What Is Mentoring?
We define mentoring at work as the relationship between a more knowledgeable or more experienced employee who agrees to guide someone less knowledgeable or less experienced in order to advance their skills and careers. Smart learning leaders consider mentoring a critical arm of their overall employee development offerings and strive to design a better mentoring program.
Common Workplace Mentoring Drivers
With all the career twists and turns at our clients’ organizations, it is no wonder that many explore mentoring programs. The most commonly cited drivers of workplace mentoring programs include:
- Improving career advancement opportunities
- Increasing employee performance, engagement, and retention
- Investing in High Potentials, diversity, and inclusion
- Building skills, sharing knowledge, and utilizing strengths
- Discovering new interests and challenges
Does Mentoring Work?
Even though Forbes reports that mentoring programs are offered to 71% of Fortune 500 companies and a study by Olivet Nazarene University found that 75% of employees would like a mentor, only 37% of employees currently have a mentor at work. Most believe this is due to ineffective mentoring programs and bandwidth issues of potential and sought-after mentors.
The direct answer to the question as to whether workplace mentoring achieves its objectives is only sometimes. While there is evidence that mentoring programs can improve employee engagement and recruiting while helping to train future leaders, effective mentoring programs require effort, commitment, and the cooperation of both the mentor and the mentee. Tangible evidence of the value of company-wide mentoring programs is hard to find.
How to Design a Better Mentoring Program
If you want to design a better mentoring program at work, here are the four basics:
- The Mentor
Mentoring is a skill. Not all good managers are ready to be effective mentors. Unable and unwilling mentors can damage employee engagement, development, performance, and retention.
At a minimum, mentors should have high levels of integrity, model the corporate values, and genuinely want to help others. To be effective, mentors must also be available as needed, possess current and relevant expertise, and have the skills and desire to develop others such as active listening, asking open-ended questions, challenging, role-modeling, advocating, networking, influencing, reflecting, and providing feedback.
- The Mentee
While mentoring can take on many forms, an effective mentorship program should provide the resources to help overcome pressing challenges that cannot be better solved through other means.
Mentees should be committed to the process, clear about their goals and type of mentor they prefer, open to learning, able to accept and incorporate feedback, and willing to be held accountable.
Clarity, often gained through self-assessments or 360-degree feedback, is critical. Some mentees may benefit most from learning new skills while others may benefit most from navigating organizational politics, building new relationships, or completing a challenging stretch assignment.
- The Mentor / Mentee Relationship
The mentoring relationship requires that both mentor and mentee agree on the expected outcomes and the process – when, where, and how often to meet; the purpose; feedback expectations; and the plan for periods of reflection and re-evaluation.
We have found that a certain amount of structure is required to get the most out of mentoring. At a minimum, there should be a simple agreement outlining desired goals, success metrics, time and access commitments, and accountability milestones.
The critical mentor-to-mentee matching process is challenging enough when goals, expectations, ground rules, and processes are clear. Invest the time to ensure that matches are characterized by mutual respect, trust, loyalty, accountability, shared values, and transparency.
- Cultural Alignment
To reap the benefits of effective mentoring, you must ensure that your workplace culture is aligned with and set up to support your desired outcomes. Misaligned cultures can easily sabotage the best-intended formal mentoring programs.
Just think about it. Mentors must devote valuable bandwidth on someone else. If your culture does not enable, encourage, develop, reward, and support mentoring on a regular basis, do not waste your time on trying to develop a formal program.
Building an effective mentoring culture is about much more than matching mentors with mentees. It requires embedding mentoring values and behaviors in the way day-to-day work gets done.
The Bottom Line
Mentoring can be a huge advantage to organizations if the program is supported, rewarded, and monitored. Check in with participants. Make sure both the mentors and mentees are clear on the benefits and buy into the value.
If you want to learn about other ways to improve employee engagement and retention, download the Top 10 Most Powerful Ways to Boost Employee Engagement