Starting a mentorship program

After co-leading the design org for a few months, we decided it was time to start a mentorship program. We had heard from several people that they wanted to learn from others within design, especially people they don’t get a chance to work with day-to-day. We decided to take a more informal and lightweight approach so we could test this out without too much overhead. Here’s where we landed and how we announced this to the designers:

Mentorship Pilot Program

We are proposing trial running a volunteer-based mentoring program for designers, where people can sign up as either mentors or mentees. Each cycle will run for three months and each pairing will be structured around a goal determined by the mentee (eg. “I want to prepare for giving a talk at a conference,” “I want to develop my prototyping skills,” “I want to be a better manager,” “I want to gain subject-matter knowledge about CMS systems”). How often the mentor and mentee meet will be up to the pair, but 1:1s twice a month are recommended.

At the end of the cycle, mentees and mentors will post a short, internal write-up detailing what each side learned during their time working together. You may also consider posting this publicly on our site automattic.design. The mentor/mentee pairing can choose to continue together for additional cycles if they mutually desire to do so.

If this pilot program is successful, we will open it up to the rest of the company. 

Why a mentoring program?

One of the difficulties a distributed work environment presents is that it becomes hard to understand where skill and subject matter expertise lies in an org for designers to go to when they want to learn from others. This lightly formalized structure allows us to match up people across all the design teams at the company with one another to encourage collaboration and growth in ways that might not happen organically.

Kicking off

A call for volunteers for both those wishing to be mentored, and those wishing to be mentors is now open for January – March (Q1) of /YEAR. Please submit by /DATE. 

First, talk to your Design Director or team lead. Let them know about your interest in the program, and if you’re going to proceed, keep them informed about the cadence you decide upon once you’re paired with a mentor/mentee. (Choose whether you’d like to be a mentor or a mentee, not both.)

Mentees will be asked to outline what they want their focus for the quarter to be centered on, so an appropriate mentor can be matched to them. If a good mentor match isn’t found from volunteers, we will approach designers in the org who might have the needed experience and interests to be a strong mentor for the mentee.

Notes for Mentors

  • Being a mentor doesn’t mean you have all the answers all the time. Be open to guiding mentees through challenges that might be new to you as well, and use it as an opportunity to develop your own skills at the same time.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. Make sure you can devote the necessary time to a mentee on top of your other work/management duties, and clearly communicate your availability with your mentee.

Notes for Mentees

  • Have a focus in mind. Timeboxing and having a clear achievement for the end of your cycle will make it easier for you relationship with your mentor to be focused and productive. Help them help you. 
  • Think of your mentor as your guide to help you reach one particular goal. They are not your manager.

Wrapping up each round

At the end of this cycle, mentors and mentees will write a post detailing what they learned in their respective ends of the process.

Leave a Reply