Why Mentoring Matters in Every Organization
Mentoring programs enhance the work experience for junior and senior employees, which boosts the bottom line.
Digital Exclusive - 2017
Want to be counted among Illinois’ preferred places to work and outshine the competition for recruiting top talent? Consider implementing a mentoring culture at your firm or company. Research shows that businesses with mentoring programs achieve substantial gains in employee retention, staff learning, leadership skills, and career development—not to mention ROI.
Employees as well as their mentors feel more satisfied and engaged in their jobs, with the workers motivated to seek new clients and work more efficiently. That, in turn, can have a real impact on a business’ bottom line.
A mentoring culture pairs a mentor, typically a senior-level person or partner in a firm, with a less-experienced staff member to provide workplace guidance toward advancing the person’s skills and career. This philosophy enriches the practice by facilitating peer learning and may even include interdepartmental relationships, such as between tax and audit areas, that can further help with career development.
Smart organizations use mentoring to help in recruiting and engaging younger employees. Studies show that Generation Y workers strive for personal job satisfaction and achievement, and typically do not feel a strong loyalty to a particular organization. A structured mentoring program can help these junior employees feel better connected. By teaming with a seasoned accountant or partner, a mentee also gains valuable insight into the business that might not be available during the daily grind.
Mentoring also offers a way for managers to pass on industry and firm operational knowledge one-on-one. As senior employees and partners look to retire or reduce their workload in the coming years, mentoring can help preserve valuable knowledge for the next leadership group.
Regardless of size, all firms and companies can implement effective mentoring programs. Here are several aspects to consider:
Establish the Right Teams
The ideal mentoring relationship pairs a mentor with someone other than a direct report. In this way, issues and ideas can be openly discussed in a neutral environment. Mentoring partnerships also might extend into different practice areas.
A mentor’s main role is to be a supportive and willing listener, and to be prepared to speak not only about industry issues and how the mentee can grow, but also about internal issues such as office politics. Partnering with an immediate supervisor may hinder open, honest communication and may not provide the support a mentee needs in this type of relationship.
Informal vs. Formal Programs
Mentoring programs can take a formal, structured approach, in which an employee is assigned a mentor and expected to have a minimum number of meetings, or a looser structure without many restrictions and expectations. The best programs take elements from each approach, blending structure and flexibility.
Consider allowing employees to choose their mentors, which may invite better relationships and seem less forced. Mentees may be more open to the concept of being accountable to and open with a manager if they have the chance to find their own match instead of someone else selecting for them.
For larger organizations with staff in more than one office location, a mentoring relationship still can be achieved through technology, such as video conferencing or email, to communicate when regular, in-person meetings are not feasible.
The mentor and mentee should set goals together for the relationship to ensure it is effective. It is more beneficial to set realistic expectations (the mentee will take part in pitching a new business account within six months, for instance) and not unattainable targets (say, the mentee must bring in three new clients each quarter) that might lead to disappointment and frustration.
As with any successful business initiative, it is important to periodically evaluate the mentoring relationship and overall program. Evaluation may be done through a survey, one-on-one conversations or a group meeting to learn how mentees are benefiting from the program and if enhancements should be made. Encourage staff to provide honest feedback about the positive and negative aspects of the program. It doesn’t help anyone if people aren’t candid about what is and is not working.
The conventional mentoring relationship involves a veteran employee counseling someone with much less experience. But experienced leaders often can gain valuable knowledge from junior staff, too. Younger employees offer a fresh perspective that can enhance and benefit a firm. For example, a social-media savvy junior accountant might offer insight into tools that may provide more effective and efficient ways to communicate client-critical information, such as new regulations. Or someone with the firm only a few years may have a better perspective on how to lure the perfect candidate for a new position.
A great workplace culture builds over time. Eventually, organizations that support essential connections through mentoring relationships will gain significant benefits through more productive and happier employees who positively impact the organization’s—and the profession’s—future.
Karen Codere, SPHR is a mid-market human resources consultant for Insperity, which provides human resources and business for improving business performance.