In Part One of this three-part series, we established that mentoring is the process of sharing wisdom, guidance, direction, and learned techniques with designated groups and individual team members. Contrary to popular belief, mentoring has little to do with ushering greenhorns into the glorious light of discovery. Rather, it develops future leaders, enhances retention of key performers, and disseminates critical knowledge vital to the organization’s growth. Employed correctly, it is a huge benefit to the person being mentored, the mentor, and organization as a whole.
In Part Two, we’ll look at the different types of mentoring and how they fit into your specific organizational scheme. After all, what good is a company wide group (Appreciative Inquiry) dream session or junior management/senior management faceoff when it’s just you, your secretary and a delivery guy?
We begin by dividing the mentoring process according to its structure. For instance, informal mentoring involves impromptu, unrehearsed, loosely organized interaction between individuals, usually, one seeking the experience and knowledge of another. The seeker might approach the knowledgeable individual, or vice versa. The transfer of information is unsupervised, and generally dependent upon the time and availability of both participants.
Conversely, formal mentoring refers to assigned relationships overseen by the organization and guided by prepared exercises, documents and software designed to enhance employee development in a planned, specified measurable manner.
Think about the old journeyman carpenter taking the new recruit under his wing. In an informal, voluntary situation, the old journeyman might approach the new recruit because he sees promise in the young prospect, or appreciates his willingness to learn. Or, it could be the reverse where the young prospect singles out the old experienced journeyman, hoping to tap into his wisdom and experience. Either way, the exchange is spontaneous and informal. All of that changes, however, when the company employs a mentoring program and formally assigns the young prospect to that specific trainer. The company monitors the process, expects accountability from both parties, and measures the overall effectiveness for future reference.
Mentoring can further be broken down into functional types. These are most prevalent:
- Peer-to-peer skilled based mentoring … the mentor and peers (on his or her level) help each other learn and develop appropriate skills and knowledge.
- Senior Executive mentoring … a seasoned, top-level executive reaches down into the organization to groom a promising middle manager on a wide variety of management techniques specifically tailored for that particular organization. This is the most effective way to create a mentoring culture and prevent “brain drain” that would otherwise occur when key senior managers retire.
- Group mentoring … a single mentor or team of mentors working with groups of five individuals and above, in a formal setting with a specific objective in mind. That objective could be a reduction in absenteeism or accidents or customer dissatisfaction. At the outset, the group would designate certain parameters for interaction such as an open forum, or an anonymous question and answer approach. Obviously, group mentoring is a better fit for larger organizations with departments and/or divisions facing similar challenges.
- Customer service mentoring … in many ways, this is new. Traditionally, an outside consultant, seminar speaker or recognized industry expert was brought in to conduct a series of training sessions designed to improve the organization’s appreciation for, and responsiveness to, external customers. However, as cutting edge organizations, face with competition on all sides, have become more aware of the critical role customer engagement plays in the survival and ultimate success of an organization, many companies have developed full-time teams that go from department to department educating team members on the critical role they play in enhancing customer relations.Here is a typical job description for a customer service team leader and mentor: Provides daily leadership to customer service staff to meet customer expectation. Ensures timely processing of customer orders and helps resolve customer disputes. Identifies system and workflow improvements to enhance the team’s efficiency. Develops and conducts ongoing sessions to improve company’s responsiveness to the needs of both internal and external customers.
- Technology mentoring … an ongoing tools and systems orientation for team members who must interact with technology on a daily basis. It’s no secret. Many Babyboomers run from the new technology. Between 2000 and 2030, the number of people age 65 or older in the United States will double from 35 million to 72 million, or 20 percent of the total population. Some of these individuals will still be in the workplace. The challenge for Generation X managers will be to eliminate technological barriers that prevent these wise, experienced contributors from giving their all.
- Work-Life Balance mentoring … a support mechanism designed to help team members reach a sense of harmony and balance between their work life and personal life. This mentoring process addresses specific conditions, obstacles and stress-related activities in a team member’s personal life and relationships that impede productivity and overall happiness. Mentoring sessions often deal with non-business related, hot-button discussions such as relationships, stress management, career disappointments, spirituality, marriage, children and personal growth … which brings us to one of the most important aspects of mentoring: “To whom can this critical responsibility be entrusted?”
In our previous discussion, we established three components for successful mentoring:
- Knowledgeable contributors
- The desire to contribute
- A method or medium by which contributions can be managed and shared
Now, let’s add a fourth: Suitability.
Regardless of their level of knowledge, not everyone can be an effective mentor. In your organization, you should look for people with empathy first, good communication skills, secondly, and finally, knowledge of the task at hand. This all starts with the assumption they have the desire to share. In my early years, I encountered an extremely skilled worker who didn’t want to share his knowledge because he feared being replaced by the younger recruits. His answers were always short and ambiguous. He actually missed days when the company set up formal training sessions. He was, however, too valuable to fire (for his resistance) because he knew oil field equipment better than anyone else.
Still, another lower-level manager desired to train because it gave him the opportunity to call people stupid. He thrived on any interaction that made him look knowledgeable and important. In some instances he’d mislead and sabotage the input of others, hoping to elevate his own status. He was especially condescending to women, and with no sexual harassment law in place, used his authority for personal gain.
Here’s the point. You need mentoring in your organization. But bad mentors are easy to come by. Think twice before you ask someone to become a mentor simply because they have extensive knowledge of the skill at hand. You might be setting yourself up for a lawsuit. At the very least, you will damage the cohesiveness of your organization and lose productive workers to the competition. Choose mentors that are suitable, that is to say, they have empathy for their fellow workers, good communication skills, knowledge of the job, and a sincere desire to share.
Next time we will pull it all together and introduce you to some of the industry’s best practices in mentoring. Until then, start putting together your short list of team members suitable for the task. Remember, this is an investment in the future. This will ultimately help your organization to grow.