Mentoring for Learning and Development: Improve Your L&D Efforts Now

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Mentoring learning and development

Mentoring is one of those great people programs that can be used to combat a number of organisational gaps or deficiencies: learning and development, diversity and inclusion, retention, and workplace culture – to name a few. But today, I am going to touch on mentoring for learning and development (L&D) specifically, although there are obvious and undeniable positive externalities with attempting to address any single deficiency through mentoring.

The first thing to do when pursuing employee learning and development outcomes through mentoring is to assess which (and how many) employees you are looking to engage in your L&D-driven mentoring program:

Option 1) HiPo mentoring
HiPo mentoring (or high-potential mentoring) is a selective mentoring strategy. It involves filtering and selecting the employees who management sees as having ‘high potential’, and connecting them with a current leader or manager who can help them develop in ways that set them up for personal and company success.

HiPo mentoring can be extremely effective, given that high performers typically have a higher propensity and motivation for ongoing development. The downside is that this strategy suffers from the universal law of diminishing returns, whereby it’s harder to get more potential and output out of someone who is already getting close to maximising their potential through outlets like mentoring, reading, side hustles, and goal-setting.

ACTION STEP: Find and outline the employees who have been earmarked as being future leaders, and chart their likely company progression – matching them with a mentor who can best speak to what this role (and path to the role) entail.

Option 2) Democratised mentoring
The other solution is a more democratic approach to mentoring. An approach where all, or at least a large group/division of employees, is informed of the upcoming mentoring program. This group is told of the benefits and expectations of the program – and then left to declare their interest or register. While most of the HiPo employees will likely sign-up anyway, this approach brings those often left on the sidelines (the majority of people) into the fold, offering them a new and potentially previously untapped opportunity for new learning and development.

In our experience, there is often significant latent demand for mentoring – and learning and development – amongst all employees. Many of the employees who quietly go about their jobs have a deep latent desire for progress and support. And often times, they are set to gain the most from a mentoring relationship that offers them support, encouragement, and confidence.

ACTION STEP: Inform your employees of your intent to run a mentoring program using a flyer/marketing sheet like this. Gauge demand for the program amongst all employees, and then find a scalable mentoring solution to meet the demand.

The next question you must ask when building a learning and development-oriented mentoring program is what type of development are you looking for your employees to engage in?

Option 1) Tacit (and internal) knowledge transfer
Tacit knowledge, in contrast to explicit knowledge which can be codified and passed on to new employees in the form of manuals, documents, and content, is difficult to transfer. It is difficult to disseminate tacit knowledge through – and up and down – an organisation. This is where mentoring becomes extremely valuable as a development tool: company practices, processes, or ‘secrets’ that can improve productivity and company performance can be transferred to newer less experienced employees.

This type of mentoring ideology is often termed succession planning – and is used by both large organisations and small family-owned businesses. Many traditional and hierarchical business models (sales-skewed organisations are a great example) can benefit massively from internal knowledge share. Management and senior employees have a treasure trove of nifty tricks and a wealth of job-applicable knowledge to share with more junior employees.

ACTION STEP: Outline what your company will look like in 5 years. Does it look similar? Are the roles, structure and functions similar? If they are, then knowledge share is likely a great goal for your program.

Option 2) Personal development
Alternatively, an internal corporate mentoring program can be self-development oriented. And while the goal of these types of programs is to facilitate personal development, the results of obviously have a very positive impact on that individual’s company in the shape of improved performance, motivation, and confidence. However, in contrast to the goal of a more company-focused development program, this type of program should be based on providing the employee with new and interesting ideas, resources, and extracurricular challenges.

ACTION STEP: Supplement the mentoring program with a number of personal development tools and resources including suggested podcasts, articles, courses, blogs, and books. These tools, combined with useful goal-setting resources like our goal-setting framework, encourage and inspire mentoring program participants to explore new habits, practices, and opportunities that instil a personal passion for learning and development.

Now, once you have selected the type of employees you are going to onboard into the mentoring program, and built the program framework, collateral, and communications to reflect the type of development you are trying to inspire in your employees, you need to measure the outcomes of your program. Because the program is L&D oriented in nature, without some form of measurement, it is impossible to understand whether there were tangible learning outcomes.

Progress reporting
The easiest and most effective way to do this is via personal reporting. While tracking program engagement and frequency of communication can be used to assess the success of the program, the most important element of the program is the outcome (hopefully some learning and some development). So for that reason, the most important thing to do in terms of measuring the success of the program and overall learning and development is to take an initial survey of the mentees goals and milestones – and then measure against these goals and milestones periodically or at the end of the program.

ACTION STEP: At the beginning of the program, have mentees state the goals and milestones they would like to achieve during the program. While these may change, it provides them (and you) with a yardstick with which to measure progress. Making sure initial goals are set (via a goal-setting spreadsheet) is also a very effective way of measuring personal progress for the mentees. Then, at some point in time (during or after the program), conduct a survey or set aside some time for participants to reflect on these goals and milestones – and share their outcomes.  

While a lot of people, companies, and mentoring solutions speak to the power of mentoring as a learning and development tool, they often fail to see the nuance in how you approach a specific program goal with specific program inputs.

While there is no right or wrong way to approach mentoring for learning and development – there are ways to better align your approach and program infrastructure with your program and company-wide goals.

So when assessing the type of L&D outcomes you would like to see your employees (and your company) gain from the experience – make sure that you have thought through a few of these things.

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