Is it time to bring mentorship to the masses?
For many years now, employers of choice have recognized that formal mentorship programs empower the professional growth of employees and enrich the employee experience. While everyone contends with the Great Resignation and the Great Re-evaluation – where increasing numbers of skilled workers are jumping from job to job or strongly considering it – employers should be doing everything they can to retain their best people.
That everything could and should include some form of mentorship. There is no one talent management strategy that will solve all of your organization’s current talent challenges. But if you had to pick one particular strategy to give you a foundation on which to attract and retain top talent, you’d have a hard time finding one that provided as much immediate benefit as mentoring.
A one-stop shop for engagement and retention
In a talent market where historic numbers of people are voluntarily leaving jobs, and employers are forced to overpay to recruit skilled workers, it might seem like a reach to credit mentoring as a fix-all. But once talent wanderlust and the allure of money wears off, your top people are going to want to work in a place where they feel valued and supported. That’s where mentoring comes in.
In short, the people you employ now, and those that you hope to employ in the future, want meaningful conversations with managers about everything from career development to mental and physical health. They want to know that they are more than names on a company directory. They want to know that if they have questions about anything, there is someone out there to help them find the answers.
And in a nutshell, all of those wants and needs fall easily under the banner of mentorship. Although there are a wide variety of program structures, mentoring in the business world typically describes a formal, goal-oriented professional relationship between senior employees and less experienced employees, often new hires. More recently, mentoring has been expanded in many organizations to involve peer-to-peer relationships. Increasingly, mentoring programs are designed to help the mentee learn and navigate corporate culture, work expectations, career pathing and even reskilling or upskilling.
One of the best things about mentoring is that it can be fully democratized and offered to a variety of groups within a larger workforce: high-potential and leadership track candidates; new hires; under-represented groups; employees returning from maternity leave or sabbatical; employees who’ve been in the same role for several years. There is opportunity for growth and development for all employees.
And if all that is not enough to convince you of the value of mentoring, then consider this: if you’re not implementing a formal mentoring program, your competitors probably are.
The steady growth in formal mentoring
In an often-referenced study, 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have some form of mentoring program. At first blush, that’s a pretty remarkable number. But given that Fortune 500 skews to bigger companies with more sophisticated HR infrastructures, perhaps it’s not all that surprising. What is more notable is that there appears to be massive growth in mentoring at smaller and medium-sized companies.
Although specific data is hard to come by, we can look at the growth of the mentoring software platform industry. These are platforms that help organizations match mentors and mentees, and set goals for a mentoring program. Most industry analysts see total market size growing at double-digit rates over the next few years, reaching more than $1 billion globally by 2025.
Even with evidence of massive growth in tools to facilitate mentoring, the consensus among HR professionals is that employers are still falling well short of satisfying the demand for mentoring. An oft-cited 2019 survey of American workers found that while two-thirds of respondents actively desired a mentoring relationship only one-third were actually involved with a mentor, either through their own efforts or through a formal program.
Is your organization ready to deliver a meaningful mentorship program?
A mentoring program is not an off-the-shelf solution for most organizations. It takes careful planning and – most importantly – rigorous self-assessment to ensure that an organization is prepared to deliver mentoring to its employees.
If the desire is there, then you can assess your organization’s state of readiness with the following assessment checklist:
- What do you want to achieve? The good news is that mentoring can fulfill a number of different talent management goals. It can help facilitate career development, which in turn can supply a new source of talent for internal mobility and redeployment. It can help identify and develop the leaders of the future. It can ensure smooth onboarding for new hires. More broadly, mentoring can provide a major boost to retention, which is especially important in the era of the Great Resignation. However, it’s important to identify what you want to achieve, and then design the mentoring program to be fully aligned with those goals. Mentors can also help guide mentees through re-/upskilling opportunities.
- What kind of mentoring program do you want to deploy, and who among your employee group should be involved? Do you want all employees to have access to a mentor, or just high-potentials and leadership succession candidates? Should it be used as a tool for onboarding, to help new hires get up to speed as quickly as possible, or limited to a more select group of employees who you think are most susceptible to being poached by other companies? Perhaps you would like a mentoring program to support a re-/upskilling program, allowing people to acquire new skills and take on new roles. Along with goals, identifying the scope of mentees you want to involve is essential.
- How long should the program last? Mentoring can be a short-term relationship, lasting a few weeks or months as part of an onboarding process for new hires, or longer, when leadership development and succession planning are the focus. It is important for organizations to decide how long they want a mentoring engagement to last. And that can only be determined after mentoring goals are established. Full alignment between duration and goals is essential.
- Who will serve as the mentors and how will organizations match them with mentees? Some organizations tap an entire level of leadership to serve as mentors; others are more deliberate, identifying people with specific skills and experience to serve as mentors and then matching them with specific mentees. Some organizations even allow mentees to select from a list of mentors organized by areas of interest and expertise. Whatever approach you use, it is important to make sure you are doing all you can to match the right mentors and mentees. Mentors need to be fully invested in these relationships to get the best results. Make sure you are picking people who want to help others grow.
- Do your mentors need training? Even if a mentor is enthusiastic, they may require specific training in mentoring best practices. Mentoring involves a lot of specific skills that fall under the category of a coaching mindset: huge emphasis on listening and effective communication; being non-judgmental; avoiding deliberately prescriptive approaches. Mentors will be more confident and effective when they’ve been exposed to the basic best practices of mentoring.
- How will you measure the results? Like any major human capital program, it’s essential to measure the results of mentoring to ensure that everyone involved – mentor, mentee and organization – are getting what they want. You also want to make sure you know if mentees are succeeding in their careers. Are they producing better results? Are they getting promoted more often, and are they learning and applying new skills faster and with greater impact? And, now during the Great Resignation, are mentees more likely to stay with their current employer? Measuring helps organization determine the return-on-investment for programs like this.
The benefits of mentoring are so numerous, it’s difficult to find an argument against bringing this talent management tool to your employees. But the potential benefits alone won’t ensure success. Good mentoring programs require thoughtful planning, oversight and – ultimately – analysis to fully unlock the win-win-win dividends.