Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. Larry Summers and Sheryl Sandberg. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
No, this is not just a list of the names of famous and successful people who happened to have revolutionised the fields they have in common. These outstanding pairs are linked by more than just what they do, what they invented and how much they earn; they are linked by mentoring.
Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg, and Barbara Walters helped out Oprah (and we all know how those two turned out). The Facebook CEO has publicly thanked Jobs for being a “mentor and a friend”, and Winfrey once told Walters in an interview that “had there not been you, there never would have been me”.
These are, of course, high-profile examples of how a good mentor can change your life. But what most organisations don’t realise is that it takes more than just two people to come together, teacher-and-student like, and hope that the relationship is mutually beneficial.
No, it takes active investment, and a keen interest to connect an entire company — from the bottom to the very top — in a meaningful and organised way so that everyone has a chance to work with someone who will, in some way, open up their world.
This is why it continues to astound me that more companies don’t actively invest in mentorship programs.
At an individual level, the right connection can change a life. The problem is, not everyone can access that right connection. Here at Mentorloop, we have seen the demand for mentoring explode, particularly among millennials, whose key values (which include a desire for meaningful work and flexibility over titles and salary) can no longer be ignored.
The way we work has fundamentally changed, and it’s no longer incumbent upon a single person (usually your manager or boss) to solve all your problems; it’s about building out your own personal advisory board so that you can access experience and insight from the right person, at the time you need it.
Why mentoring programs are essential
At an organisation level, companies that properly connect their people and build a mentoring culture see more engaged workforces and lower staff turnover. With 71 per cent of workers not engaged in their work and the “jobs for life” mentality well and truly disappearing, giving workers someone to speak to about their professional future may just save organisations thousands — if not millions — of dollars in hiring and re-training costs.
At a macro level, we need to build a society where the experienced have a clear way to impart their expertise back into the workforce through reciprocal professional relationships.
This is especially important in an age where mentoring is becoming a more fluid experience. Rather than the traditional, hierarchical view of the elder statesman imparting knowledge to a lucky protege, mentoring is now flatter, more reciprocal; it’s about an exchange of ideas, a broadening of your worldview and thinking.
Increasingly, mentors are realising that they have something to learn and gain from the experience too. It’s no longer just about giving back. Whether it’s greater insight into a different generation or culture, enhancing communication and leadership skills or expanding your network, mentors are finding the experience just as rewarding as the mentees.
The very act of giving advice or sharing early experiences often helps mentors remember, and also re-learn, those early lessons.
Being a mentor also allows those who may be disadvantaged (based on gender, race, disability and more) and may not have had a chance to advance as quickly and gain seniority a chance to learn how to be a leader, and to feel valued. As an example, we’ve found that a company’s mentorship program is highly correlated with women’s overall satisfaction and happiness at her place of work.
So, how do you begin?
First, it’s essential to think about what mentoring means and to consider how it will fit into the current cultural model of your organisation.
In the past, mentoring was seen through a hierarchical lense, where one expert bestows wisdom upon an inexperienced — yet promising — protege. Typically something reserved for those earmarked for success — the high potentials. However, this model is not only outdated (work structures are flat-lining, and people just don’t stay around as long as they used to, to become “experts” in the traditional sense); it’s not scalable.
But if we think about mentoring along with a more flat-line structure, then it not only becomes more accessible and scalable but also more relevant. By widening the talent pool and allowing people to connect based on what they need help with right now, rather than years of experience being the driving factor of a connection.
The fact is, quality mentor programs make for more engaged and happy employees, and employees rate the importance of having a mentor highly.
A good mentor program requires thoughtful planning and commitment from leaders of the business. Below are some tips that will help get your organisation started:
Make sure everyone’s on board: From senior management all the way to the front line, everyone in your company should be convicted of the value of mentoring for it to work. By working with people from different departments and levels, everyone will benefit from either gaining the skills they need to move up or gaining knowledge, which may clarify their career trajectory.
Map out a framework: It’s important to set the parameters of the program before you even begin. Once you have the buy-in from senior management, take some time to figure out the nitty-gritty, i.e. what are the program’s goals, and how are you going to measure success?
Ensure valuable pairing of mentors and mentees: Match partners based on what they want to learn, their interests and where they want to go in their careers. The quality of the match will determine quality of outcomes and help increase satisfaction and overall success of the program.
Monitor and manage: It’s important to monitor how the program is going. Establish check-in points to identify participants who have not yet communicated or are lacking engagement, and find out why. Leverage pulse surveys and program reports to receive goal-setting and satisfaction ratings.
Don’t force it: Life happens. If the situation of a mentor or mentee changes (available time, personal issues etc.), feel free to remove them from the program and re-match the other user.
This article first featured in the October issue of HR News, edited by the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.