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Put Mentoring at the Heart of Career Development Programmes

Many organisations are simply not providing mentorship opportunities. A 2019 survey found that 76 percent of respondents identified mentoring as important or very important. However, only 37 percent had access to a mentor.
JAN 09, 2024
Put Mentoring at the Heart of Career Development Programmes
Throughout 2023 there was a steady increase in interest for mentoring and how it could benefit leaders and senior managers maximise their capabilities. Interest has come from both employees looking to develop their skills and output, and employers looking to invest in their talent and create stronger leaders.

We explore what benefits mentoring can offer in today's business landscape.
What is mentoring and how does it work?

Mentoring has long been seen as a valuable tool for helping people to succeed at all stages in their working and non-working lives. In the business world, mentoring is used to describe the relationship between more experienced and senior employees, often managers, and younger employees, often new hires. In this context, mentoring is designed to help younger employees navigate corporate culture, work expectations and career pathing.

The best mentoring relationships are reciprocal and have accrued benefits for both mentor and mentee: for the mentor, it’s a chance to work on coaching techniques and polish their leadership skills; for the mentee, it’s a source of valuable advice on how to succeed in their current organisation.

Many successful organisations use mentoring as the foundation for high-potential and leadership development programmes, or to support onboarding and ongoing career development.

Who wants mentoring and why?

In short, just about everybody would like to have a mentor at one time or another in their careers. However, many organisations designate mentoring to high-potential candidates or those in leadership development streams. The failure to fully democratise mentoring – and offer it as a standard career development tool at scale to all levels of an organisation – is a missed opportunity given that it not only helps your best people realise their career goals, but it can also help them discover new talents while helping you keep your best people.

Gartner study on the impact of mentoring on employees at an information technology company found mentees and mentors were five times more likely to be promoted than colleagues outside mentoring programmes. The same study found that retention rates for both mentor and mentees was about 20 percent higher.

Not surprisingly, mentoring has become a table stakes commodity for many working people, particularly in younger generations. In a 2021 survey that looked back on the attitudes of Millennials over the previous decade, Deloitte found that mentoring was ranked as a top career development priority for leaders in this cohort.

Unfortunately, it appears many organisations are simply not providing as many mentorship opportunities as many of us would like. A 2019 survey found that 76 percent of respondents identified mentoring as important or very important. However, only 37 percent had access to a mentor.

Why is mentoring not offered in many organisations?

There is a school of thought that mentoring is more of an ad hoc relationship than a formal programme.

Search the internet or scan major business publications, and you’ll discover loads of free advice on how younger, up-and-coming talent can find a mentor. And while some do exactly that, many others find it difficult to ask managers or senior colleagues if they are willing to invest some time guiding their careers. Multiple surveys of people who have found a mentor confirm that only a fraction got it by going out and finding one on their own.

The reality is that while mentoring can evolve naturally as a function of normal, every-day business relationships, in many other instances a more formal programme is needed. In fact, many of the world’s most successful companies formalised mentoring many years ago. To that point, a 2016 survey found more than 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programmes.

Caterpillar, the iconic global heavy-machinery manufacturer, assigns every new hire a mentor for three years. The company also has developed a “reverse mentoring programme” where younger employees mentor senior employees about technology and generational divides. 

GE has been regarded for many years as a pioneer in mentoring and reverse mentoring. For decades now, GE has assigned senior executives to mentor employees at all levels of the organisation, in part to feed the company’s pipeline of future leaders.

It is always possible to encourage employees to go out and find someone willing to mentor them. In fact, looking for a mentor helps younger employees develop skills like networking, which are essential for business success.

However, the benefits are so profound that the world’s most successful companies are making deliberate efforts to promote mentoring at scale to all levels. They have built mentoring into the core of their organisational culture to meet the need of top talent for career development and boost both engagement and retention.

There will always be individuals who almost instinctively seek a mentor to help bolster their career aspirations. But given that the benefits are so broad and profound, do you really want to leave it to chance?