Mentoring – How?, Who?, Where?

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Mentoring, whether in business, sport or social care, is essentially a complex relationship focusing on both the short and long term development of the mentee. The on-going dialogue between the mentor (traditionally the more experienced and /or knowledgeable individual in the relationship) and the mentee brings about challenge and learning to maximize potential.

An effective mentor does much more than just give advice. Their role is to motivate, engage and empower their partner, helping them to identify and reach personal and professional goals.

Mentoring differs from both management and coaching. Although definitions can seem blurred, essentially mentoring is relationship-based rather than role-based.This is very critical and we find that a lot of organisations are getting this wrong to begin with. A manager’s remit is usually confined to developing the individual within their current job, ensuring their performance meets required standards, deadlines and budgets. A coach’s role is more process driven and aims to help the individual to find their own solutions and answers, thus improving performance. Again, there is usually a specific, task-related agenda, closely linked to the job in question. When it comes to mentoring, however, the focus is much more on the individual. The mentor acts as a facilitator and trusted advisor, with no agenda other than to support and challenge the mentee in their development. They create a safe, non-judgmental learning environment, and add value and guidance through sharing experience, resources and networks.

New directions

The current focus on Mentoring can, in part, be attributed to the concept of the 70:20:10 learning model, which continues to gain momentum in the world of Learning and Development. Mentoring plays a key role in the “20” – the proportion of learning that is to come “through others” – via mechanisms and activities such as feedback, coaching and mentoring. As more organisations recognise the power of development opportunities outside more traditional formal courses, mentoring is playing an ever-increasing role. This is especially true for high potential employees where development activities such coaching and mentoring can really accelerate career progression.

With increased L&D focus in this area, approaches to mentoring are becoming more sophisticated and fit-for-purpose.

One key trend we are seeing emerge is a more democratic approach, which recognises that everyone in an organisation has something to bring to the table. This approach, which fits in perfectly with AcceleratePerformance‘s Co-Active Mentoring model, sees increased focus on the benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee. Reverse mentoring, where younger employees mentor upper management, is already proving an excellent way for fresh talent to share their expertise in areas such as technology and social media, and for older workers to gain insight into new markets. Knowledge share through mentoring will begin to flow both ways. This two-way flow reflects a wider trend for collaboration and team working, which are increasingly identified as key skills for the new talent landscape, where people are sharing knowledge and working across boundaries and remotely.

As approaches to mentoring develop, I believe relationships will begin to extend even further, with the emergence of circular mentoring – groups with common issues and challenges coming together for dialogue and learning. On AcceleratePerformance’s programmes our ‘critical incident’ sessions work in this way, with individuals being given the opportunity to present their leadership challenge to the group and receive feedback from peers in the form of coaching and advocacy. With the right structures and facilitation in place this circular mentoring can become a great value-add, not only promoting learning and dialogue, but also increasing cross-functional networking.

And the widening circles don’t stop there. Already at AcceleratePerformance we’re becoming involved in new forms of mentoring which see organisations looking outside their own boundaries to gather differing points of view and ideas. Our “X Market Journey” experience is becoming increasingly popular in programme design, bringing together representatives from different organisations, usually in differing sectors or of differing size, for mutual learning. Encountering leaders in other organisations offers a unique opportunity to learn. Gaining this breadth of experience and perspective, is, we believe, vital to raising personal and organisational aspirations. On a X Market Journey the participant’s role is not that of a passive observer. They must be active and critically reflexive. The aim is not to experience ‘best practice’ but rather different practice. Through group reflection and coaching, insights are extracted and used to inform personal understanding of how they provide leadership.

In effect what we are talking about here is organisations mentoring each other. It’s a collaborative approach which, delivered in the right way, can generate fantastic leadership development, as well as serving to broaden perspectives, revitalize strategy and add new insights to business challenges. Co-creation, collaboration and strategic alliances will become increasingly important in the new talent economy, where we must cope with, and leverage, complexity and uncertainty on a daily basis.

A sophisticated and creative approach to mentoring can lead to it becoming a key part of L&D strategy across – and even between – organisations. Used in the correct ways, mentoring can provide the basis for a vast and successful social learning network.

So, what is the best way to build a robust mentoring strategy…or rather, create a culture of learning?

Should you take the formalised route and appoint mentors where you see fit? Or is there benefit in letting the process happen organically, allowing people to develop and use their own networks?

There’s no easy answer, but in our opinion encouragement is better than enforcement. Ask your line managers to role model – support them to build up and use their own bank of mentors so that they can describe the experience and value first hand. Consider building an Advisory Board of senior representatives from a wide variety of external organisations, who, through your senior leaders, can act as mentors to your entire business. This has been invaluable for us.

Most of all, create opportunities for your people to learn from one another – for after all, that’s what mentoring is. Give them time. Give them the physical and virtual areas they need to share their thoughts.  Equip them with a mindset for learning, where they see all experiences as a development opportunity that they cannot bear to miss.

Mentoring in your organisationIn our most recent piece of research (Oct-Nov 2013), 88% of our respondents said that mentoring plays a role in their Talent Management strategy. 49% said mentoring plays an informal role and 39% said it was formalised.     

Does your Talent Management strategy involve mentoring? What have been your challenges and successes? Please share your thoughts below.

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