Julie Kantor of the Huffington Post asks the question: “What increases employees education and learning; saves company high turnover costs; develops leadership and management skills; and saves people time and money to focus on the big priorities?” Her answer is mentoring—more specifically, mentoring in the workplace. In this blog we’ll review some key aspects of mentoring and why it’s become so popular. We’ll also explore why mentoring for people that do not know what their career goals should be can be difficult. Authors Tania Luna and Jordan Cohen writing for the Harvard Business Review this month state that mentoring in regards to career can be problematic because the entire notion of what a career is has changed. They say: “Before offering solutions, we’d like to propose a radical diagnosis: The problem lives not in a lack of career opportunities, but rather in the very concept of a career. We are suffering from the career myth — a delusional belief in the outdated idea of linear career progression.”
What is Mentoring?
According to the Mentoring Support Network, “Mentoring is sharing knowledge, skills and life experience to guide another towards reaching their full potential; it’s a journey of shared discovery. Mentoring is a positive, supportive relationship, encouraging young people to develop to their fullest potential. A mentor can be a role model, coach, sounding board, voice of reason, counselor and a trusted resource. Mentors care and assure their mentee that they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges. They help them believe that they matter.”
This is a pretty good definition, and it covers a lot of the reasons why this concept of mentoring has been adopted by over 70% of the Fortune 500 companies. The only element that I’d disagree with is that it’s not always an older person mentoring someone younger. I know it makes sense because with age comes wisdom. But it is also important how young folks that are more technology savvy have been mentoring older members of their teams on the latest on tools and new social media etiquette that the digital revolution has created. All skills-based mentoring requires that the mentor know more than the mentee regardless of age or rank.
Key Benefits of Mentoring
Ms. Kantor cites the following as primary benefits to having a formal mentoring program in your company. Here’s a summary:
1. Education and Learning
“Nearly 80 percent of all learning is considered to be informal, meaning that it is not done by reading or taking classes, but rather by learning on the job and from others. Mentors will elevate and escalate 'knowledge transfer,' which is useful in shortening a learning curve in the workplace.”
2. Reducing Turnover Rates
“The loss of one good employee costs on average a years salary. By providing personalized advice to a mentee, a mentor can help to ensure that employees will work through any frustrations or concerns they may have, help them build the skills they need for success, encouraging them to stay with the company and grow there for a longer period of time.”
3. Development of Leadership and Management Skills
“By implementing a mentoring initiative, mentors can assist in teaching leadership skills to employees showing potential for future leadership positions. We’ll see later in this blog how a mentor versus a direct supervisor can often best help manage career decisions.”
4. Time Savings and Focus
“Implementing mentorship strategies is an excellent way to save time in the workplace. By implementing mentors, employees with questions or concerns can often work with the mentor on a resolution or answer, reducing the time needed to get tasks finished, which overall improves productivity. Mentors also reduce the formal training necessary for new employees.”
It’s believed that over 79% of Millennials see mentoring as crucial to their career success. There has been some debate on just what Millennials really want in a career or workplace, and mentoring is the perfect one-to-one solution that can keep young talent enthused and on track. And mentors that are not supervisors will typically hear more candid feedback, which helps create stronger relationships. Jordon Cohen is Vice President, People – U.S. at Weight Watchers International. He is an expert on knowledge worker productivity. Here’s a brief summary of what they do at Weight Watchers, from the article "How To Mentor Someone That Doesn’t Know What Their Career Goals Should Be."
Dispel the career myth.
“First, we tell employees that it is fine and even preferable not to have a concrete career path in mind. We recently launched biannual growth conversations between managers and employees. Rather than job titles, employees discuss experiences, responsibilities, and lifestyle changes they might want.”
“Good questions to ask: ‘What problems excite you?’ ‘What strengths can you build on?’ ‘What types of work do you want to do less of and more of?’ ‘What would you do differently if you quit your career?’”
Focus on transferable skills.
“We train our managers to help their direct reports develop transferable skills, not climb a ladder (for example, communication, self-management, writing, public speaking). These are skills that increase employability because they can be applied to a variety of roles and situations now and in the future.”
“Good questions to ask: ‘Of the skills we’re looking to grow on the team or in the company, which interest you most?’ ‘What skills would help you gain more influence in your current role?’ ‘What skill gaps are standing in your way or holding you back?’”
“One of the perks of an old-school career is the title progression that delineates advancement. As organizations become flatter, and growth nonlinear, we have to put extra effort into making milestones that mark progress. One way we’ve done this is to create badges that demarcate growth. For example, when managers receive training, they receive a certificate. To get their next badge, they must complete an advanced program. A badge system can demarcate skills, knowledge, and achievements — creating a portfolio of accomplishments rather than a traditional résumé.”
“Good questions to ask: ‘What do you want to achieve next? How will you know you’ve achieved it?’ ‘Let’s gamify this goal. What’s level 1? How about level 2?’ ‘What do you want to name this next milestone?’ ‘How might you share what you’ve learned?’”
Encourage small experiments.
"The growing complexity and unpredictability of work means we need to run many small experiments to discover what suits us best. We’re helping managers encourage experiments among their reports and equipping them with skills to give clear, actionable feedback on their reports’ progress.”
“Good questions to ask: ‘What areas of the business intrigue you?’ ‘How might you design a short experiment to test your interest level?’ ‘Who might you want to collaborate with?’ ‘What have you discovered about yourself from your past experiments?’
The Road Not Taken - Yet
Yogi Berra a famous baseball player once said: “If you see a fork in the road, take it.” In today’s fast moving world, there are more forks in the road than ever before. Change comes fast and the future is unsure. What we can be sure of is who we are and what we really care about. Our own personal brand has to be adaptable, and mentoring can help form important perspectives and character traits. There is an old Chinese Proverb, which reads: “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills.” If you can harness change in your favor you will eventually find your path. Have a great journey.