Can Sustainable Mentorship Lead to Strategic Advantage? (Part 2)

Aderant Think Tank

Can Sustainable Mentorship Lead to Strategic Advantage? (Part 2)

This post is the second in a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

Caroline Jones, who is manager of experience design at Aderant, learned over time that trying to be all things to all people is not a sustainable model.

“By taking a more strategic approach and empowering others to become the experts, I have found a greater sense of fulfilment and a sustainable model,” says Jones, who joined the legal software provider in late 2014.

She says her mentoring approach is cemented by a “Design Thinking” Ethos.

“I encourage the person I am supporting to adopt a similar mindset to that which you find in human-centred designers. I’ve found this to be a key step in establishing a mentoring relationship. It gives the mentee the tools that they need in order to be able to ask the right questions, remove personal biases, and to consider perspectives they might not otherwise have considered. This in turn maximises learning and development potential.”

She explains a Design Thinking mindset involves a specific approach to a situation where a person adopts the following ideas and attitudes as they work:

  • Building empathy by being human-centred
  • Being relentlessly curious
  • Having a bias towards action and learning by doing
  • Being collaborative and bringing together multidisciplinary teams to ensure diverse perspectives and expertise are explored (which also provides a platform for consensus),
  • Exploring many ideas first before narrowing to a few, and experimenting with and refining those ideas by building prototypes that are then put to the test with the intended audience.

“Once we have established the foundations of our mentoring relationship, we focus on matters and challenges that the person is facing, and I encourage reflective thinking through shared experiences and storytelling,” says Jones.

“I continue to refocus them on the application of the design thinking mindsets, and nudge them towards building different perspectives, collaborating with others, exploring and experimenting with their ideas, and ultimately having the confidence they need to move forwards and resolve issues.”

Getting into UX

Jones says managing and serving as an advocate for Design Thinking has been a consistent theme across several of her previous roles. These include stints leading design teams at Fiserv and A&R Whitcoulls Group. She has also held more hands-on design roles, such as working as a senior consultant and interaction designer at Optimal Usability.

Jones explains she shifted into human-centred design space after working in web design and online strategy for a number of years.

“I was frustrated as I continually found myself unable to answer the questions I was looking to answer, and others around me felt the same. We had a lot of the ‘whats’ figured out, but nobody seemed to be able to express the ‘whys’ or the ‘how importants’. It felt a little like we were driving in the dark.

“As I was looking for answers, I started exploring Human Computer Interaction as a topic,” she says. “It seemed to be an area which could provide me with ways to find answers to my questions, so I went and studied a Human Computer Interaction paper at Auckland University and changed course with my career. I haven’t looked back since.”

Jones has historically focused on mentoring those within an organisation’s design practice, but she says this is evolving along with the shape of organisations she is working in.

“Recently there is an acknowledgement that Design Thinking offers value far beyond an organisation’s design function,” she states. “Many businesses face challenges that are forcing them to be more agile, adopt leaner processes, work with increasingly distributed teams, and cope with increased diversity as a result.”

With the focus that design-led thinking has on removing personal biases, working more collaboratively, embracing ambiguity, rapid experimentation, and having a bias towards action, organisations are now adopting Design Thinking as a way to allow for more integrated thinking and a more adaptive strategic mindset.

“So, as Design Thinking has grown further in importance, I have found myself providing mentoring support to people across a more varied set of functions, and as a result I deal with a lot more diversity.”

As your mentoring relationship evolves and you work through specific challenges, share real world stories and experiences, including past failures and what you learned from them, she says.

“Always work to instil confidence, even if it is the confidence to accept past failures and grow from them.”