In addition to training, mentoring is another opportunity to develop the people in your dairy business. It can help individuals acquire and develop new skills, build confidence and self esteem, accelerate career plans, test a personal or professional goal or navigate a business through difficult situations.

Mentoring is a supportive and private relationship between two people (the mentor and the mentee) and provides the individuals involved with an opportunity to share and develop their knowledge, experience, skills, wisdom and shortcomings. Mentors facilitate constructive reflection of actions, behaviours and learning journeys.

Mentoring helps the mentee approach situations with confidence, having talked through the various options and possible consequences. It is more about asking the right questions and listening, rather than giving the right answers.

Some of the benefits of mentoring include:

  • encouraging employee attraction and retention – the best employees are attracted to businesses that offer them opportunities to develop their skills;
  • enhancing professional development;
  • reducing staff turnover and improving productivity on the farm;
  • building a positive culture;
  • improving communication and increasing knowledge of the farm business; and
  • increasing morale and motivation.

Today mentoring is used all over the world in large corporations, small business, universities and youth development. In farming systems, mentoring is not only an effective technique for sharing experience but also the transfer of technical dairy farming skills and experience, thus allowing the mentees to learn and develop both their farming and personal life.

A successful mentoring relationship can have a profound effect on the mentee’s personal development as well as gains for the business.

Confirming senior staff to the role of mentor is an excellent way of recognising their experience without necessarily promoting them to a supervisory position.

Mentors who inspire

A skill that separates an excellent mentor from a good one is the ability to inspire mentees to greatness. Mentors whose actions are inspiring help mentees create a future vision for themselves.

There are many resources available on mentoring to get you started. The dairy industry has a formal mentoring program called DairySage Mentoring which trains, matches and supports mentoring partnerships throughout the Australian dairy industry.

Starting a mentoring program for people on your farm

An interested mentee and an experienced and respected person capable of acting as a mentor are all that is needed!

However, there are some pre-conditions that will help make the partnership work:

  • The mentee should know what they are hoping to gain through the relationship and talk this through with the mentor before they agree to start.
    • Decide the primary reason for entering the relationship – for example to develop a particular skill set (personal or professional), to have more influence with the dairy farming community, to plan a career path.
    • Make a short list of what you think the responsibilities of each party should be.
    • Decide what you want to achieve in the short and medium terms.
  • Both parties should be able to meet regularly (decide between you how often this should be and commit to it).
  • Time should be invested early in the relationship to establish a rapport.
  • It can also be useful to plan in advance how long the mentoring is to continue. Often a life-long relationship replaces the more formal mentoring relationship!

Mentoring is a mutually beneficial partnership

Mentoring is not just short-term problem solving. It has a long-term strategic goal for positioning the mentee where they want to be in the future. It is about inspiring excellence.

Becoming a mentor can enrich your life on a personal and professional level by helping you to build your leadership skills, improve your communication skills and learn new perspectives.

The mentoring process can start by encouraging the mentee to write up a plan:

  • Goals – what do I want? (personal and professional)
  • Needs – what do I need to achieve my goals?
  • Strategy – how can I do it?
  • Mentor – how can a mentor help? Who would be a good mentor?
Use the Personal Development Plan to help with writing a plan.

From there, the mentor and mentee can open the conversation and talk about strategies to help the mentee achieve their goals. an the mentor help? Will the mentee require further training?

Then mentor and mentee can develop the strategy. As a team, determine where, when and how often you will review the plan.

Once the purpose for mentoring has been established, some ground rules should be set, expectations discussed, and agreement reached on how the partnership will be managed.

Using a Mentoring Agreement will help you to capture these ideas.

You can use Mentor Link to review progress on mentoring goals. It doesn’t need to be formal, it can be just meeting for a coffee!

Expand your worldview through mentoring

Mentoring relationships have given successful South Australian dairy farmer Virginia Ewing more confidence and the opportunity to realise her full potential in farming and the industry generally. “Mentoring gives you a sense of belief and encouragement in yourself.” Virginia highly recommends mentoring and has been on the other side of the equation as a mentor herself. She described it as a good challenge and satisfying to help and encourage someone else to achieve their goals. In the end that is what it is all about – “encouraging and helping someone else and sharing your knowledge and skills,” she said.