15 August 2018 | It is certain that mentors play critical and impactful roles on growth and success of mentees. Thus, there are many resources on how to be good mentors. Lessons learned from the female founder of BonPas Bakery & Coffee tell us how to be good mentees.
Nguyen Thi An Lanh enrolled in 2017-2018 program of SME Mentoring – a partner of Swiss EP VNM. Her mentor was Phan Dinh Tuan Anh who participated in mentor training and many other capacity building activities organized by Swiss EP VNM.
Lanh inherited entrepreneurship from her parents who founded Dong Tien Bakery in 1963. Returning to Vietnam after university education in the US, she started working in the family company as a junior manager. Two months after starting, Dong Tien’s Board of Directors decided to assign Lanh to build BonPas Bakery & Coffee. It is noteworthy that this concept of inhouse restaurant & coffee and modern ambience is a much different business model and brand than that of the family’s traditional business.
Lanh had thought about some new models for the family business since the time she worked at the university cafeteria. So when she was given direct and clear mission for opening bakery & coffee, it took short time to plan out what to do step by step for a new brand- BonPas Bakery & Coffee.
Lanh learned about SME Mentoring when she enrolled CEO short training courses in Ho Chi Minh city. Her decision to join the 12-month mentorship was a strong commitment since Lanh had to fly from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh city for mentoring sessions every month at her own expense.
Spot and get the mentor
Her entrepreneurial spirit encouraged Lanh to study carefully about both the program and the mentors that she would meet in matching session and follow-on activities. Lanh also questioned herself about who her ideal mentor would be. As a result, Lanh spotted her mentor in the orientation session which was organized prior to matching session. She proactively interviewed the targeted mentor and they mutually agreed on the match.
Lanh was happy with her choice. She did not seek for solutions. The mentor gave Lanh information and knowledge about the issues she raised in each meeting. He then helped Lanh to identify what her problem really is. Sometimes, the problem that Lanh told the mentor was not a problem.
Every mentoring session introduced some new things to Lanh. She was curious to experience how the mentor walked her to a solution that fit her qualities and characters by giving questions. She was curious to learn how she figured out the solution herself by addressing the questions. She was also eager to see what happen when she implemented the solution in both business management and personal life. Without Lanh’s execution of her self-identified solutions nothing would happen. But her curiosity indeed kept the mentorship evolved. Last but not least, curiosity kept her mind opened to new approaches and new ideas.
Lanh did connect to not only her mentor but also the other mentors and mentees of the program. Periodical gatherings were certainly not the only chance for her to access to expertise of mentors and experience of peer-mentees. Her pro-activeness took Lanh to a critical value of a program consisting of more than 100 mentors and mentees.
Asking questions is the first discipline for mentors. Interestingly, mentees can experience the power of questioning themselves. Lanh did not hesitate to ask her mentor many questions. Moreover, she began quizzing her colleagues and staff instead of telling them what she wants them to do. She also asked herself a lot of questions. Then more questions came to Lanh as she encouraged her team practice questioning. At some points of time, Lanh felt that several team members just used questions as a way of excusing and loosening responsibility. It was a struggle but Lanh managed to fix the culture while being keen on raising questions. After months, Lanh started seeing her team make their own decisions and solve pop-up problems themselves. Lanh also managed her emotions better in dealing with business and family relationships.
There is no magic in mentorship. Mentees need time to digest insights and wisdoms as well as find out answers to questions by mentors. In addition, mentees have to wait for proper situations to apply solutions they have worked out with mentors. Then the results just arrive after a while.
It took Lanh half a year to figure out the logics behind her mentor’s questions and suggestions. Lanh took a lot of notes in her mentor meetings. She frequently reviewed the notes and tried to connect the dots. This was her homework month after month. “It’s worth it. After six months, I realize there is a logic of thinking and a methodology of problem solving from my mentor’s guidance. And, most important, the ‘thinking habit’ that my mentor trained me throughout mentoring sessions does help me to automatically identify problems and how I should approach it by myself later on,” Lanh smiled.
Two and a half year after the first opening, there are now four BonPas Bakery & Coffee stores in Da Nang. Everyday Lanh and her subordinates manage a workforce of 118 people – of which, 79 are female. Mission of the management team is to make sure that every team-member moving toward the slogan that BonPas has committed to the customers: “Fulfill Your Happiness.”
Nguyen Van Linh street, the location where Lanh with her team had most struggling for opening the store and when it was almost empty, is now a crowded street of restaurants, cafes, and shops. Lanh should be happy with her choice but she may be too busy at questioning how to expand BonPas brand with new concept and make “BonPas Bakery & Coffee” become well-known local brand for “number one” baked goods and serving experience in next three years./.