As you go back in history you realise that great leaders had great mentors. Do you have a mentor and is our organisation using mentorship to effectively activate the potential of staff?
Recent research including a paper by Offstein, Shah and Gnyawali (2011) show that firms can fundamentally improve their value by the board taking a mentorship approach with the CEO and by implication key executives. In setting the risk parameters that are acceptable the board can challenge the CEO to do more and to on more challenging markets and competitors, but providing protection and support. This argument is easily extended and poses the question if one of the roles of leadership does not become to mentor key staff over time to be able to lead the organisation further.
The values oriented organisation has also been shown to be more effective than organisations that are not values oriented and one of the most effective ways to imbibe the organisational culture is through effective mentorship. The mentor / mentee sessions can focus on the values of the organisation and how they play out in functional systems and processes. In this way the values become real to the participants and allows organisations to harness the collective energy of shared objectives. Emerging research is also showing that the real value of performance management systems is not the scoring, but the fact that management guides and mentors the employee around the expectations of the organisation. Systems with no scores but higher engagement by managers with staff generally translate into higher profits for the organisation.
As the digital age is maturing there is a massive gap that has emerged and that is hindering organisations and mentoring is coming to the resque. It is common knowledge that the younger generation has more knowledge of the digital world, but that older executives have more experience in mobilising resources and leading organisations. To bridge this divide, reverse mentorship is emerging as a technique in which younger staff members play a structured role in driving innovation and leadership in an organisation through being the mentors and not necessarily the mentees (Chen, 2013). This is such a big area of focus that some organisations have “inter generational conversations” to link different parts of their organisations to each other and mitigate against ageism and the impact of the experience vs knowledge debate.
Another goal is to use mentorship as a knowledge transfer mechanism and to help employees with less experience be connected with tools, processes and technologies that broaden the scope of their engagement. As such it may be interesting to look at key skilled people and enable them to be mentors to others so as to create knowledge in that area.
Mentoring in order to be effective has three primary objectives as adapted from Ofstein, Shah and Gnyawali (2011) that includes:
- Legitimising and challenging what is being done through supporting character development and growth in the individual and their team;
- Encouraging others to explore their scope in their existing role and making the most out of their current position, as well as looking to how to grow in the organisation; and
- Transferring of knowledge and learning.
One of the interesting trends that is emerging from research is that emotional expression in mentorship is also becoming a lot more important with studies showing that a key expectations of mentees is to be able to find an outlet for otherwise unexpressed emotions about the organisation. The challenge is that if a mentor does often not have suitable skills in order to address the mentorship conversation. What can then happen is that the mentorship programme becomes an opportunity to vent for both parties – without looking at how things can change. The emotional side to the equation has traditionally been a part of the coaching discussion and while it is important to realise that mentoring and coaching are two very different disciplines – it is becoming important to build skills as a coach, while offering a mentorship approach. Mentorship however is not a psychological discussion – but a business discussion that focuses on how to integrate and get the best out of the organisation.
Mentorship is finding wide application in the space of technology, entrepreneurship, education and general management as an increasingly globalised world creates new challenges that are more complex and that require many more minds to work on solutions.
This new mentorship paradigm asks the question on how to effectively structure a mentorship programme?
The options in terms of mentorship programmes are many with the most common approaches including:
- Traditional mentoring
A programme is established whereby a more senior colleague is assigned to a junior colleague to “show them the ropes” and guide them through the organisation.
- Reverse mentoring
A younger colleague shows an older colleague how a new system or software work, sometimes in exchange for other learning.
- Reciprocal or Peer to peer mentoring
A structured programme in which mentors and mentees swap on a regular basis and both give and get feedback.
- Group mentoring
A group goes through a collective mentoring process and support each other to achieve set individual and group objectives.
In order to get a mentorship programme to be more than a policy guideline best practices suggest the following
- Assign a mentor to all new employees when they join
- Have a regular get together of mentors and focus on the objectives and skills required to be an effective mentor
- Respect anonymity and ethics – the trust between a mentor and mentee is very critical
- Not everyone will participate – some people will refuse to engage with a mentor – this is acceptable.
- Create an acceptable time limit for mentors and mentees to interact (e.g. 1 hour every two weeks).
- Insist that mentorship engagements are documented and not only informal. As a minimum record the date, session, duration and submit centrally.
As mentorship programmes mature more focus must be put on making sure that the skills of mentors are improved and some organisations accept mentor applications – increasing the prestige and rigour in selection of mentors. Annual mentor training is recommended and periodic evaluation of the mentors, the mentorship process and the impact on the organisation is recommended.
Mentorship is a powerful tool to ensure that organisations move towards a central set of values and transfer skills and knowledge to people in structured ways. Research shows that organisations with effective mentorship programmes have better attitudes towards risk, innovation and growth and the objectives of the mentorship process should include to challenge people to do more within the organisational context.
Mentorship is more than a policy or a good idea – but it may be the key to unlocking synergies in organisations and making sure that there is clear line of sight of the goals of the organisation in a way that makes the conversation interactive and creates empowered staff. Too many times mentorship programmes get relegated in favour of mass communication when organisations grow and large organisations are rediscovering the value of effective mentorship process.
Chen, Y 2013, ‘Effect of Reverse Mentoring on Traditional Mentoring Functions’, Leadership & Management In Engineering, 13, 3, pp. 199-208
Offstein, E, Shah, A, & Gnyawali, D 2011, ‘Effects of CEO-BOD Mentoring on Firm Competitive Behavior’, Review Of Business, 32, 1, pp. 75-88