By Randy Emelo
Most will agree that mentoring is among the most versatile and effective employee development processes. Today, like never before, mentoring is being used to shape a different kind of work culture—one that is connected, responsive, and growth-focused. The motives for why organizations are doing more with mentoring are numerous, including these critical reasons:
Low cost, high impact. It costs very little to arrange for people to engage in mentoring relationships, and mentoring relationships don’t need to last years to be impactful. They can be short-lived and still provide positive results. Additionally, because of the strong relational bonds that are forged through mentoring, the impacts to organizational culture and feelings of community can be vast and strong.
Personal and flexible. The goals and career aspirations of the mentee are at the center of mentoring relationships. This allows for highly personalized and exclusively tailored development opportunities that can be nearly impossible to get elsewhere. People can also participate in several mentoring relationships at once, helping to have multiple development goals addressed concurrently.
Virtual and on-demand. In practice, mentoring helps people with more experience share what they know and guide the development of people with less experience. While this typically took place face-to-face, mentorship can easily occur via phone or computer due to technology. This allows people to adapt mentoring relationships so they are no longer bound by time-constrained schedules or physical locations.
Communal. Due to the social give-back factor or “paying it forward” nature of mentoring, the practice creates a high sense of community and unity. Those in the middle or the end of their career find renewed purpose in sharing their strength and experience with mentees who are seeking their wisdom. Organizations are also able to create continuity of knowledge among employees and avoid the dreaded brain drain phenomenon.
Today’s mentoring can be used for a variety of purposes:
- Career development – Gain insight and understanding into advancement opportunities within the organization or vocation.
- Role development – Take on a set of connected behaviors, responsibilities, and norms associated with a specialized position or function (e.g., Head Researcher, Operations Director).
- Skill development – Acquire complex abilities usually involving ideas, things, and/or people (e.g., budgeting, project management).
- Technical development – Gain the ability to accomplish duties or other specific tasks through the use of technology (e.g., computer-related skills, engineering, mathematics).
The way that mentoring happens has also changed; it takes place in group settings, as well as private one-on-one relationships. This variety allows people to learn in ways that can best impact them. For example, people who are newly promoted or hired as managers could be assigned to a mentor who is a seasoned manager. At the same time, these new managers and a selected advisor can come together in a mentoring group to learn from one another and support one another as they apply new ideas and principles of management on the job. This can be an effective and efficient way to gain outstanding results with little cost.
The Way Forward
Mentoring is more than instructing workers in expected behaviors; it is guiding their growth through nurturing and supportive interactions that focus on personal experiences and real world circumstances. Mentoring involves personal discovery, experimentation, and crucial feedback that achieve goal-oriented results.
To help you leverage mentoring to create your desired culture, consider these points:
- Make a plan of action. Do not leave the practice of mentoring to chance. Informal mentoring is a wish for progress; formal mentoring is a plan for progress. Design a mentoring program that inspires the change that you desire.
- Assess your need. When determining where to start building your mentoring culture, it is always a good idea to consider the biggest problems that you face. Is it attracting, retaining, or growing talent? Do you need more cross-functional knowledge sharing? Is there a critical operational challenge that mentoring can help with? Answer the burning question and use mentoring to address the pressing organizational problem you face.
- Rally support. Build a coalition of interested stakeholders that will help you recruit the appropriate participants (mentees and mentors). Gathering the support of the right stakeholders will also help you legitimize the effort and ensure your success.
- Measure the impact. Measuring the impact of mentoring can take shape in many ways. You can document personal stories that demonstrate improvement, you can note improvements in individuals’ performance over time, and you can even measure how much faster people develop needed skills for critical roles and responsibilities (compared to people not participating in mentoring). The measures will depend upon your need and program goals.
The practice of mentoring has moved beyond helping a few carefully chosen high performers advance to higher levels of authority. Mentoring can prove valuable to employees at all phases of their careers, from new hires to middle managers to seasoned professionals. The benefits of mentoring can be felt by anyone who takes part in the practice, and with many organizations engaging 30-40% of their workers in mentoring, the positive power of mentoring is poised to take root and grow even further.
Randy Emelo is Chief Strategist at River, a mentoring software company. His book, Modern Mentoring, is available now through ATD Press. He can be contacted via www.riversoftware.com.