Mentoring in Today’s Workplace

The term “mentoring” has its roots in Homer’s Odyssey. 

Mentor was the name of Odysseus’s friend whom he entrusts to serve as teacher and overseer to his son.  Today, the term “Mentor” has evolved to mean advisor, teacher, and friend.  Mentoring is a critical part of human development where a person invests time and energy to pass along knowledge and know-how to assist in the development of another.  Today, successful mentoring is a collaborative relationship where senior leadership, future leaders and the businesses they work for all gain.

To obtain and retain skilled employees, businesses must provide them with the opportunity to learn and develop into future leaders.  These means creating a holistic environment that not only considers their technical skill sets are developed, but their mental and emotional needs are considered.  A vibrant mentoring program ensures that all employees take an active role in spreading knowledge and best practices throughout the organization while nurturing interpersonal relationships that increase engagement.  Employees learn the skills to advance in their careers and feel connected with the organization.  This leads to happier and longer term employees.

Every company wants to obtain and retain high performers.  These are the future leaders of a firm and they are critical to successful growth.  A vibrant mentoring program is a great way to differentiate from competitors.  Rewarding the most valuable assets – PEOPLE- prepares them for future management positions.  Promoting a relationship between today’s leaders and identified successors, allows the company to develop high performers sooner.

Mentoring encourages a diverse workforce to share ideas, knowledge, and experience with others while acquiring cultural awareness.  A recent survey by Zeno Group found that while millennial women place a high value on mentorship, only 60 percent of them have mentors.  More importantly, this 60 percent also felt they were on the path to achieving their professional goals.  If we want an innovative, creative, and vibrant workplace, a varied workforce is imperative.  This helps build an inclusive corporate culture.

More experienced employees benefit from mentoring as well.  Today, many companies are partnering seasoned, established employees with newly hired staff.  This helps foster a reciprocal relationship where senior members pass on best practices while gaining new knowledge on emerging technologies and innovative ideas to market.  Mentorship programs are particularly beneficial for small business owners.  In fact, several franchises are partnering more successful franchisees and with new owners.  This cooperative communication aids in overall company productivity.

Of course, mentoring programs work best when with top down leadership support. Including the mentoring function in performance reviews and providing rewards for participation afford personal satisfaction and assurance that this is important to the firm.

Here are a few steps to start pulling together a mentor program:

1. Lay the Groundwork

Assess specific needs and set the programs objectives – Clarifying exactly where the gaps in information are helps create a program that is specific for your company.  Develop measurable objectives to accomplish from the program.  Be specific and link the objectives with overall firm goals.

Determine the structure of the program – Will people formally register for the program or be informally matched?  Your organization’s culture will play a big role here.  What metrics will you use to determine success?  Who in the organization can help meet the objectives?  Will the mentoring be one-on-one, in groups, or even virtual?Prepare for the launch – How will you communicate the program to all levels of the organization?  How will you gain buy-in?  Communication is critical for support.

2. Launch the program – The launch should begin with training.  Everyone should identify what they want to get out of the relationship and these should be linked to organizational goals.

3. Assess progress – most of the responsibility for the relationship belongs to the participants, but regular monitoring and follow up should be conducted to ensure goals and objectives are being reached.

4. Evaluate effectiveness – Were organizational goals met?  Were personal goals met?  What needs to happen to ensure alignment?

Today’s business world is volatile and ever-changing.  In order to thrive, businesses should stimulate employees intellectual and emotional well-being.  Mentoring shows employees that they are a vital part of the organization, helps the bottom line, improves employee engagement and retention, and improves buy-in to the vision of the organization.  If you do not have a mentor program in your firm, get going!  It is only going to become more critical as the next generation of employees moves into the workforce.

Darcella K Craven has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and military organizations. She is currently the Executive Director of the Veterans Business Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting Honorably Discharged Veterans, National Guard and Reservist and Active Duty personnel and their families with transitioning back into civilian life with starting and expanding businesses. An Army Veteran, she holds a Masters of Arts in Management from Webster University and is currently pursuing her Doctors of Management focusing on impact of military experience on small business decision making. Darcella has been featured in numerous articles for her transition from the military and the welfare system to an accomplished business woman and is actively involved in many civic organizations.

Article co-authored by Damon Chaffin, Business Performance Consultant, VBRC

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