Shawn Kent Hayashi's article, "Mentoring An Age-Old Idea That Works Now" is highlighted in the May/June 2012 edition of Insights & Strategies.
To view the Insights & Strategies magazine, please click on the link to the right: Insight & Strategies, under Other Resources.
“Those who seek mentoring will rule the great expanse of heaven,” declares the ancient Chinese Book of History. While the mentoring model that organizations use today is different from what was preferred just two decades ago (let alone in ancient times!), the reasons for pairing employees with others who take an active part in their development over time are as compelling as ever.
Mentoring Inspires Employee Loyalty
Today’s employee has seen massive layoffs across corporate America and
consequently has only a tentative and circumspect sense of loyalty. The
employee’s unspoken psychological contract with his company is likely “I will
stay with you as long as it suits me … and that depends on how you treat me.” It
is no wonder that top talent attrition is a great concern and expense for so many
corporations — even for those within the Fortune 100 ranks.
Many corporate giants such as Sanofi-Aventis, AT&T, Merck, Merrill Lynch,
Federal Express, General Motors, and DuPont have discovered that mentoring is
a mutually advantageous way to both attract and retain employees. One of my
clients recently saw a 15 percent drop in star performer attrition after installing
a formal mentoring program.
The individual, or “mentee,” thrives under the knowledge that the
organization is taking a special interest in his or her development and gains
knowledge that may not be had any other way. With the encouragement, support,
and friendship of mentors, employees generally become more productive, report
greater career satisfaction, and enjoy accelerated career growth. Studies show
that employees with mentors reach the executive level an average of two years
sooner than their counterparts without such help.
For the organization, mentoring serves to preserve “institutional memory”
by sharing information and experience from one to another. This need to pass
along corporate learning and develop bench strength within the organization is
particularly critical now that we have created flat and lean organizations and
as baby boomers begin to retire, taking their know-how with them. Mentoring
programs are an inexpensive way to inspire future leaders, improve management
and staff relationships, and prepare people to succeed an aging workforce. (They
should not, however, be created to raise awareness of, and appreciation for,
diversity. There are many other forums better suited to this type of learning.)
Not All Programs Are The Same
Mentoring programs can be either informal (not organized and sponsored by the
organization) or formal (created and maintained as a corporate function). Of
course, employees will only give your company “credit” for those programs that
you officially sponsor. If we leave employees to find their own mentors, it can feel
like a popularity contest or a political game to them. Instead, by formalizing a
program, we ask employees who are willing to make the commitment to develop
new skills to step forward. In matching them with mentors who can provide the
next level of learning, we go a long way toward assuring that we provide “justin-
time” development to those aspiring to grow.
Mentoring programs can be either inter- or intra-company. Intra-company
programs are naturally easier to organize and administer. While mentors in other
firms and other industries from your own can be useful resources, they obviously
cannot help with an employee’s need to learn the ins and outs of a particular
organization, or technical skills specific to your company’s industry.
Formal programs have an endpoint — typically mentors and mentees
transition their relationship into another kind after a year or two. (Note that this
transition is not only natural and healthy, it is desired!). In contrast, the endpoint
in informal programs is usually less defined, and that can lead to a painful period
in which one or both parties are trying to dance away from the other.
Mentoring programs can be designed so that a single mentee is paired with
a mentor for one-on-one coaching and counseling, or so that small teams of four
to six mentees work together with an assigned learning leader. The mentoring
goals may be different for each pairing or grouping, but will likely fall into one of
▶ To assimilate an employee into an organization or to integrate two teams
▶ To develop the mentee’s technical skills. This may be needed when, for
example, a sales rep is assigned a new territory or product line and needs
to learn about it. Or it could be called for when a person who has worked in
operations for years makes a lateral move into marketing and now needs to
learn the tasks and skills of a marketer.
▶ To enhance an employee’s business acumen and political savvy. This is often
done for employees who aspire to senior management roles.
Whichever goal is set, the content of the learning is based on the mentee’s
needs and thus 100 percent relevant for him or her.
Success Depends Upon The Individuals and Training
Chip Bell, author of Managers as Mentors, contends that the relationship works
best if both parties have four characteristics: humility, an insatiable curiosity,
the courage to trust each other, and the willingness to really listen.
People who want to give, are happy with themselves, and value what
they know logically make the best teachers and therefore the best mentors.
But the best mentors are not necessarily teachers by profession. Nor are
they necessarily of the same gender or like their mentees in personality or
background. And neither are they necessarily older than their mentees.
In choosing a mentor, employees should look for someone who has the skills,
knowledge, and/or contacts that meet their developmental goals. They should
select someone who has a interest in them, is easy to talk to, and who shares
openly. When I design mentoring programs I use assessments to identify who
will fit best together so that mentees and mentors are matched based on 55
dimensions and the mentee’s needs.
To give even the most motivated mentees and mentors the best possible
start, their relationship should begin with a one-to-two-day training program. In
fact, a great deal of research suggests that one of the leading causes for failure
in mentoring relationships is the lack of training. Being a mentor is different
from being a manager, and being a mentee is different from being a subordinate.
The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, published by the U.S. Department of
Labor, defines mentoring as “one of the most complex of all human activities.”
Without training, mentors and mentees are often not prepared for the challenges
that can occur in the relationship: how to deal with disagreements, how to make
sure progress is being made, how to “stretch” one another, and how to establish
a sense of confidentiality, for example.
In effective mentor training, both mentees and mentors are taught their
roles and given the opportunity to get to know one another. In particular,
mentees are taught that they are responsible for guiding the direction of the
meetings with their mentors. The most successful interaction is mentee-driven.
The Popularity of Mentoring Programs Is Growing For A Reason
The number of business sponsoring formal mentoring programs doubled,
jumping from 17 percent to 36 percent, according to a survey by Human
Resource Executive magazine. These companies are learning that mentors are an
effective way to help employees and organizations prepare for their future. The
mentor/mentee relationship can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a
person’s career and, not coincidentally, one of the most productive programs a
company can sponsor. Today mentoring programs benefit the mentee, the mentor,
and the organization, but that is not a surprise: it is just as the Chinese Book of History predicted.