A recent American Society for Training and Development study found that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have some type of corporate mentorship programme and that 75% of their executives credit their mentors with helping them reach their current position. The rise of such schemes in today’s hyper-competitive economy suggests organisations believe it can help drive revenue and reduce costs. No longer an after-thought or “add-on” to corporate strategy, Joanne McAuley explores some of the increasingly recognised benefits of a structured workplace mentoring programme, no matter how simple or complex, and the issues to be considered when implementing such an initiative.
The concept of mentoring isn’t new – in Greek mythology, when Odysseus disappeared to fight the Trojan War and then went on his ten-year odyssey, he entrusted his friend, who was named Mentor, with the task of bringing up his son. Mentor did such a good job (with the help of goddess Athena) that his name passed into many European languages to describe someone who acts as a trusted counsellor or guide for someone younger or less experienced.
Today, just as in ancient times, mentoring is essential on so many levels. Mentors inspire, give advice, share perspective, motivate and help each their mentee develop new skills and new ideas. Mentors do more than help new employees learn the basics of the workplace. They help them develop values and new perspectives.
Mentoring is a strategic tool that when done right, can attract and retain high-potential talent and accelerate leadership development and readiness.
Employee turnover is fast becoming one of the most challenging issues for companies all over the world. A mentorship programme is one of the many ways to keep your staff at work and happy. According to “Entrepreneur” a Fortune 500 company was able to reduce its turnover rate of employees with fewer than three years’ experience from 50% to 20% by investing in a mentor programme. Mentor programmes boost productivity and job satisfaction. Mentors may lessen job frustration through advice or training, as well as boost morale by offering encouragement and support.
Business continuity depends on good managers and great leaders but often companies see just two choices – persuade their older executives to delay retirement, or replace them. The former doesn’t solve the issue of continuity and the latter means promoting promising young workers whether they’re ready or not. And many are not.
But there is a third option – mentoring. Effective mentor relationships identify and develop future company talent. What’s more, mentoring programmes can be inexpensive, easy to implement and benefit everyone – older executives, their younger successors, and the organisational bottom line.
The sharing of business experience is one of the most readily recognised benefits of mentoring programmes. Mentors can help protégés grow and develop in their position by imparting specific jobs tips, business "lessons learned" and advice on business leadership and communication.
This sharing of experience however shouldn’t simply involve an older employee imparting their wisdom upon a younger one. The idea that the old have much to learn from the young, as well as vice versa, is increasingly gaining traction in corporate life. As early retirement becomes a thing of the past, “reverse mentoring” is seen as a way of helping older stay in business for longer and keep organisations more current. Mentors have an opportunity to learn from their protégés from the sharing of different perspectives, insights or new business contacts – in short, the focus should be on establishing a two-way trusted relationship in which both parties learn and grow on a personal and professional level.
Becoming more popular, particularly for smaller companies whose senior staff can’t afford the time or resource to devote to a formal mentoring scheme, is peer-to-peer mentoring.
Unlike a mentorship between a manager and a subordinate, mentees feel less vulnerable talking about the challenges they face with a peer. It allows them the ability to express their fears, concerns and desires for growth in the role with a more trusted partner. A peer mentor truly understands your strains and obstacles and can help you face them in a positive and productive way.
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