Mentoring is becoming more commonplace in organizations, with employers using formal and informal mentors to aid in the development of their employees. In fact, 90% of NorthCoast 99 winners use informal mentoring and 59% use formal mentoring to develop top performers. As a result of mentoring's increasing popularity and the many benefits it offers in the workplace, we have developed a short guide that answers your common questions about mentoring in the workplace.
1. Why offer mentoring?
Mentoring can be an extremely valuable development tool, especially for younger and less experienced employees, who tend to value and benefit more from mentoring. Mentoring provides a safe, mutually beneficial, and developmental one-on-one relationship for employees to openly discuss their challenges and receive advice and guidance from a seasoned professional.
While good mentoring can be a heavy investment of time, it is generally one of the least costly forms of employee development. Additionally, ERC’s research shows that employees who feel that they have a mentor at work are generally more satisfied and engaged. Mentoring can also help bridge generational gaps.
2. Who is a mentor?
In most workplace mentoring relationships, a mentor is a senior level or top performing employee, ideally at least two levels above the mentee, though sometimes at the same level or at the next level. A mentor can be an internal employee or someone from outside of the organization. Although supervisors can be mentors or provide mentorship, generally a mentee does not report directly to a mentor.
3. Who should be mentored?
Particularly in the case of formal mentoring relationships and depending on the availability of mentors, your organization may need to reserve mentoring for specific groups of employees such as high potential top performers, those enrolled in your leadership development program, certain levels of management, new-hires, or specific groups that need targeted development in your organization (such as females, young professionals, specific job types, etc.).
4. What does a mentoring relationship look like?
A mentor usually aids a less experienced employee in their professional and career development. Mentoring relationships can take many forms in the workplace and commonly include:
- Mentoring new-hires by providing on-boarding advice for a short period of time (i.e. 3-6 months, 1 year, etc.)
- Mentoring with senior leaders as part of a leadership development program (e.g. 12 months)
- Mentoring in relationship to a task, project, or stretch assignment
- Formal mentoring relationships as part of a mentoring program (formally pairing mentors/mentees)
- Informal mentoring relationships initiated by mentees and/or mentors
5. How often should mentors meet with mentees?
Mentors meet with their mentee(s) regularly, usually at least quarterly or more often. The most common frequencies in which employees are reported to participate in mentoring are monthly and weekly (with monthly being the most common), according to our 2012 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report.
Although mentoring relationships may only be short-term, as part of an organizational program or initiative, long-term mentoring tends to be more effective.
6. What role should mentors have?
Mentors should be valued advisors and support systems who help guide mentees by listening to their concerns and challenges; solving problems; giving advice based on their past experiences; suggesting development opportunities; building knowledge; and providing guidance and tips related to their career, work tasks, and challenges. They can also assist mentees in networking and connecting with other professionals; help guide employees as they work on stretch assignments and strategic projects; assist them in reaching developmental goals; or help them chart a career path.
The most effective mentoring relationships stem from mentors who volunteer to mentor and who seek a relationship with the mentee (versus formal or random matching). Nonetheless, pairing employees with mentors who have compatible styles or personalities can be effective if formal matching needs to occur.
7. Should mentors and mentees have accountabilities?
Accountabilities are reasonable in formal mentoring relationships. Expecting that mentors will demonstrate specific behaviors and help the mentee attain certain results is certainly acceptable if there is a formal program intact. Examples of accountabilities can include meeting with the mentee at least once a month and helping them attain at least one development goal. Other ways you can hold mentors accountable is by evaluating the mentee’s satisfaction with his or her mentor periodically. Similarly, mentees should have goals they need to meet as part of the program or relationship if it's formal.
Mentoring is an extremely beneficial developmental tool that your organization should use to supplement its training and development strategies, and more and more employers of choice are using it to develop talent. Just be sure to follow these best practices to ensure that your mentoring program and/or mentoring relationships are effective.