Mentoring can sometimes sound soft and wishy-washy, but properly done, it can be a powerful tool.
You may find that informal mentoring is already going on among your staff, but it is certainly worthwhile putting a more formal programme in place, with guidelines and measurements. It may also serve your organisation’s purposes to match mentor and ‘mentee’.
As William Berry, co-founder, Mentoring UK, points out, “Mentoring can foster independence of mind and self-belief. And while the motivation behind it is often one of self-sacrifice – giving something back to a business – the process is mutually beneficial.
“The mentor is given the opportunity to share their knowledge with a less experienced colleague, but may also learn from the protégé. Youthful enthusiasm can usually teach wisdom and experience a trick or two.”
There are several key points to consider when setting up a mentoring programme. The first, of course, is who to invite to be mentors. They should be senior and successful – but also personable and approachable. Mentoring will backfire if the mentee finds the mentor intimidating. The relationship needs to foster and instruct at the same time, and to promote self-confidence.
As Berry says: “A good mentor should encourage their young colleague to take the calculated risks necessary to make their vision a reality. If they have given it their best shot and failed, a mentor should be there to remind them to recover, learn, and try again.”
The mentoring programme’s structure is crucial. How formal should it be? Consider whether you or the participants should dictate how often they meet – bearing in mind that procedures that make administrative sense to you may end up constraining the mentoring process for them. And in terms of measurements, decide what you are expecting in terms of reports and tangible results.
Reuters runs an unusual ‘reverse mentoring’ programme, where people are matched because of their differences – for instance, a senior woman with a junior man, or a man from a white background with one from an ethnic minority. Not only do they learn from each other, but they get an insight into how working at Reuters is for other people.
Key to any mentoring process, but particularly where one has been arranged by a third party, is confidentiality. Employees being mentored should understand that their comments will go no further – and they must never feel that anything they say will end up in the hands of those ‘baddies’ in the HR department. Or on record.
Mentoring has several potential benefits for the organisation. It can be a good way of identifying skills (and skills shortages), and of building relationships across the company.
At a basic level, it helps keep your employees happy and motivated. It’s proof that you see them as assets, worth investing in. It can even be a way of exposing senior staff to more junior employees – and reminding the big cheeses that there was a time when they needed guidance.
Mentors should be: