Mentoring has long been recognized as an important engagement tool to build emotional and intellectual connections between the organization and the employees. Over that last decade, over 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer professional mentoring programs to their employees. But with changing times, the concept itself has undergone significant transformation.
With International Youth Day on August 12, it is a good time to take a step back and examine how organizations can best find, train, and retain the millennial talent who are rapidly entering and transforming the workforce. While the traditional tenets of the mentor-mentee relationships continue to be relevant and focused on learning, there are now more ways than one to nurture this concept.
I am a great believer in the power of mentoring. In fact, I believe it can be central to the success and health of most modern-day organizations, especially in today’s hypercompetitive business environment.
As the renowned mentor and coach Bob Proctor puts it, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” And, when you consider that in the digital age this process can be leveraged in multiple ways, the case for mentoring becomes even stronger.
Create leaders, not followers
Mentoring is a way to structure informal learning in an organizational environment. And increasingly, I have seen the concept perform as a human resource and corporate succession-planning tool. But going beyond that, what exactly makes it so useful?
I’d like to say that it is the opportunity for this informal transmission of knowledge and support to be delivered in an intimate and positive way that makes it relevant to work, career, and professional development. Mentoring serves a dual purpose – it not only drives productivity and enhanced competencies, but it also serves as an engagement and motivational tactic. It conveys to people within the organization that management is willing to invest in its employees, which in turn encourages leadership and fosters increased loyalty and a more positive work environment. Research indicates that nearly 80% of employee learning is achieved through informal means – a statistic that organizations cannot ignore.
While mentoring in earlier days was often a relationship between a person considered older and wiser imparting knowledge to a fresher and younger recipient, today the concept has turned on its head. Imparting guidance is no longer age-dependent, with reverse mentoring popular for cross-pollination of competencies and the shift towards not just obtaining but also contributing knowledge.
One important question to ask ourselves is what we are trying to create through mentoring. While it is true that one part of mentoring involves skilling-up the mentee with competencies for a desired future role, the bigger purpose is to build character and leadership. Great mentoring is not focused on creating fan following. It is about creating great leaders.
Five pillars of an effective mentoring program
The advancement of the individual is closely linked to the progress and growth of an organization, and therefore it becomes extremely important that companies engage their employees both at an emotional and intellectual level. So, a good starting point for building effective programs would be to compare the current approach and look at how we can do things differently. Here’s my program for ensuring a well-rounded mentoring initiative, focused on five pillars:
- Career development enablement
Organizations need to retain skilled employees if they are to develop future leaders. So, it is critical to understand the employee career objectives and align them with organizational goals. You must provide the opportunity for learning and development because, ultimately, it’s the top driver of engagement.
- Build a leadership development program
Once an organization identifies high-potential employees through career enhancement efforts, the next focus should be on making it meaningful for these executives to be retained. Professional mentoring programs are an effective strategy to reward these high performers with personal attention and guidance, thereby nurturing the organization’s leadership chain. By connecting high performers with other potential leaders, you can cultivate opportunities for higher leadership-focused learning.
- Enable diversity mentoring
An organization must invest in building a diverse workforce, and it needs to be a conscious effort. The payoff is a highly stimulated environment where innovation and creativity can help steer business strategies. Enable a sounding board that allows these diverse teams to share opinions, ideas, knowledge, and their experiences. Employees feel invested in the future of the company and get a chance to learn about their importance to the company.
- Drive reverse mentoring
The fact is every employee has something important to bring to the table. Reverse mentoring, which ties together an older, more experienced employee with a younger newcomer, is a good way to encourage older and younger employees to collaborate positively. It’s not the same as traditional mentoring because, here, the new employee serves as the mentor and helps the senior member learn, for example, the latest technology skills.
- Measure knowledge transfer
Mentoring is about enabling employees to acquire necessary knowledge and skills that are desirable to the organization. This can be an effective approach not just to deliver learning, but also to capture, document, and measure the knowledge being shared. Have short-term and long-term learning goals and have a method to measure progress.
There’s an adage that says, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” This certainly holds true of mentoring and mentorship initiatives. Today’s relationships with our employees’ hinge on creating a meaningful connection with them, enabling them to become great leaders, and effectively driving a sense of value. What better way than mentoring to create this connect?