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Smucker’s Jif goes “nuts” about product innovation. Will you innovate your approach to mentors?

Smucker’s. This maker of preserves, coffees and peanut butter has been around since 1897, when JM Smucker was pulling along a horse drawn wagon with its apple butter.  Even with a great history in delivering a great American pastime (peanut butter and jelly), Smucker’s has certainly not been relaxing on a great name.

In Food Navigator, “JM Smucker: Our innovation success rate exceeds industry norms” on September 4, 2013, we learn that new products have contributed to $530M of the company’s topline sales.  Extensions of Jif into Jif Natural, Jif To Go, Jif Almond and Jif Cashew represent some of its faster growing segments.  That is something to go N-U-T-S over!

Jif’s innovative approach to broaden its nut product portfolio (the world is clearly not just peanut butter anymore) gives us a unique moment to reflect on our own career goals on how our mentor portfolio supports our professional growth.  To develop in your career, it is important to add new mentors in a variety of “flavors” to support that development.

Here are some ideas to consider as you evolve your approach to mentoring:

Define your career goals – Mentor relationships are more productive when you have defined your career goals. Are you looking for more interesting work? autonomy? flexibility? career change? promotion? money?

You are both a mentor and a mentee! – Just as nuts come in many flavors, so do mentor/mentee relationships. There is classic, peer-to-peer and reverse mentoring.

  • Classic mentor relationships are people in your professional circle who have more experience and insight than you.  They can help you bounce ideas around on your professional development.  These people can be both inside your current organization as well as people in your associative, philathronphic, religious and personal circles.
  • Peer-to-peer mentoring is really about finding professionals who are in a similar stage in their career to act as accountability partners.  It could be one-to-one (a colleague) or group (professional association, book club or Lean In Circle).
  • Reverse mentoring is where younger professionals offer up their knowledge to more senior leaders on new technologies and trends in the marketplace

Mentor relationships come in multiple time frames – Whether it be one meeting or a long term professional relationship, you can determine how long the mentor relationship will exist.

Mentors come from many places – You can have mentors who are current/past colleagues as well as people you know from activities outside of work.

Maintain the relationship – For mentors who have had an impact on your career, be sure to thank them.  Gratitude is essential.  As the relationship evolves, you too can give back to your mentor.  Just ask what they want!