Meaningful mentoring

July 2015

People looking at mobile phoneJill Dann FBCS discusses nurturing the creation of business value through meaningful mentoring.

Effective mentoring occurs when a more skilled and experienced person, is able to both challenge and support in equal measure a less skilled or experienced person. Mentoring functions within the context of set goals or defining well-formed outcomes for the mentee with an end date for their achievement.

Mentoring is an organisational process that creates value in your business, i.e. one that is independent of individuals and repeatable by others, or is your people? One way to find out which is the case is to ask the following questions:

  1. Does your organisation have valuable intellectual property that is vested in a small number of employees (i.e. in their heads?)
  2. How exposed are you to people leaving your company - does it affect your net worth or goodwill?
  3. Have you got the capability to bounce back if key workers retire early or move on, potentially to new entrants or rival organisations?
  4. Have you got individuals, potentially frustrated entrepreneurs, in your organisation who are waiting to disrupt the market in which you operate?
  5. Do you have a safe pair of hands who can assist you to (ethically) access employee thinking, especially that of your star performers?

If your answer to these questions is mostly ‘yes’ then your business value is likely to be very dependent on people. To keep this ‘resource’ safe one of the business contingency measures you can put in place (with easily accessible tools these days) is a mentoring scheme.

Firstly, you can set organisational objectives for the scheme, which include you getting to hear discreetly the ‘grapevine’ information that you need; there’s nothing unethical about this suggestion.

You will need to set parameters on confidentiality and, in parallel, do everything you can to increase feedback on how to secure your employees’ investment in you as an employer. As a result you will be clearer on what you need to do for them and what they can do for you in value creation.

There can be a bit of snobbery around the calibre of mentor that an individual receives access to so be careful about this; mentoring is not a superficial process. Get your best heads together and cushion any fears mentors have about sharing their knowledge; reward the behaviour both in public and privately.

Get some advice on the eligibility criteria that you are going to set for your mentoring scheme so that it is open to all that meet the criteria. Make it clear that outcomes will be measurable and tracked. Communicate the personal development available to all employees at the same time.

Reasons to mentor

Organisations have many reasons for introducing mentoring schemes:

  1. Mentoring schemes have been used by organisations as evidence that they comply with equality and diversity legislation. There are legal, political and employee-relations risks associated with non-compliance with equality legislation, as well as the opinion of your customers or consumers.
  2. When the capability of the organisation needs to change, individuals may need to be upgraded to enhanced roles with more developed capability to fill the gap. Mentoring can augment in-house other interventions or support resources. Mentees can enhance their credibility, confidence and competencies whilst receiving career advice and support.
  3. Mentoring and coaching can take place in the workplace, potentially negating the need for employees to be absent from the workplace such as on residential training courses. The mentee can take on challenges with the sponsorship behind them whilst receiving feedback on their performance and build their confidence in new tasks or roles. When a large stretch is involved for an individual, they can be protected from any unfair criticism whilst receiving specific, evaluative feedback to improve skills and confidence in new roles.

Promoting equality

The key to success of mentoring across differences or cross-cultural mentoring is that organisations have wider responsibilities for promoting equality by:

  • ensuring that the pool of people being considered for promotion and key assignments reflects the diversity of the organisation; so eligibility criteria must be well-crafted;
  • promoting and addressing equality and diversity issues;
  • challenging the stereotyped notions of the capabilities (or obtainable career transitions) of people from particular backgrounds or gender differences.

The purpose behind a scheme can be renewed and adapted as needs change over time.

Stage by stage implementation

The stage by stage implementation of a mentoring scheme might look like this:

  1. Development of a brief that establishes the organisational needs and benefits plus a consultation process to obtain anonymous feedback on the concept and its implications.
  2. A feasibility study of the implementation requirements, particularly if there is to be supporting infrastructure, software applications and integration with other people management and development tools. A pilot scheme may be realistic and acceptable.
  3. Development of a business case identifying the organisational structure, scope, constraints, business and technical options with justification, risks, costs and benefits. The likely fit of accountabilities within the permanent organisation structure is important so that any virtual organisation established as a project or programme has the authority and sponsorship required to drive it to successful completion.
  4. There are different types of engagement schemes:

Low mentee engagement

  • a pal or buddy scheme;
  • group mentoring;
  • informal one-to-one coaching schemes;
  • networking activities.

High mentee engagement

  • one-to-one mentoring;
  • peer / role model;
  • objective setting;
  • very focused on mentee;
  • networking activities.

One of the key things to identify is that there is usually a cost for doing nothing such as loss of valuable intellectual property if your talent decides to go elsewhere - you need to cost the business exposure to losses. This is an item that needs to be on the C-suite agenda, not solely left to HR and line managers to formulate and implement. You have been warned...!

Image: iStock/477022353

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