In most workplaces, efficiency, doing more with less, and learning on the run seem to be dominant business strategies. However, this is coming at a cost. As new employees enter and experienced workers exit the workplace, many organizations have found that they have not done a sufficient job of onboarding and developing new staff. A mentoring vacuum exists where new employees are being pushed to “figure it out yourself” due to a lack of time on everyone’s calendar. As the Millennial generation continues to enter the workplace, the demand for mentors and for organizations to reinvent effective mentoring relationships will become more important.
Who is a mentor? A mentor is someone who listens and provides guidance, experience, advice, and wisdom. A mentor is credible, offers feedback (sometimes feedback you do not want to hear), and interacts with you in a way that makes you want to become better. These relationships used to happen in a more formal manner through existing reporting relationships or standardized HR programs. But, due to rising pressures at work to “do more with less,” the intentionality of mentoring relationships between senior and junior staff has fallen by the wayside. And the side effects are not always pretty. Many employers have to redirect and rein in new employees who have not been properly onboarded or developed. This often leads to hard feelings among staff, loss of time and productivity, loss of engagement, and turnover.
Here are a few tips on how to reintroduce mentoring into your workplace:
Mentoring is about relationships. The best mentoring relationships are organic and develop naturally over time. You do not need a formal mentoring program. Rather, teach interested senior staff the skills needed to be a good mentor (e.g., coaching, listening, problem solving, and critical inquiry) and reward those who engage in mentoring your next generation. Don’t forget, relationships go two-ways. In the best mentoring pairings, the mentor and the mentee both develop as a function of the interaction.
Mentoring is not just for your “future leaders.” While mentoring is a great way for organizations to plan for their future leadership, let’s face it, this is a small percentage of your workforce. Your solid performers, who can also benefit from mentoring, do a majority of the daily work. Collaborating with a senior professional can grow their knowledge and skills to continue to help the business thrive.
Focus the relationship on a project or need. One of the biggest issues for a new mentor is “What will we talk about?” When this question comes up, odds are that this is a contrived mentoring relationship and not an organic one. Think about those people that you call mentors. Likely they initially assisted you through an issue, a question, or a challenge and the relationship grew from there. Encourage the new mentors to focus on issues first. Help with a project. Provide guidance and support to a challenged junior staff person. Be there to listen as that new supervisor struggles with team dynamics. The more the relationship focuses on concrete issues, the more foundation it has to grow from.
As we move forward, new challenges will require new thoughts and new skills. Backing up a few steps to a relationship dynamic that served us well in the past could be just the thing to launch your organization into the future.