Mentoring is not limited to one style, format or place. It can take place in a variety of spaces, such as the workplace or through academic institutions. Relationships can also be established through professional organizations. And some mentoring relationships occur informally amongst networks. Sometimes, mentorship is set up to support career growth and guidance. Sometimes, mentoring supports diversity and inclusion efforts. And sometimes, mentoring exposes young people to caring, involved role models.
But there’s no denying mentoring is important, and can make a powerful difference, providing important and honest feedback. It’s not only mentors and mentees who benefit from this collaborative knowledge-sharing relationship. Companies who initiate mentoring also see advantages when these relationships flourish. There’s a reason that a majority—71 percent—of Fortune 500 companies have mentorship programs.
Take a look at the ins and outs of mentoring, including what precisely a mentor does, what a mentee does and why mentoring matters to a successful career, company culture, and beyond.
What Is Mentoring?
Mentoring allows people to learn from one another, providing a path to knowledge transfer. In the workplace, for instance, someone established in their career can share knowledge and insights, as well as offer guidance, to someone with less experience. In academic institutions, students can explore education and career possibilities with a mentor, while a recent graduate can get insight into how to chart a career path and connections for future employment. Mentoring at its core is the opportunity for people to learn from one another. It enables knowledge transfer between two or more people for the benefit of all.
What is a Mentoring Program?
A formal mentoring program is a structured, often one-to-one relationship in a work, organization or academic setting. Mentoring allows people to learn from one another, providing a path to skill and knowledge transfer. Impactful mentoring programs train mentors and mentees to have productive conversations and meetings, providing them with career development tools and resources to accomplish set mentorship goals.
Starting a mentoring program requires:
- Identifying the purpose of mentoring and the vision for the program in your organization
- Understanding your mentor and mentee candidates
- Consistent communication and promotion to encourage mentoring longevity
When done right, a mentoring program in a professional setting is an enjoyable, rewarding experience for organizations and their people.
There’s a wide range of things a mentor can offer a mentee. Mentors can listen, share advice, ask thought-provoking questions, and more, including:
- Provides a sounding board: Mentors can listen to their mentees’ concerns and brainstorm ideas and suggestions about their future career. Mentors can also share feedback and response that might help crystalize a person’s path forward in a particular situation or in regards to a career trajectory.
- Gives advice: Mentors directly offer recommendations. They can suggest professional development priorities, help mentees establish goals, and identify resources. Mentors can also be helpful in the interview or promotion process, offering feedback on resumes and cover letters, as well as tips for acing an interview.
- Shares inspiration and encouragement: Peeling back the steps someone took in their career can be illuminating. Mentors share knowledge on both a small scale (the nitty-gritty of workplace successes) and the large scale (how to build a successful, fulfilling career). Mentors can also offer encouragement, acting as a cheerleader for a mentee’s goals and dreams.
- Offers networking opportunities: A mentor can make introductions to people who can be helpful in a mentee’s career, share opportunities, and recommend events and stretch assignments that will expose a mentee to important information and connections.
The mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street. Mentees can provide feedback and new perspectives to mentors, while helping them work on their leadership skills and growth. As with mentors, a mentee’s role will vary, but some core actions on the part of a mentee include:
- Steering the relationship: Mentees should be clear on what they hope to get out of interactions, and drive conversations and interactions. Establish the meeting times and meeting modes, and come with questions, specific requests for advice and proposed topics of conversation.
- Being mindful: By being on time, prepared for meetings, and professional, mentees can show they value the time and efforts mentors are providing.
- Taking and giving constructive feedback: Hearing about what you’re doing well is a lovely experience, but getting notes on what needs improvement or should be adjusted can be harder to take. Still, mentees should respond to feedback—both positive and negative—with openness, since this is ultimately useful information intended to help with growth and future success. Similarly, they should be prepared to give their mentors the same candid feedback. This assures that both parties are learning from each other.
- Following through: After getting suggestions, recommendations, introductions, and so on, mentees should follow up with the appropriate actions, and be prepared to give updates at subsequent meetings. That is, if a mentor sends an intro email between a mentee and someone in their network, mentees should respond promptly and appropriately. This helps validate the work and effort on the part of the mentor, and continues the good rapport within the mentoring relationship.
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The Impact of Mentoring
There’s real ROI to the mentor and mentee relationship, for everyone involved. Here’s a brief look at the benefits.
Why Mentoring is Important for Mentors
- Develop and refine skills: Mentors will learn to be organized, share information clearly, and guide someone else to grow personally and professionally. Mentors also build their acumen in leadership and management.
- Give back: Lending a hand can feel gratifying and meaningful. Plus, it’s a big compliment to be someone’s source of wisdom.
- See what’s next: The knowledge-sharing in this relationship goes in both directions. Not only do mentors get access to the concerns and priorities of younger workers, but they might get a hands-on look at new technology or ways of operating.
Why Mentoring is Important for Mentees
- Gain support and knowledge: impactful mentoring provides mentees with advice, wisdom, and encouragement, as well as new skills and institutional knowledge.
- Become more productive employees: Feedback and guidance from mentors can improve workplace performance.
- Improve their career and earnings: Participating in mentoring can lead to a salary increase and promotions, according to one study, while another study pointed to an increase in job satisfaction.
Why Mentoring is Important for Organizations
- Increase loyalty and decrease turnover: Mentoring can help increase retention. Deloitte notes that 68 percent of millennials with a mentor plan to stay with the organization for five years (compared to 32 percent of millennials who do not have a mentor).
- Builds skills: Mentoring matters in building much-needed skills and knowledge. Employees are eager to grow on the job, so not only do companies gain the benefit of a more skilled workforce, but they provide workers with something they want.
- Increases employee engagement: A Moving Ahead study found 82 percent believe that mentoring relationships help foster meaningful connections between mentors and mentees, across departments and the organization.
- Builds company culture and loyalty: Mentoring can integrate employees with company culture and make employees feel invested in by the organization.
Benefits of Formal Mentoring Programs
By setting up checkpoints and structure, a formal mentorship program allows mentors and mentees to have a relationship that’s productive and beneficial to all involved. The structure and accountability provided in formal programs—such as defined goals, mentor/mentee training, and an established platform of communication—elevate the connection beyond the confines of informal mentoring. Plus, with a formal program in place, more mentorship relationships can flourish, particularly with people (employees and students) who are traditionally underserved by mentoring of an informal nature.
Mentoring is important in today’s hybrid workplace. And while the format or method of the relationship between mentor and mentee may have shifted, the fundamental goals and advantages remain the same. There’s a great power that can be unleashed when sharing knowledge and skills between those who want and need it most.