The benefits of mentoring can have an invaluable effect on an organization. It brings out the side of human nature that allows us to be of great service to each other. We see each other and we understand each other's needs to grow and evolve personally and professionally. A corporate mentorship program happens in pay-it-forward chains, where your mentor has a mentor, and the chain continues. It's a professional, living legacy.
Here are five key reasons you need to start a mentoring program now at your company.
- We’re losing the water-cooler connection.
Let’s face it, there is no normal in this new normal, and many countries are facing a mental health crisis. As a leader, you must take on employee well-being as a primary focus of the hybrid remote workplace. We know Zoom and Microsoft Teams are terrific technologies, but employees are burning out. Engagement rates are falling as distractions and Zoom fatigue increase. According to UCLA research, before COVID, America was dealing with a significant loneliness epidemic in which more than 60% of people felt they didn't have someone to speak with. Gallup studies have shown that having a best friend at work is a crucial component to driving employee retention.
When we set the stage for people at a major insurance company to have 1:1 meaningful mentoring conversations – what we call our Virtual Flash Mentoring program – engagement rates increased from 50% to 95%. This means meetings went from being “talking heads” sessions to meetings in which employees actually learn and help one another. People need human connection and real conversations about what's really going on and how to better succeed in their roles. These conversations reinforce the notion that we are not alone and can get to a better place with strategic action.
- We need to drive diversity, inclusion and belonging.
When we arrived to support a U.S. law enforcement agency, very few people said they were actively being mentored or serving as mentors. The two people in a room of 35 who said they were serving as mentors were the only two white men in the room. It was similar at a renowned Spanish-owned bank. Fewer than 10% of the employees said they were mentoring others, and most women said their professional mentors were men.
When we first started helping companies build mentoring programs, we wrongly assumed that at least 50% or more of executives are participating in mentoring. This is not the case. We also quickly found that people often mentor in their own likeness, and if we want more diversity, we need to champion people who do not remind us of ourselves or look just like us. We also need to engineer a program with a beginning, a middle and an end to give people the permission they are looking for and the roadmap to really engage.
The good news is that there IS willingness. People are very willing to help if they are asked and there is a framework to the relationship. In starting a mentoring program, think about inclusion mentoring and how we can match people with people who do not mirror them physically, in religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, learning style, abilities and more.
Be sure to support people who are willing to mentor. Many people ask, "am I enough to mentor someone else?” A little training and engineering go a long way. People may also be concerned about the level of responsibility given other priorities. How about one hour twice a month for six to nine months? That is a 12-18-hour annual commitment to change the life of a colleague and feel more belonging.
Consider the importance of training so that all parties are clear on expectations and the key ingredients of a successful initiative. Did you know studies show that mentors get promoted six times more often than people who don't mentor and mentees get promoted five times more often. Mentoring has shown to increase employee retention by 20%. Now that’s ROI!
- We need to let leaders lead.
Leadership is taking action. But how do you lead if others are not willing to join you and/or follow? As a leadership development play, your executives should learn the nuance between mentorship and sponsorship and learn to flex both. A mentor will share from their experience, skills and knowledge. A sponsor will champion their protégé to others, help them rise to new levels and advocate for them.
A sponsor may contact 20 HR leaders they know to champion a dynamo-executive who is out of work land a new job. A sponsor might also contact their boss and ask him/her to meet a colleague for coffee to discuss an upcoming contract and build the case for her candidacy. A mentor might share with a colleague how they re-invented themself and started a fulfilling new career and what pitfalls to avoid. Leaders lead, so lead. When we mentor and sponsor, we have a choice, and as leaders, we should have a deliberate plan for who we will champion. Executives should consider making mentoring a part of year-end bonuses for their leaders. It needs to be supported by the top and ingrained in the culture
Think of a mentoring program as integral to succession planning. List people by name who would benefit from sponsorship and who would benefit from mentorship. Be sure to select a diverse group of people (including gender, ethnicities, ages and more). Plan for each relationship so it is well thought through.
- It’s time to rethink management training.
Think back to when you were trained to be a manager. All the binders and PowerPoints. The notes you took. Can you remember 10 things you learned? Association for Talent Development conducted a study and found that management training increased manager productivity by over 20%. Not bad! But managers who had mentors increased productivity by over 88%.
This is what we call situational mentorship. A mentor is a vast book of life experience and learning. Today, based on the needs of their mentees, they open Chapter 6; next month, they open Chapter 14. Management is hard, especially during times of uncertainty and change; we need continuous learning. Investing in people’s capabilities has a massive ripple effect on retention and corporate culture.
Many leaders do not or have never had a mentor. But if you don't mentor other people, how can you be a good manager? Formalizing a mentoring program will help you better target managers, rising stars, women executives, employee resource (ERG) groups that want to build their pipeline and interns that you later plan on hiring.
- Mentoring should be a must-have.
In most organizations, mentoring is perceived as nice to have. Companies have good intentions but often haven't allocated mentoring to a particular job description or spread it out under a volunteer team to which each person contributes 5% of their time. It may get off to a good start but lack re-investment and modernization.
The good news is people are typically thrilled to be part of a mentoring experience. They share their concerns with each other and realize they are not alone. The bad news is that, without the support of the CEO, CFO or head of the business operating unit, the program's survival rate is low. A friend once said to me, once a leader climbs the ladder, they often forget the ladder is there. They might need to be reminded. Because on that ladder are tomorrow’s great leaders and the future of our companies.
ISG has vast experience in building initiatives and training mentors and mentees in many sectors. Our vision is to see a world where everyone has an effective mentor. We can help you reap the benefits of mentorship and DEI sponsorship by developing training and strategies that help you create a happier, more productive and diverse workforce.
January is National Mentoring Month. Contact us now so we can get started building your vision together.