 4 months.
As mentors, our primary objective is to listen intently and along with the mentees, realize what should be the best solution to their challenge. It sounds simple, but mentees come in different shapes, which is awesome because patterns are boring. However, sometimes this cookie is tough to crack.
Each mentee comes from a different background and has different needs. Mentees sign up to the program because they recognize that they have difficulties, but they don’t necessarily know how to express it. For the past three batches, we have encountered a few types of mentees and used a unique approach to help each one of them. This is their story.
This mentee prefers to hold the mentor/mentee session over a phone call or via Skype. We guess that there may be exceptional circumstances where having a remote mentoring session is inevitable, but it’s a bad practice in the long-run. A face-to-face meeting allows the mentor to better read or asses the situation. Body language and emotions are the keys to determining the cause or the source of the problem the mentee experiences.
If remote mentoring is your only viable option, momentum and regular meetings are very important. It is better to have video calls scheduled in advance, set to take action in time and place where both you and the mentee are in a relaxed environment. In a remote session, it is even better to choose the topic the mentee wants to talk about in advance. You can find more advice in the face-to-face vs. remote mentoring post included in the Product League’s blog.
The Do-My-Job Guy
Mentee: “Can we work together on my _________________ ?”
Fill in the blank: (1) market research; (2) upcoming sprint; (3) product roadmap; (4) KPIs.
The answer is (and should always be) No.
Product League was not designed to be a tutoring program. The mentor is not supposed to do the mentee’s job. After all, their time is expensive. Literally.
The alternative approach can be:
Mentee: “I completed the market research, but I feel that my insights are not conclusive. How do I nail down my early adopters?”
See the difference here?
With such a mentee it is vital to clarify that you are a mentor and not a consultant. You usually need to try and challenge them to think one level above the problem they came with. For example, they may come with a request that you help them plan the roadmap. And while discussing it, you will find out that what they really need help with is managing their stakeholders’ expectations. It may be helpful to give this mentee a small task that breaks their problem into smaller pieces from which you can squeeze insights together with them.
The Career Changer
The mentee realizes that they are stuck in a company or a position that doesn’t fit them anymore and they are looking for a new PM position. In this case, the mentoring session is usually entirely around what is needed to move to the next step.
With such a mentee it is critical to help them understand why they feel stuck and what does not work for them. If they really want to progress and make the most out of the next opportunity, it is essential that they understand what works for them in the current position and what they are missing. All, so they can learn from the situation or at least focus their search, correctly.
Will meet you face-to-face. A few days later will ask for a short phone call or a chat over WhatsApp. Each conversation is very actionable.
Their great engagement with the process along with their active approach is proving their trust of you as a mentor. We will be happy to meet and discuss with them, as often as they want, as long as our busy schedule afford us to.
With such a mentee it is usually essential to help them focus their thoughts and do some initial work before approaching you. While their trust is very flattering, it is our job to balance between mentoring them and helping them find the mentor within themselves.
The “I Don’t Know What to Ask You” Fellow
Maybe they have a problem that is not painful enough (=not worth solving).
Maybe they are embarrassed to ask, although we all know that any question is legitimate. Who knows.
With such type of a mentee, it is crucial to invest time figuring out together what should you work on. Indeed, it is tempting to work on the daily challenges they bring. But if we don’t manage to help our mentees to find something more strategic to work on, we are often missing the point.
The “It Looked Interesting” Buddy
This mentee joined the program because it looked interesting. They are not sure at all why they need mentoring.
Similar to the previous type, the major work with them is to find what they need mentoring.
The “Too Busy” Fellow
With this mentee, it is tough to set up a meeting. They don’t understand that to develop a mentorship relationship and achieve success in it, they need to invest. This is why they always cancel the meetings, saying they have to manage the product backlog instead.
Sometimes the only advice that can be given to them is that if they don’t put the effort to learn, their plan for career progress will never happen. And they may just get stuck managing the product backlog, again.
The “Where Is the Manual” Gal
Super excited and willing to do whatever it needs to be done to make this relationship work. However, don’t know how to make it work and ask for a very detailed explanation of how-to-be-a-mentee. These mentees have the best intentions, but they forget that a mentoring program is not school-for-grownups.
With such mentees, the most important thing is to create a relaxed atmosphere. They might be perfectionists, but our job is to help them understand that there is no manual. It is definitely OK to find the relationship that works for you together.
The “I Don’t Want to Bother You” Guy
The super nice, maybe too-nice mentee is in constant worrying to bother their mentor with too many questions. This mentee has to be reminded that the mentor signed up for this kind of a relationship and that everything is A-OK.
With these mentees, you as a mentor may need to be the initiator side. E.g., ask them leading questions in a session or ask how they are doing outside the meeting.
Summing-up our take
People come in all shapes and colors. So are mentors and mentees.
And when it comes to mentoring, it is crucial that both sides understand the operating system of the other (this is actually good advice for life, on any interaction).
Make sure the sessions are focused on mentoring and helping the mentee grow instead of fixing the current problem they have. Mentoring, like product management, is a long-term game.
We would love to start a discussion with you in the ‘Response’ section below. 👇🏻
We love you guys ❤️ Let’s do this!