When you hear the word mentoring, it’s easy to conjure up the conventional arrangement: the fresh-faced rookie partnered with the seasoned pro. But what happens when it’s not business as usual? How does a peer-to-peer mentoring match work?

In today’s column, we hear from senior communications professionals Tammy Nienaber and Polly Filing who were partnered with each other during last year’s Mentoring Pilot Program. At the time, they were separated by almost 2,000 miles. The lessons they learned about finding different ways to connect are especially relevant for IABC members who are thinking about signing up for the mentoring program at a time when social distancing is the norm. What did Tammy and Polly think, and how did they make it work?

Tammy: I remember that email arriving. When I found out who my ‘mentor’ was, I was a little confused. We had similar experience levels and titles. I thought to myself, ‘Do they think I need be mentored?’

Polly: I felt the same way. Am I the mentor or the mentee?

Tammy: Exactly!

Polly: Pretty quickly, the wisdom of the peer-to-peer mentoring match became apparent. Our experiences overlapped, but they weren’t the same. As it turned out, we had a lot to learn from each other.

Tammy: During our first conversation, we discovered that change management communication was a top priority for both of us. Throughout our partnership, we spent a fair amount of time sharing examples of approaches that worked and those that failed miserably. We also talked about what new theories were taking center stage.  

Polly: You did a terrific job of keeping us on task with suggested topics, agendas and even an occasional article for pre-reading. It wasn’t always easy considering that our meetings took place via early morning phone calls. Not to mention we were separated by two time zones and 1,925 miles. Considering the hour, it was probably best that we didn’t FaceTime.

Tammy: At the time I was consulting in Southern California and looking for a new position that would bring me back to the Midwest. There were so many ‘external’ events happening that could have easily derailed our relationship, but I think we used each of those obstacles to our advantage.

Polly: I agree! For example, your job search inspired me to take a professional inventory. Thanks to you I’ve gotten more involved in community volunteering where I’m putting some my underutilized skills to work. Peer mentoring has helped me contribute more at my workplace and in the community. Best of all, it was free!

Tammy: For me, the mentoring program also offered a way to maintain ties with the Midwest and IABC Minnesota all the way from California. Although social distancing wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary last year, I think our partnership shows how beneficial the mentoring program can be even when you can’t meet face-to-face. Through the mentor program pilot, I ended up with a great professional connection and a good friend.

Polly: Me too!


About the Authors: Tammy Nienaber is Director of Franchisee Communications at Self Esteem Brands and Polly Filing is Director of Communications and Public Relations at Liberty Diversified International.

They were part of the IABC Minnesota’s pilot mentoring program.

If you’d like to sign up for the Summer 2020 peer mentoring matchup, complete this form by July 1 >> 

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