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Time to Implement a Mentoring Program? Throw Out the Old Playbook!

Time to Implement a Mentoring Program? Throw Out the Old Playbook!

Time to Implement a Mentoring Program? Throw Out the Old Playbook!

Feels like you’ve been through this before? As the labor market starts to tighten, senior leadership is rediscovering Mentoring as a way to “keep our best people connected to the organization.”

Most HR or OD leaders have worked with, and even established, mentoring programs. So you’ve got a handle on it—or do you?

Before you embark on this project, consider how things have changed since the last time you were involved in a mentoring program:

  • The continuing transition to a tertiary, service-based economy has placed a premium on client relationships and institutional knowledge transfer;
  • A retirement cliff looms, in which significant numbers of boomers are set to leave the workforce, and take significant knowledge and relationships with them;
  • The millennial workforce has fully emerged—technically skilled, but challenged in their softer skills and, shall we say, loyalty-wary.

Couple these once-in-a-generation workforce shifts with the power of today’s technology to manage data and transactions, and you can do so much more than just implement yet another program—you have the opportunity to take the lead in solving a serious business challenge.

In this context, it’s clear that the old approach to mentoring—top-down, management-driven, only focused on inputs—simply won’t work today.

In its place, a new approach is needed—organic, customer-oriented, technology-enabled, with metrics focused on outcomes.

So, it’s time to throw out the old playbook and start fresh! Make sure your strategy  addresses these realities:

  • The objectives have changed: Previously, mentoring was simply seen as a way to retain key employees, so they wouldn’t leave right when they are at their most productive (read: most profitable). The classic example: A professional services firm that helped a promising associate see the path to achieving partnership—at their firm.

Today’s employers are looking to address two distinct audiences:

  • Younger workers: How do we encourage them to stay longer (forever is not realistic) and be more productive during their time?
  • For older workers: How do we make sure they don’t leave us with all of their accumulated wisdom in their heads!

53% of Gen Y’s said that a mentoring relationship would help them become a better and more productive contributor to their company.

–Dan Schawbel, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success

  • You’re not in the matchmaking business: Ever set someone up on a blind date? It’s kind of fun—for you. But is it fun for the other parties? More importantly, is it effective?

The old model for mentoring was a top-down process, where we got everyone into a conference room with a spreadsheet and assigned each “mentee” a “mentor” (we’ll talk later about those labels). It was at best an arbitrary process (“Uhhh, I think they went to the same college; I bet they’ll get along!”), and wildly ineffective.

Today’s young professionals expect relationships to be organic and within their control. Expect resistance to anything that smacks of one-size-fits-all; instead be prepared for unusual requests—to have more than one mentor, to work with someone outside your organization, to work with someone virtually—anything that allows the mentee to craft a personalized relationship. We’ll talk later about the advisability of these different approaches, but be prepared for these expectations.

  • Technology is your friend: Great news—your job just got a lot more interesting: Rather than managing the transactional aspects of the program (the boring stuff, assigning/tracking who mentors whom, how often they meet, etc.), the right technology will enable you to focus on the big picture—have you identified the right participants? Is the program meeting your organizational objectives?
Sophia Williams

Principal & Co-Founder