Micro-mentoring in practice: why the “micro”?

Its not just that all things “micro”  are in vogue (though we do like the term for this reason too). But there is a real problem we are seeking to overcome by emphasising the “micro” when it comes to mentoring.

Breaking down a big project or challenge into smaller tasks helps to make them more manageable. More importantly, it also fundamentally changes the type and availability of help needed at each stage.

This quote from the Media Trust about 3rd sector perceptions frames the problem:

“68% of organisations believed that support providers should share their ethical viewpoints while 59% specifically demanded third sector experience from their support providers. However, the reality of how this level of support can be achieved was called into question: 74% of charities were not confident about the ease of accessing support from third sector support organisations.”

In other words, nearly three quarters of charities struggle to access the support they need, and yet only a third want support from outside the charity sector. The reasons are to do with how people look at their problems. If a task can be broken down and clearly articulated, many skills are transferable across sectors. It’s only when a project is taken as a complete item that you are stuck needing help and advice only from someone else doing the same job as you but with more experience.

For example…

To illustrate the micro-mentoring concept, I’ll use an example I’m very familiar with from my career: writing a funding applications. I spent the last 5 years working for a social enterprise called Working Links, designing, and winning funding for large scale programmes to tackle social exclusion across the UK, so I have produced and assessed a hundreds of these applications, as well as recruiting and managing permanent and freelance staff to do it. The typical approach to specifying this problem would be to say: “I need help to write a funding application to this local government department to deliver the services I run in the location and sector I work in.” OK. So the help you are going to need is from someone who:

  • Writes funding applications;
  • Understands local government department;
  • Knows in detail about the services you deliver;
  • Knows the location you work in (local problems, organisations, etc.);
  • Understands your sector; and
  • Probably knows your organisation well enough to promote all of its great aspects.

The reality is that the only people able to help you in this scenario are you and your competitors.

However, if the task is broken down, suddenly a large number of different experts can help. So, in the early stages, you might need help to understand if the organisation should apply for this grant. In which case a business development, marketing or strategy expert could guide the research and analysis needed to assess the competitive environment, and decide if the grant is a good match for the organisational capabilities and objectives. During the application process, you might need some direction in how to go about answering the questions in the right way –in which case someone with general industry experience may be able to help, or with broader experience of writing successful applications. And in the later stages, help needed could be in terms of checking the application is written in a compelling way. At this point, someone who is an expert in communications could help.

In this example, the stage the person is at becomes important. However, tasks can be broken down in different ways, and the same principle applies: namely, the more specific you can be about the help needed, the more people there will be who can help. The point being that the broader you make the potential pool of support, the more chance you have of getting the help you need.

Able and willing

Micro-mentoring is great for people who want to lend their expertise to social enterprises and charities too. Micro-mentoring focuses on helping someone to achieve a smaller, specific goal rather than committing hours or days over a long period of time. You can do it with a phone call, a few emails or over coffee. Not that CrowdGuru.org will limit or define the nature or length of the relationships – that’s totally up to you. At the end of the day, we believe it should be up to the individuals involved to give/receive the amount of help that suits their circumstances. But we will promote the idea of micro-mentoring as an effective and efficient way to get help on a specific task.



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