The past few years have changed how we think about skill and career development and employee engagement. A lot of the focus of 2022 was on talent retention; 2023 will be about intelligent talent retention and ensuring that any reorganizations will make the most of existing talent and not adversely affect future company performance.
We’ve long recognized the value of mentoring and coaching to help employees advance their careers, investing in them for high-potential young hires and management-track leaders to help them develop soft skills and navigate the complexity of a corporate environment. However, the cost of mentors and coaches has made them cost-prohibitive for the general employee population – meaning those that weren’t targets of formal programs had to seek out mentors or coaches on their own, with varying results.
The importance of mentoring and coaching
In our 2022 Employee Experience research, we found that employees rated career advancement as second only to salary in factors influencing them to choose an employer, and they saw mentoring and coaching as a more effective means of career development than other types of training. However, only half of workers said their companies had any technology to support mentoring and coaching, and even fewer said their employer had leveraged technology to help assess their leadership potential. Only slightly more than 10 percent of employees would give their company an “A” grade for supporting mentoring and coaching, so clearly, there’s progress to be made.
There are a number of reasons why implementing mentoring and coaching for all employees who seek it makes sense now:
First, the cost of supporting mentoring and coaching has dropped. Technology-enabling mentoring and coaching have made it more accessible and cost-effective to offer to a broad employee base. Cloud-based coaching applications can be implemented quickly and effectively without the need for internal IT support.
Second, the HR burden to effectively manage and measure programs has also fallen. Artificial intelligence (AI) and rules-based matching and mapping tools make it easy to offer self-service mentor and coach/mentor identification and connection for employees, and integrated reporting and analytics tools enable HR to analyze and communicate the effectiveness of programs more easily.
Third, creating the kind of connections that employees gain through mentoring and coaching is more important than ever. For many employees, the opportunity to find mentors and coaches through informal office networks has been severely limited by the move to remote and hybrid work, and although the workforce may return, to some extent, to the office in 2023, it’s likely that those could benefit from mentor/coach connections most may still be spending limited time in the office. Implementing data-driven and technology-enabled coaching and mentoring programs will boost employee skill development and ensure everyone (not just those coming to the office) benefits from the engagement and skill-development benefits coaching and mentoring offer.
Finally, in an uncertain economic environment, coaching and mentoring can help organizations support business continuity by fostering more cross-departmental skill development, succession planning, and knowledge transfer at lower levels of the organization and a more complete and contextual understanding of its entire talent pool.
Mentoring and coaching best practices
In defining and executing a technology-enabled mentoring and coaching program, best practices HR and training leaders should follow include:
- Understand the difference between coaching and mentoring to align their use effectively with career development objectives. Mentoring tends to be more development-focused and long-term (such as leadership development), while coaching is usually more performance focused and evaluated on shorter-term outcomes (such as improving communication skills). Mentoring programs will likely require more internal resources (to identify and cultivate mentor skills, for example), while coaching can be supported by internal or external resources (such as certified coaches).
- Leverage cloud technology. Cloud mentoring and coaching applications enable rapid development of programs, flexible delivery, and cost structures (meaning you can scale up or down as needed), and the ability to easily connect a distributed workforce with a network of mentors and coaches.
- Treat mentoring and coaching as part of an overall training and talent development strategy, including soft and hard skills assessments, other employee training, and performance and talent management.
- Measure and communicate the value of mentoring and coaching to management, mentors and coaches, and employees. This means marketing the tangible value of the program in terms of how it will help individuals (and the business) meet specific goals, not just as “a new mentoring and coaching program”). It also means making meaningful use of any data you gather.
In the best of times, offering mentoring and coaching to all potential employees is a great means to attract and retain talent, reduce turnover, and develop a more diverse talent pool at all levels of the organization. In times of economic uncertainty, they are even more important:
Technology-enabled mentoring and coaching can ensure employees reach their greatest potential and productivity. They support internal connections that help them to navigate a changing company landscape and provide managers and HR with a more data-driven view of knowledge networks and skills development.