Make up training deficits with mentoring

June 8, 2012 Categorized in: Uncategorized

Mentoring programs—in which ex­­peri­­­­enced employees provide professional development to junior ­colleagues—are an inexpensive way to build staff skills.

A recent HR Specialist online poll found that 42% of training budgets that were slashed in the recession haven’t yet rebounded. Mentoring can help close the training gap, and improve recruitment, retention and career development—and the bottom line.

Mentorships allow less-experienced employees to learn and grow faster under the tutelage of a more seasoned professional. Mentors themselves grow professionally, too.

Here’s what you need to know to establish an effective mentoring program in your organization.

Getting started

Before deciding to jump-start a mentoring program, it’s crucial to understand what mentoring is and is not. At its most basic, a mentoring relationship is a means for mentorees to develop their professional skills through the guidance, counsel and experiences of a mentor.

Mentors gain a sense of purpose, accomplishment and contribution to the organization. In the end, mentoring expands the knowledge, skill, energy and creativity of both parties.

Mentoring is not designed to teach basic skills or pacify disgruntled em­­ployees. It won’t overcome poor hiring practices. Neither party should view it as something that must be done to re­­tain a current position, garner a favorable review or avoid discipline. Sincere interest in development is the key.

Example 1: Callie knows she is skating on thin ice with her department manager because of chronic tardiness. In the hopes of dodging discipline for her attendance problems, she agrees to enter into a mentoring partnership with her boss. Because Callie’s motivations are insincere, the partnership is likely to fail.

Example 2: Patricia, who also struggles to get to work on time, welcomes the chance to mentor with her supervisor. She hopes to learn how to better manage her time during the workday so she doesn’t have to stay late. That will help her better manage her home life, allowing her to get to bed at a reasonable hour and, hopefully, wake up ready for work the next morning.

Mentorees must genuinely want to gain new skills and perspectives from their mentors. Mentors must genuinely embrace the chance to lead by example, letting less experienced colleagues benefit from years of real-world competence and confidence.

Mentoring success in 7 steps

Here’s what else you need to do to establish a successful program:

1. Ask if the time is right. Deter­mine whether the organizational climate would support a mentoring program. Is business stable? Are you hiring, or at least not laying off employees? Is there interest in developing and learning?

2. Get support from top brass. Their enthusiasm can make all the difference. To get them on board, convince them of the payoff:

  • Mentorees can boost performance by learning technical and leadership skills more quickly. Being mentored builds confidence, establishes professional contacts and reinforces the organization’s climate and culture.
  • Mentors benefit from taking a teaching or leadership role, sparking enthusiasm for a job that may have become routine.
  • Mentoring captures the wisdom and experience of older employees.
  • Mentoring can uncover hidden potential in employees, improve selection of promotion candidates and increase job satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Consider workloads. Can participants spare the time to get to­gether? Will HR be able to monitor mentoring relationships? Establish specific time frames for formal mentoring relationships. Optimal: six months to a year.

4. Set a budget. Mentoring is relatively inexpensive, but it’s not free. The most significant budget implications may be opportunity costs—the work participants aren’t doing while they are engaged in mentoring activities. Understanding that—and putting a realistic number on it—will help build support for mentoring.

5. Allow at least six months to plan the program and to encourage buy-in. While HR does the footwork, create a task force of managers who are enthusiastic about mentoring.

6. Plan publicity. Consider how you will introduce the program and communicate the details (emails, posters, payroll stuffers, etc.).

7. Start small. It’s the best way to guarantee a successful launch. Consider beginning with new hires who can start fresh. Later, you can expand the program to enhance career development for all employees.