Think back to the time when someone provided you with the best advice or opportunity that fundamentally shaped your career. Was it a teacher, family member, manager, or mentor? Training and Talent Development professionals can play a pivotal role in the future of both individual employee development and organizational performance if they learn how to create and manage a successful mentoring program.
Mentoring has been one of the most undervalued and underused talent management practices. For individuals, mentoring can have lifelong benefits. For organizations, mentoring can build a valuable talent pipeline, foster a culture of collaboration and innovation, and enhance performance. Despite the enormous potential of mentoring, many organizations fail to get it right, leading to disengaged employees, higher employee turnover, and unrealized potential. Training and Learning and Development (L&D) departments can play a crucial role in implementing and supporting effective mentorship programs.
BENEFITS OF MENTORING
Despite the many benefits of mentoring, few organizations have established mentoring programs. Among those that do have mentoring programs, many are poorly run, with haphazard results. This waste of human assets is critical since nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce is disengaged, and retention rates for mentees are 50 percent higher than those not mentored. In fact, mentoring can have a much greater impact on retention than salary increases.
This may be one of the most critical times to launch a mentoring program due to the disruption and alienation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mentoring can play a key role in keeping employees motivated and engaged during these unprecedented times. New uses of virtual e-mentoring open up a world of possibilities as employees can connect with each other over a variety of different geographies and time zones.
A recent study, The State of Coaching and Mentoring 2020, by HR.Com reported that mentoring will grow significantly over the next two years as companies try to build interpersonal connections among employees to replace the informal relationships that occurred prior to the pandemic. The report also stated that current mentoring is highly ineffective. The challenge facing organizations is how to build and sustain a mentoring process that will enhance performance and engagement and lead to increased profits and innovation.
Mentoring provides guidance to help others realize their potential, prepares people for new roles or assignments, and assures a pool of talent to fill future critical roles. According to Ellen Esher, author of “Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most Out of Their Relationships,” mentoring also increases “organizational citizenship behavior, which means people treat each other well and help one another.”
Mentoring programs are also a valuable means to promote an organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals. Such programs are successfully employed as a key strategy to bring more diverse and under-represented groups into top management. Organizations are much better at hiring a diverse workforce than they are at creating an environment where these employees feel welcome and belong. A mentoring program is one of the best ways to develop and promote a more inclusive organization.
Mentoring relationships are a social exchange, and they must be reciprocal and mutually beneficial. In other words, both mentors and mentees need to give and get value from the relationship. According to Esher, the best mentoring programs offer flexibility and opportunities for multiple forms of mentoring, and the most successful mentoring relationships need to look and feel like informal or spontaneously developed relationships.
Colleagues/peers, non-direct managers, and senior executives are significantly more likely to serve as mentors. Mentors typically are selected internally from within the organization. This is different from coaching, which often is done by external coaches. For information on developing internal coaches, see: “Training Managers to Be Coaches” (http://pubs.royle.com/publication/?i=249867&p=50)
1. Organizations use direct supervisors to do mentoring. This is problematic since some managers do not have the best interests of their subordinates in mind. In one case, a mentee was having problems with her manager, who was trying to get the mentee to hire his friend over her objection. The mentee discussed this with her mentor, who was an executive VP, several levels higher than her boss. The next day, the mentor made a very public visit to the mentee, which was highly unusual given his rank, and the mentee’s manager got the message and stopped pushing for his friend.
2. Mentors often do not feel comfortable “holding difficult conversations.” If they cannot help with difficult issues, they should only focus on technical topics. Mentors must have excellent listening skills and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
3. A training program for mentors is not required. This is one of the first things we evaluate when examining a mentorship program. Many organizations fail to train their mentors properly, which results in failed mentoring. It is rare for mentors to be incentivized for their efforts, including via recognition programs. Conducting a recognition celebration event for all mentors and mentees builds camaraderie and rapport.
TYPES OF MENTORING PROGRAMS
- Traditional Mentoring for Professional Development: Internal mentors provide various forms of support to their employees. Examples include being a sponsor, providing employees with stretch assignments, making introductions to an organization’s upper management, providing opportunities for visibility, and making recommendations for promotions. Mentoring can take place in person or using video capabilities allowing virtual/distance mentoring.
- Functional Expertise Mentoring: Mentors act as subject matter experts sharing knowledge and skills, experiences, and best practices, helping their mentees expand their skill sets and perform their jobs better.
- High-Potential Mentoring: Mentors help advance mentees’ careers and access the development resources they need to be ready for future roles. Popular content resources include business acumen training and training to improve problem-solving, collaboration, and Emotional Intelligence.
- Succession Planning Mentoring: This mentoring process ensures a talent pipeline for an organization’s executive leadership roles.
- Peer Mentoring: Peer mentors can be better than traditional mentors at providing emotional support. Many organizations have employee affinity groups, such as those for women, people of color, or LGBTQ employees. Peer mentoring is often a big component of these programs.
- Reverse Mentoring Programs: In reverse mentoring programs, younger employees serve as mentors to more experienced executives. The emphasis is on sharing knowledge both ways across generations so the relationship is mutually beneficial.
- Mentoring Circles: A cohort of three to six mentees is mentored by one to two mentors. This approach has the added value of creating long-term relationships among the cohort of mentees, who can support each other during their careers. For example, I organized a global cohort of employees seeking to benefit from mentors who had completed international assignments. Discussions focused on global work environments, dimensions of culture, global mindsets, and learning what it takes to be successful. This cohort of mentees continued to support each other for several years.
I have had the good fortune to mentor scores of students, executives, chief diversity officers, and others, and there is little that can match the intense satisfaction from seeing your impact on others’ success. This is one of the best ways to give something back and build your legacy. Plus, many mentees become long-term acquaintances and friends.
Send inquiries about how to set up a mentoring program or any best practices in mentoring to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at email@example.com. For more information, visit http://www.globaldynamics.com.