Mentoring: An Important Developmental Tool

Mentoring has always been a way for employees to build relationships and employers to maximize low-cost training time. Traditionally, a senior member of a staff would take a newer, less experienced employee under their wing to teach them skills, help them to integrate into the company culture, and provide them with a support system. While mentoring still offers those invaluable benefits, it has also become a way for companies to build a positive and collaborative company culture, promote employee development, and to decrease turnover.

Providing a mentoring program can assist with recruitment and training of new employees. Job candidates often interpret mentoring programs as expressing the company’s investment in their future and their professional growth. In addition, a support system to help employees adapt to their new role and the company culture allows them to feel more comfortable and gives employers a cost-effective way to ensure training is understood and accurately implemented.

Studies show that mentoring programs not only attract good candidates, but help companies to retain them, particularly women and minorities. Employees stay in organizations where they feel valued; where their success is possible through personal and professional development. Mentoring programs allow this to be a part of their day-to-day activities, continuing their education and encouraging them to learn new skills, without extraneous costs to the employer.

Employers often look for ways to improve employees’ soft skills. Skills such as emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and effective communication are difficult to train on in a traditional setting. This is a gap that mentoring can fill. Mentoring allows employees to strengthen soft skills through interaction, feedback, and regular communication. While it may not be specifically a part of their job description, improved soft-skills create better, more productive employees.

Successful mentoring programs offer both formal and informal channels for employees. It is a balancing act between facilitating relationship building and allowing these relationships to evolve in an organic way. The best place to begin is in a formal setting, whether this be an office lunch, a conference, or an activity specifically geared toward mentorship. Providing employees with a setting to begin the conversation is essential, for both formal and informal mentoring programs.

Formal mentoring programs often consist of new employees being matched with more experienced employees in their department or a similar role. While this is a great place to start, a similar work experience cannot be all a mentor and mentee have in common. To strengthen their mentoring programs, many employers turn to questionnaires, for both current and potential employees. This allows a deeper match that takes into account things like communication style, professional goals, etc.

Once the match is made, it is time to get started. It is important to keep things clear, concise, and simple. Select a formal standard, such as weekly meetings, and create goals – employees learning specific skills, aspects of the job, etc. – and then allow the relationship to grow. The most important aspect of mentoring is the relationship that is built.  Too much supervision can make it feel fabricated and undermine your ultimate goal. That said, it is important to measure the success of your program and you can use periodic feedback to do this. This gives you an opportunity to hear from both employees and ensure things are productive for mentor, mentee, and the organization.

Along with formally structured mentoring programs, informal mentoring is key to a successful company. Employees interact, collaborate, build relationships, and are continuously learning from one another. While this happens in every workplace, it can be made more positive by an organization that facilitates the mentoring relationship. Many companies that have found success in informal mentoring attribute these relationships to their ability to facilitate activities and events that provide a place for employees to build a foundation. They suggest using company events to encourage collaboration and discussion, allowing relationships to begin organically. This is particularly helpful if your organization is large, many employees may not see each other in their day-to-day and a company-facilitated event will allow them to share experiences and create bonds they might not have otherwise.

No matter your industry, whether your focus is on formal or informal mentoring, experts show that these programs are essential to recruiting and retaining the best employees. In an age where personal growth and professional development are at the top of job candidates lists, mentoring is a cost-effective solution. It allows employers to adapt to the needs of their employees, strengthening diversity, employee satisfaction, and increasing productivity.

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