Scale and Sustain

In our first blog about Mentoring Social Innovators towards sustainability, we described how we on-board the innovators into the mentoring program and the pre-requisites for successful mentorship. This blog focuses on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of mentoring to scale and sustain. The emphasis is on the mentoring and coaching part of the program and the key metrics that mentors and mentees should track for the success of the program. We also recount our experiences as mentors in working with over 40 social enterprises, what has worked and not worked in the past, so that this knowledge can be of use to others in similar programs elsewhere.

Mentioned below are some key factors that have contributed to the success of our mentorship program

  1. Written and Agreed Concurrence between mentors and mentees

The nature of mentoring depends to a large extent on the current state of the enterprise. It is important that the mentor and the mentee agree on the current state in terms of product readiness, customer acquisition, organization structure, IP readiness etc. These will form the basis of whether the enterprise is ready for scalability and sustainability. Also, the immediate challenges faced by the mentee will determine the short-term objectives. The aim of the mentorship program is to achieve the short-term objectives and set up the company to meet the long-term objectives. We have found that a clear definition of the metrics to track each of the objectives is key. During the concurrence meetings, the mentor also clearly calls out the matters which will be left out of scope from the mentorship program. This approach creates focus and action towards the desired outcomes. It also galvanises the team in the mentored organisations.

  1. Focus on resolving core issues.

The mentorship program should not be viewed as a management review or a data gathering exercise. The mentors seek to understand the core issues which the mentees are facing and seek the necessary intervention and connections to the right experts in that field. The best use of the mentorship program is to seek guidance and advice to tackle the core issues which the mentee and their organisation is facing. Having said that, over the duration of the 6 months engagement, the core issues could change from time to time.

  1. Rapport and High-trust relationship.

For the success of the program, a feeling of trust needs to be established between the mentees and the mentors during the initial concurrence discussions. Mentees are encouraged to be upfront and open about their personal background, their assessment of the stage of their enterprise, key technological and business drivers behind the idea, and the short-term and long-term challenges they face. It is important that the mentees express their aspirations and expectations clearly at the beginning. At the same time, the mentor interest and enthusiasm should be clearly visible to the mentees. The mentors sometimes personally visit the premises of the mentee’s enterprise and get a first-hand experience and understanding of the issues and challenges.

  1. Making each meeting count

This is really the hygiene part.  The basic mechanism of mentoring is interaction at a regular frequency. We have found that maintaining the regularity of these meetings (weekly or fortnightly), coming prepared to the meetings with an agenda, status updates and questions is a pre-requisite for successful mentoring. Similarly noting the actions decided (for both parties), following up on that and closing them keeps the progress on track.

But it is still possible that despite all this, one may not make the most of the mentoring meetings. In our experience, setting the right agenda with only a few key items (upto 3) is crucial, to have sufficient time on each for discussion with the mentor. It is up to the mentee to get the most value from the mentor by picking the right ones for the agenda of each meeting.

Another best practice is to agree on the topic for the next meeting, which leads to better preparation on both sides in the period between meetings.

  1. Not Objectives, but outcomes

Once we have concurrence between the mentors and mentees and we are disciplined about the mentor meetings, are we done? Not always! We are talking about start-ups here. Things change!

The vision and mission of the social enterprise may not, but the objectives can change, as they depend on many things happening inside and outside the enterprise, especially in the case of young enterprises. Sometimes the entrepreneur, being in the thick of things, cannot see this, but mentors taking a third-party perspective can. By continuously challenging the entrepreneurs we may even change the objectives and the metrics mid-course, a hard thing to do, but needed for the social enterprises to achieve their vision.

In conclusion, while the social entrepreneurs have a lot of passion and knowledge of the problem they are working on, the mentors bring their experience and expertise. Together they can do magic because of the common desire to see the social enterprise succeed. What we have listed above are some key aspects that have enabled us to experience this magic. And once that happens, we have seen these associations with the entrepreneurs and their enterprises grow even after the formal mentorship period is over.

This blog is by PIC Social Innovation Lab Mentors, Gireendra Kasmalkar & Amit Bhargava

Mr Gireendra Kasmalkar is the Founder Director and CEO of Ideas to Impacts Innovations Pvt. Ltd., Lead Investor and General Partner at Pentathlon Ventures and Owner of the Ideas to Impacts Innovation Centre promoting innovative ideas that can create significant positive impacts for both customers and the small towns of India. India’s leading software testing entrepreneur, Gireendra exited from his earlier venture, VeriSoft (now, SQS India) after being in global and Indian leadership positions at SQS, where he grew the India operations to over 2000 people. Before that he worked in the CAD-CAM space with Tata Consultancy Services and then independently.

Mr. Amit Bhargava is a Senior Director at Birlasoft. He is an accomplished professional with over 16 years’ experience in Strategy, Sales Operations, IT consulting, business analysis, stakeholder
management, program and project management. He has extensive experience in Business analysis and Requirement elicitation/ detailing for new IT applications and product feature development across conventional SDLC projects and agile projects. He has been recognized for Excellence in Selling, Thought Leadership and Green Belt Certification for Six Sigma.