How do you retain and prepare your best talent to lead? Mentoring programs are one of the most effective tools in achieving business results. The authors of the book, War on Talentreported, “Of those who have had a highly helpful mentoring experience, 95 percent indicated it motivated them to do their very best, 88 percent said it made them less likely to leave their company, and 97 percent said it contributed to their success at the company.”
Many organizations have discovered providing a mentor for high performing employees not only helps them settle into their job and company environment, but also contributes to a lower employee turnover rate and greater job satisfaction.
A mentor, basically, is someone who serves as a counselor or guide. Being asked to serve as a mentor is an honor. It indicates the company has faith in the person’s abilities and trusts him or her to have a positive impact on the situation. The use of a mentor may be an informal, short-term situation or a more formal, long-term assignment.
In an informal mentoring program, the mentor usually helps the mentee for a limited period of time. Advice from the mentor may include the most basic of information about everyday routines including tips about “do’s and don’ts” not found in the employee manual to helping the employee learn job responsibilities and prepare them for future roles in the organization. A mentor who is available to answer questions and provide leadership development also saves time for the supervisor or manager. In addition, mentees often feel more comfortable asking questions of their mentor than their supervisor.
In a program of this type, mentors often are volunteers. Forcing someone who does not want to serve as a mentor to do so can quickly create problems. Obviously, someone with a negative attitude, who might encourage a new employee to gripe and complain, should not serve as a mentor.
A more formal version of mentoring occurs when an organization appoints a senior manager with extensive knowledge and experience to serve as a mentor to a professional the company feels has excellent potential for growth. The mentor’s role usually lasts for an extended period of time.
Effective mentoring programs must have senior level support from the beginning, otherwise it will fail to get the attention and support it needs to become part of the organization’s culture. Experience shows the most effective mentoring programs are run by senior level executives, not just the human resources department.
Whether informal or formal, both parties need to understand the parameters. These may be more important in a long-term, formal mentoring situation, but can also influence the success of short-term, informal mentoring.
- Select the right mentor. Not everyone makes a good mentor. A mentor is someone who is respected, successful and understands the culture of the organization. They must be willing to make a commitment of their time and knowledge.
- Ensure proper pairing and create an emotional bond. It is helpful to conduct a behavioral assessment on both the mentee and mentor. This insures proper matching and helps both parties understand each other’s communication styles, strengths and limitations.
- Establish goals and a purpose. The mentor needs to outline these areas at the beginning. The goals should be in alignment with the strategic plan. Just as important, the protégé should outline their objectives as well.
- The mentor’s role is to coach and advise the mentee. The mentor does not interfere with the supervisor or manager’s decisions. The new employee, while expected to seek the mentor’s advice particularly on critical issues, is not bound to accept that advice.
- Confidentiality is important. Both parties need to feel confident that discussions remain between them–not immediately relayed to a supervisor or manager.
- Decide in advance how you will communicate. Will you have regularly scheduled meetings? Will discussion be face-to-face, over the telephone or even via e-mail? Both parties need to make their preferences known at the beginning and reach an acceptable compromise if they are different.
- Discuss time limits. If the mentoring period has a time limit the mentor should state that at the beginning.
- Discuss time commitments. Again, this may be more critical for long-term, formal mentoring. The mentor must expect to give the employee adequate time, but the newcomer should not expect excessive amounts. Setting a schedule at the beginning (example: meet once a week the first month, then once a month after that) avoids irritating misunderstandings later.
- Build openness and respect. Both the mentor and the person being mentored need to be open and honest, yet respect the other. A mentor who withholds important information or comments does not contribute to the other person’s success. However, such feedback should be delivered with tact and courtesy–and (even if somewhat hurtful) received with an open mind.
- Establish a professional relationship. The relationship between the mentor and his or her protégé is a professional one, not a personal one. This is particularly important for the mentee to understand.