When I decided I wanted to write a book, I was utterly terrified and baffled. Where do I start?
Thankfully, I’d learned years ago that I do not have to go it alone with new challenges: I called on a trusted mentor. Elaine Biech has written or edited more than 50 books. She knows about this thing! I’m grateful for the amazing insights Elaine shared with me to guide my book publishing process. I couldn't have done it as quickly or as well without her mentoring support.
Have you had a mentor or mentored someone? I actually devoted a whole chapter in Employee Development on a Shoestring to the idea that mentoring can be a wonderful tool to develop employees. It is also an amazing employee engagement booster. In this post, I’ll share some of the highlights with you about what mentoring is and why it’s helpful, who is the ideal candidate for this kind of relationship, and seven tips for creating a strong mentoring program and/or building a great mentoring relationships which will increase both learning and engagement in your organization, department, team, or even just yourself.
What is mentoring and who needs it, anyway?
The modern word “Mentor” means “a trusted counselor or guide” (Merriam-Webster, 2011). There are at least two people in a mentoring relationship – the mentor and the protégé – and both can gain valuable new knowledge, insight, and skills as a result of participating in this endeavor.
Mentoring is a best-practice in successful companies: 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs.
Mentoring can lead to more promotions. According to one study, being in a mentoring program resulted in mentors getting promoted six times more often than those not in the program and protégés being promoted five times more often.
Mentoring increases retention rates! The retention rates were 72% for protégés and 69% for mentors in the study, but only 49% for employees who did not participate in the mentoring program.
It can even help you get a job and find the right candidate for a job. Ilene Gordon, CEO of Ingredion says that the key question she always ask when interviewing job candidates is “Who mentored you? Who did you learn from?” According to a New York Times article, when we’re hiring people, we’re hiring all their mentors, too. “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.”
However, mentoring is not limited to those whose employers offer a formal program.
In our highly connected world of social networking, new mentoring relationships are emerging as a result of savvy employees (and their employers) making connections and joining groups where they have access to potential mentoring matches. Eager learners and seasoned veterans who are willing to mentor them can easily connect and begin a consensual, mutually beneficial mentoring relationship.
Who should try it?
Mentoring relationships are most frequently conducted on a one-to-one basis. However, mentoring can also take place in groups or one-to-many arrangements.
Finally, while most mentoring relationships last for a predetermined period of time (usually nine months to one year), you can also arrange situational mentoring relationships to address a particular learning need or issue.
As I described in Employee Development on a Shoestring, there are certain characteristics and attributes that you should look for to assess someone’s fitness for a mentoring relationship.
- are analytical
- are good communicators
- are highly organized
- possess in-depth knowledge of the organization
- have made a strong commitment to training and development
- value action learning
- are committed to being available, and
- are willing to provide open, honest feedback.
- want to acquaint themselves with the company if they are new hires
- seek opportunities for career advancement
- are interested in other areas of the business
- want to expand their leadership abilities
- are successful in previous skill improvement efforts
- are willing to openly share information
- are willing to provide open, honest feedback
- persevere in the face of the ambiguity and awkwardness of learning new skills and making mistakes, and
- are committed to following through on action items and assignments.
7 Mentoring Implementation Tips
Incorporate a mentoring strategy or program in your own organization, department, team, or even just for yourself. Here are seven tips to help you ensure its successful implementation.
- Mentoring should be voluntary, not mandatory. Make every effort to allow the mentor to be selected by the protégé. Both the mentor and the protégé must opt in and mutually commit to the mentoring process. Compelling either party to the relationship can lead to poor adherence, “deadbeat” participation, and ineffective results.
- In a mentoring relationship, the protégé is the driver. Because protégés are the primary beneficiaries of the relationship, the onus is on them to schedule meetings, send agendas, report and follow up on progress and action items, and initiate communication with their mentors.
- Preparation optimizes results. Prior to each mentoring session, protégés should prepare and send an update to their mentors in order to help focus the session for optimal results. They should include things like what they’ve accomplished since their last session; what action items were not accomplished and what got in the way; the challenges and opportunities they’re currently facing; and the support they want from the mentor during the upcoming meeting.
- Create an ‘Exit Strategy’ upfront. Encourage the mentoring partners to have a predetermined “exit plan” should either one feel at any point that the relationship is no longer beneficial or effective for any reason.
- Ensure confidentiality. Mentors and protégés should agree to hold the content of their developmental work together in confidence.
- [Optional but great to have] Strong senior leadership support can encourage participation and help reinforce the program’s importance. It can help prevent the problems caused by mixed messages that employees receive from unsupportive leadership about where they should put their priorities (usually not on mentoring).
- [Optional but great to have] Train both mentors and protégés on how to make the most of the program. Ideally, train mentors and protégés separately so they can feel encouraged and free to ask questions, express concerns, and share ideas with peers.
How have you benefited from a mentoring relationship? What are your tried-and-true tips for success in mentoring or being mentored? Chime in via the comments below!
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