Launching A Mentorship Program Is A Good Investment
One of the most important investments a company can make is in employee training. For organizations, especially those entrenched in technology, to continue innovating, it’s necessary to spend time and resources on keeping employees apprised of the industry’s latest developments. While this often takes the form of classes, workshops, and courses, there is great potential to channel what happens both in the office and in the field on a daily basis into an ongoing professional development program with mentorships.
“Now, as this large talent pool of people who are getting older is moving into retirement, there is going to be a leadership gap,” observed Dr. Wayne Hart of the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego, CA, author of a number of books, including Choosing an Executive Coach. “There aren’t going to be as many young people to fill those leadership roles, and they may not have had the training and development to fulfill those leadership roles in an effective way.” On the flipside, those moving into what were traditionally known as the retirement years are often postponing their exits from the workplace. “You have people that want to stay engaged and who have wisdom to share, and you have a smaller population filling those leadership gaps.” This marriage of interests, he says, is natural.
Mentorships serve a number of purposes for both employee and employer: potential job candidates often look favorably upon companies that are willing to invest in continued education, and businesses with sound knowledge transfer and succession strategies use them for fast-tracking purposes or to prepare their professionals for future promotion, or simply as a means of strengthening an existing employee’s skills.
Dr. Lois J. Zachary, president of the Phoenix, AZ-based Leadership Services and author of Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide and The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, noted that the most successful mentorships are clearly aligned with a company’s business goals. “It should tie to the position and mission of the organization,” she said. “You have to understand why you are doing this.”
Good mentors possess a number of crucial characteristics, and not everyone is cut out for the job. Solid listening skills, a willingness to be a role model, and straightforward honesty are among the qualities that employers should seek when selecting potential mentors to pair up with their employees. “A mentoring relationship should be the one place in the organization where a mentee can go to get honest, straight-up feedback,” Zachary said, adding that mentors should also make themselves extremely accessible. “Mentoring takes time. The mentor has to be open and approachable, and has to be invested in developing other people.”
Hart noted that in some cases, individuals are reticent to offer mentoring services out of insecurity. “Sometimes senior people are threatened by developing junior people,” he illustrated. Good mentors must be comfortable with developing new talent.
Mentors should also have a knack for looking at the big picture to seek out the best opportunities for mentees to gain new knowledge. “It helps if the mentor is aware of the kinds of alliances, allegiances, and priorities that are going on in the culture so that they can help align the mentee with the best opportunities and alert them to potential threats in the system,” Hart said.
When approaching potential mentors, employers must be able to demonstrate the benefits of the role. Some employees are naturally inclined to gain satisfaction from helping others; others may view it as a way of reconnecting with the members of their team, or as a method of bridging the gap between different generations. “Sometimes the process of mentoring people helps mentors to get rejuvenated in their own thinking about how to do things,” Hart noted. He advised that mentoring should be made a part of the company’s performance expectations and rewards system. “Otherwise, people get so busy that the never get to it. If they have the right predisposition, you should recognize and reward that behavior. If that doesn’t happen, mentoring programs don’t tend to work.”
Zachary emphasized that in order for mentorships to truly succeed, they should be embedded in a company’s culture. “The whole idea of creating a mentoring culture promotes mentoring excellence as a standard of practice,” she said. “It fosters ownership for mentoring and what it demands is that you have a solid infrastructure and the leaders behind it, and that the time taken for mentoring is honored.” The financial resources, technological infrastructure, and human talent must all be in place in order for this to happen.
Merry S. McCleary, president and CEO of AV design integrator AVYVE, based in Norcross, GA, explained that seven years ago when the company designed its facility, the focus was on collaboration, out of which Mc- Cleary believes mentoring relationships form naturally. “We really wanted to make sure that everyone was equal, together, and combined, and we created work areas that got people to collaborate,” she said.
McCleary attributes a large part of the success she has enjoyed in her own career to mentoring relationships she benefited from in the past, and she encourages her employees to develop these bonds between each other as well. When a new recruit is brought on board, for example, they are required to work in different areas of the company to not only gain an understanding of how the business operates, but to establish ties with their colleagues as well. “It’s very important in audiovisual that every step along the way is done well, and that you understand the challenges that others face,” she said. “We make sure that everyone works together, and we try to avoid having the same teams work with each other over and over again. We mix people up so that there are different strengths from different team members, and that they are constantly learning from one another.”