This is the first article in our two-part series examining developmental relationships in the engineering and construction (E&C) industry. In this installment, we discuss the various types of developmental relationships and provide tips on how to find the perfect partnership.
If you’re ready to develop new skills and/or move forward in your career, then developmental relationships can help you achieve these goals…and more. Mentoring and coaching relationships, for example, provide unprecedented levels of guidance, support and feedback—exactly what you need to achieve success at each stage of your career.
In fact, research has uncovered multiple benefits associated with developmental relationships. When companies provide mentoring and coaching programs for their employees, for example, performance improves.[1,2] And the benefits extend to the employee as well – those who have a mentor at work are better paid, more likely to be promoted and happier with their jobs than those who lack mentors. And individuals who work with coaches not only gain new knowledge and skills but also post higher levels of job satisfaction. 
However, not all developmental relationships are the same, which is why it’s important to review your options before jumping in. The types of relationships are:
- Informal Mentoring. The most common type of developmental relationship is an informal mentoring relationship in which a more experienced individual provides advice and guidance to a less experienced individual. These relationships form naturally as the mentor shares his or her experiences and insights with a more junior colleague, and he or she typically focus on the mentee’s career development.
- Mentoring Programs. Some companies offer formal mentoring programs that pair up junior and senior employees. Much like an informal mentoring relationship, the mentor provides guidance and support, but the company may provide a timeline and objectives for the relationship (as well as support in matching leaders with mentors intentionally).
- Coaching. The most structured form of developmental relationship, coaching involves certified professionals who guide employees as they develop the specific skills and abilities. Using powerful questions and a rigorous self-discovery and skill growth approach, coaching incorporates a contract with a predefined timeline and set of objectives to drive leader growth that is aligned with business goals.
The type of relationship you pursue largely depends on what is available at your company; not all organizations sponsor formal programs. In fact, FMI’s “2017 Talent Development Survey” found that only 29% of E&C firms use coaching or mentoring as a strategy for developing their employees. If your company does offer a coaching or mentoring program, it can be an excellent opportunity to develop your leadership skills in a structured and intentional way. Coaches can offer expertise on the individual development process, while mentoring programs pair you with individuals who understand the specific challenges of your role or company.
Taking the First Step
If you are interested in formal coaching or mentoring opportunities, speak with your supervisor to find out what program your organization offers. Tell your supervisor that you are interested in continuing personal development and would like to take advantage of any programs or opportunities that are offered. Not only will this help you find the information you’re seeking, but it will also display your initiative and desire to grow.
In addition to taking advantage of formal programs (or in lieu of them, if your company does not offer them or if you have not been selected to participate in one), informal mentoring relationships can serve as a valuable developmental resource. Because these relationships form organically, they often come with a feeling of camaraderie that structured programs lack. When you form the right bond with a mentor, these relationships can last years or even decades.
However, relationships with trusted mentors can be difficult to build. Here are a few steps you can take to identify and develop potential relationships:
- Start small. Meaningful relationships take time to build, and they rarely begin with a concerted end goal in mind. Rather than looking for an all-encompassing mentor, look for someone who can lend expertise and guidance on specific tasks or functions. Ask basic questions and gauge people’s interest in helping you develop your skills. The best mentors are the ones who will be eager to provide support over time.
- Find relationships in creative places. Don’t just look to your manager to serve as your sole mentor – branch out! Building a diverse network you can rely on will ensure that you always have someone to turn to for support when you encounter a new situation. Build relationships with your peers, coworkers in other departments and colleagues that work at other companies. You never know when you may need to reach out for advice or guidance that falls within someone else’s area of expertise.
- Give as much as you take. No mentor wants to feel like you are using him or her as a tool to get ahead. Mentoring should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Offering to provide support on projects, sharing your own personal expertise, or even just lending an ear when your mentor wants to talk can be helpful. In order for a mentoring relationship to endure, the relationship must be rewarding for both people.
Regardless of the type of developmental relationship you select, be sure to consistently invest time and energy into maintaining the connection. Solicit the necessary guidance and feedback, and then put your coach’s or mentor’s recommendations into action. Development requires dedication, and to make progress, you will need to put in the work to get there. In part two of this series, we will explore specific changes you can make to maximize your coaching or mentoring relationship.
http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-10572-010  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joop.12119  https://www.fminet.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/TalentDevelopmentSurvey_FINAL.pdf  https://www.fastcompany.com/3052068/8-successful-people-share-how-not-to-find-a-mentor