Employees consistently place a high value on mentoring, yet many companies find it difficult to obtain initial participants. Why aren’t employees lining up in droves to participate in the corporate mentoring programs they say they want — programs proven to enhance their careers?
According to the Harvard Business Review, part of the problem may stem from gender differences that can become pronounced or troublesome inside the hierarchical relationships of traditional mentoring. Reciprocal mentoring, a mentoring partnership in which the parties take turns being both mentor and mentee, offers an available alternative.
Reaping the Benefits of Reciprocity
“We know from a plethora of research that gender diversity in company leadership is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have,” says Diane Simone, Senior Director of Implementation for mentoring software company eMentorConnect. “It makes a defining difference in the bottom line. Cross-gender reciprocal mentoring supports diversity initiatives by connecting individuals in a way that enables them to discover the unique strengths of each gender.”
Within these partnerships, each party is encouraged to both give and receive advice and support. That dynamic reduces relational discomfort and promotes effective communication by enabling the parties to learn from each other.
“Gender-mixed peer mentoring is a safe place for building greater understanding and appreciation for what the participants each bring to their work, thus building support for diversity and inclusion at a more personal — and therefore more sustainable — level,” adds Simone.
Reciprocal mentoring doesn’t only support gender diversity, however. It also promotes institutional knowledge transfer and builds strong relationships across the board.
“Reciprocal mentoring creates a ‘learning’ organization, one that is collaborative, connected, and produces results greater than the sum of its parts,” says Simone. “Some underestimate the power of the reciprocal mentoring relationship, but it can really accelerate individual and organizational development. “For those hoping to advance their careers, input from a variety of sources and perspectives is crucial. A peer mentor with a different communication style and approach to challenges can bring interesting and new ideas to navigating and advancing your goals.”
The only downside to this kind of mentoring? Figuring out how to effectively — and efficiently — pair reciprocal mentoring matches.
Automating with Software
“The first and most foundational element of success in a mentoring program is getting the partnership right,” explains Simone. “A poor match is a non-starter for any mentorship program.”
Unfortunately, establishing great matches isn’t a simple process. In the past, program administrators paired matches by hand. While some companies still take the manual route, those days are quickly coming to a close due to biases in selection criteria, uncertainties about participant preferences, and exhaustive time requirements — problems that only grow larger when designing programs outside of the traditional, unidirectional mentoring model. High-impact reciprocal mentoring requires both participants to feel as though they’re gaining something of equal or greater value to whatever they’re giving.
When mentorship engagement declines, a poor match is often to blame. Participants who aren’t fully engaged with their partners will drop out of the program or give less than their best effort, which endangers the success of the partnership long-term. Dynamic, customizable mentoring software makes the matching task easier, faster, and more successful by automating match selection.
“KNOX® allows companies or mentoring admins to specify the matches they curate,” explains Simone. “This customized matching algorithm enables people to filter for matches based on factors such as the specific areas they want to work on, geographical location, department, or skill set. Participants can even look at other participants’ profiles prior to requesting a mentor.”
That kind of versatility and visibility facilitates compatibility between participants and increases the likelihood of a mutually beneficial relationship. When both parties feel like they’re gaining, engagement levels stay high and the overall mentoring program flourishes. Ultimately, that’s what makes a mentoring program a success.
Mentoring accelerates the knowledge your employees need to further their careers and contribute to the organization. Watch our video that explains more.