We all know the ability to attract, retain, and develop key talent is essential to an organization’s success. Doing so has never been more critical than it is today. It’s also more difficult than ever before. The colliding demographic, economic, and attitudinal shifts now occurring in the workforce as Boomers retire and Millennials begin their careers has created unprecedented churn and an ever-widening skill, experience, and wisdom gap. While Millennials are now the largest cohort in the US workforce, they are the least engaged, and their average company tenure is only three years. However, they cite coaching and professional development as key to higher job satisfaction. At the same time, while 10,000 Boomers retire every day, many want or need to continue some level of continued professional employment. And therein lies a tremendous opportunity. Bring these two groups together in a formal mentoring program. It is one sure-fire way to promote professional development and employee engagement in your organization.
Companies need to think differently about how we approach talent design and management and the powerful role that accomplished company alumni can play in bridging talent gaps as well as helping the next generation of employees through mentoring. Over the course of my career as an international Organizational Development professional for a diverse group of companies, including Johnson & Johnson and General Electric, I’ve witnessed over and over the positive business and employee satisfaction results that accrue from developing internal leadership capacity through mentoring. Here are four reasons to implement a mentoring program now:
- Mentoring drives engagement and retention
First, let’s clarify our definitions. Mentoring is defined as a professional relationship in which a more experienced employee (mentor) supports a co-worker (mentee) in developing skills and knowledge that will help the less experienced person’s growth. For example, a coach may provide expertise on the most effective way to provide a status update on deliverables for an R&D new product so that the mentee builds trust with her boss regarding her ability to meet project deadlines. Another example may include coaching an introverted engineer on how to influence his peers regarding technical solutions for a complex problem.
As stated above, for many employees, the opportunity to learn and develop on the job is a key component of job satisfaction. By implementing a structured mentoring program, companies demonstrate they are committed to creating a culture of growth, which in turn drives engagement. Engaged employees go above and beyond job demands, give discretionary effort and stretch themselves outside their comfort zone. Perhaps most important, engaged employees are more likely to remain with their company. Gallup research has shown that organizations with high engagement have significantly lower turnover rates. When you think about the cost associated with recruitment and retention, clearly mentoring makes good business sense.
- Mentoring develops effective leaders
According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), mentoring and coaching provide up to 20% of a leader’s professional growth. Another 70% of development comes from challenging job assignments, and the remaining 10% comes from self-development, such as reading books, participating in webinars, or attending relevant workshops. Clearly, mentoring has proven benefits for both novice and more experienced leaders. Through mentoring, the mentee quickly learns from the mentor’s valuable insights and experiences. In our fast-paced world, new leaders are frequently assigned or promoted into positions without any transitional guidance or training. Having a trusted advisor and confidante can be a strong advantage in this case. Mentors can also guide mentees on how to effectively navigate political challenges. For example, a mentor I know spent time with his mentee providing counsel on how to influence a top leader to listen to her perspective on design improvements to the company’s manufacturing process. Although the top executive was initially resistant, the mentee was ultimately able to influence the leader’s perspective, in large part due to the guidance provided by her mentor. Often, an experienced, objective viewpoint can be of great value.
- Mentoring benefits both the mentor and the mentee
It’s clear to see some of the ways that mentoring benefits the recipient (mentee) of the process. What may not be so obvious is that the mentor also gains from participating. By imparting knowledge, serving as a sounding board, and providing sought-after advice, the mentor demonstrates relevancy, adds value to the organization, and most importantly, can see the impact he/she has on their mentee. For recent or soon-to-be retirees, being a mentor can be a great transitional role from full-time employment. An alumni mentor can share the explicit and implicit knowledge, wisdom, and experience gained over the course of their career, focused on the work they enjoy without the burden of administrative or other tasks that come with full-time operational leadership responsibilities.
I’ve been both a mentee and mentor and can personally share how gratifying it can be to support a less experienced colleague. For instance, I recently met with a talented, ambitious Marketing Specialist who was considering pursuing an MBA in order to advance her career. Together, we discussed the implications of attending graduate school while working full-time and the potential impact this would have over the long-term. The mentee came to the conclusion that it was worth the investment to go full force and begin her MBA while continuing to work. I’m excited for her and can’t wait to see the accomplishments she’ll achieve.
- Mentoring facilitates institutional knowledge retention
In addition to the employee engagement and retention benefits cited above, mentoring is also a key component of institutional knowledge management and transfer. With the churn of right-sizing, reorganizing, relocating, and retirement, the knowledge, insight, and wisdom of internal experts often departs with those leaving the organization. Insuring that the specialized, unique knowledge of experienced professionals continues to provide value even after they leave is mission-critical to the on-going success of the organization. Engaging both the mentor and the mentee in formal knowledge elicitation and capture sessions provides yet another learning opportunity for the mentee, in addition to helping the organization retain the wisdom and experience of the mentor.
The companies that reap the greatest rewards from mentoring are those with formal programs and structures in place that proactively pair accomplished professionals with up-and-comers in the organization. In future posts, I’ll discuss how to establish an effective mentoring program, both in general and specifically for women in STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Need help getting started now? Contact me, and let’s discuss how a mentoring program can help your business achieve its goals.