Formal mentoring programs can give your organisation a competitive advantage

Industrial Psychologist Phiona Martin says mentoring programs allow companies to capitalise on their greatest resource - their people. 

Mentoring involves a formal or informal developmental relationship where a mentee receives information, advice, coaching and guidance from, and often, more experienced and knowledgeable professional (i.e. a mentor).  Although informal mentoring relationships and transactions may exist within a company, there is much value in formalising this to enable mentorship to directly benefit and impact the organisation. When implemented and executed effectively, corporate mentoring programs can positively contribute to organisational strategic objectives such as career development, employee productivity, succession planning, knowledge transfer, leadership development as well as recruitment and retention. Mentoring utilises the resources that the company already has, thus enabling full utilisation of the workforce while providing a cost-efficient alternative for getting employees upskilled and engaged.

Mentoring models include one-to-one, group, or situational mentoring. The most common and preferred model is the one-to-one, where there is a mentor-mentee relationship between two individuals. The group, or one-to-many, mentoring takes place when there is one mentor simultaneously engaging with multiple mentees often in a group format in order to address selected topics. This method is preferred or utilised when there is limited availability of mentors in relation to the number of mentees. In situational mentoring, which is often short-term, the relationship exists to address a certain issue until it has been successfully addressed.

Benefits of Mentoring

The attractiveness of mentoring programs, when executed effectively, is that there are at least three main beneficiaries; the mentor, the mentee and the organisation. Furthermore, mentoring programs enable the transfer of critical business knowledge and skills, while building an effective pipeline for high potentials individuals.  

The benefits of mentoring for the various stakeholders are as follows;

Benefits for the Organisation

  • Creates a culture of personal and professional growth by conveying to employees that management is willing to invest in its human capital.
  • A cost-effective means to develop emerging talent and keep knowledgeable and experienced performers engaged.
  • Provides a platform to share desired company behaviours and attitudes by promoting a sense of cooperation and harmony within the organization.
  • Develops leadership and coaching skills in mentors through enabling mentors to hone their coaching, leadership, and communication skills as they engage with mentees.
  • Improves staff morale, performance and motivation by creating a more positive work environment.
  • Engages, retains and develops top performers and provides opportunities to pass on best practices, encourage new ideas and maximise the potential of staff.
  • Facilitates knowledge transfer in a timeous manner as it reduces the time required for knowledge transfer by providing direct access to a range of experts in an environment that promotes rapid learning.

Benefits for Mentors

  • Increase their employee network at different levels and know more about other happenings within the organization.
  • Gaining a fresh perspective on performance.
  • Help others grow in their profession and gain the satisfaction of sharing their experiences with mentees.
  • Helps them to develop and enhance their leadership capabilities.
  • Boosts morale as they witness mentees gain more self-confidence in their careers, get promotions, or apply the advice provided through the mentoring relationship.
  • Enables them to give back to the organisation.
  • Helps to develop communication skills through practising “active listening skills”.

Benefits for Mentees

  • Enables mentees to receive help and guidance in achieving their career goals.
  • Increases self-confidence.
  • Receive ongoing support and encouragement in the job.
  • Gain inside advice from experienced and successful employees.
  • Gain meaningful insights from mentors who have vast knowledge and years of experience.
  • Learning about the organisation’s dos and don’ts through a better understanding of the organization's culture, politics and other elements critical to success.

Principles of a good mentoring program

Mentoring programs should also be tailor-made and demonstrate flexibility that reflects the unique culture and objectives of the organization.  It should not be a “one size fits all” approach. The following are good principles to apply when considering mentoring programs.

  • Mentors should not be direct line managers. A mentor should not be a supervisor but a person with whom the employee can communicate freely and honestly outside of a direct reporting relationship.
  • Mentoring programs should be aligned with the organization’s Human Capital goals. For maximum impact and buy in, a mentoring program should serve to contribute to human capital goals within the organisation and have a bottom line effect if possible, such as increasing employee productivity, retention, succession planning, knowledge transfer and strengthening workplace diversity.
  • Mentoring programs must be championed. To ensure success, mentoring programs need to not only have senior buy in, but also championed from the top. Ideally by someone who has benefited personally from a mentoring relationship and can use that to promote and drive enthusiasm for the program.  
  • Programs must have a structure, yet retain some flexibility. Without being too rigid, having an outline and structure for the mentoring program will help to create formality as well as ensure the mentoring relationships are taking place within a prescribed guideline and framework that will ensure commitment, direction and momentum.
  • Effective matching of mentees and mentors. Try and facilitate a matching process that is based on information collected from both mentors and mentees. The greater the involvement of the mentee in the match, the better the outcome of the mentorship.
  • Be able to track and evaluate success. Have metrics to track and report on the mentoring program’s success.

The positive impact to the organisation brought on by setting up formal mentoring programs, underpinned by their cost effective nature makes them an attractive resource.  Done effectively, they can play a significant role in supporting numerous human capital goals while providing benefits to the mentors, mentees and the organisation. In order to be effective and have the desired impact, mentoring programs need to be based on sound principles.