Every learning and development professional knows and understands the inherent benefits of a formal training program. But there are informal processes that also build and reinforce the knowledge and skill level of your workforce. Many companies turn to mentoring programs to help build their teams. Mentorship not only helps build strong leaders, but it also helps develop a loyal team of employees who know how to perform their jobs and know how to turn to each other for advice.
According to Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading staffing company that provides IT professionals for a wide range of initiatives, people are the most important part of any organization, and developing those people through mentoring gives the organization a competitive advantage.
“Whatever you sell as an organization from a product perspective is certainly important,” said Lee, “but I don’t know of a single organization that can function without people, and I think the establishment of a mentoring program allows you to do what is most critical to the success of the company, regardless of what you do. That is, you are able to attract, recruit, hire and retain the absolute top professionals in your field because by having a commitment to a mentoring program, you’re demonstrating your level of commitment to (your workforce).”
Mentor programs can also help learning professionals gain valuable feedback on their initiatives. Preston Johnson, senior vice president, Human Resources and Shared Services at Center Point Energy, said the company uses a mentoring process to assess the effectiveness of its training delivery methods. “That mentor can get in and drill and help us understand, are we in fact making an impact based on the way that we are delivering our training?”
In addition, mentoring often functions as an important component of leadership development. Lee explained that mentoring is key not only for hiring the best professionals, but also for retaining a talented workforce. “Mentoring goes both ways,” said Lee. “Not only is it great to be a mentee, but it’s fabulous to be a mentor, and oftentimes, that’s the first step in someone taking on management responsibilities.”
In fact, many high-level professionals feel that they would not have achieved their career objectives without mentors to guide them. In fact, in a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, more than half of the chief information officers polled said that they had benefited from mentorship. And, the majority of CIOs who never had a mentor believed that their advancement would have been easier had they had an experienced professional on their side to help them along.
Respondents to the survey who had experienced a mentoring relationship at some point in their careers, whether formal or informal, were asked to name the single greatest benefit of the relationship. In response, 37 percent said that a mentor provides insight into a particular field or industry. Thirty-two percent said that the mentor serves as a confidant or advisor, and 16 percent said the mentor provides encouragement and boosts morale. That boost in morale can go a long way toward creating a more productive, loyal workforce.
According to Lee, mentors can serve as sounding boards at critical points during a professional’s career development. Mentors offer insight into a company’s accepted business practices and help develop inexperienced managers into strategic business leaders.
Mentorship, said Lee, is “perhaps one of the best ways to plot your career development.” Because the mentor is usually a third party, someone that the mentored professional does not report to, the mentor is able to take “more of an unbiased approach to your career development,” she added.
Especially for technical professionals, Lee said, a mentor can help turn the focus from technical issues to the broader business issues that are imperative to the company. “Sometimes technologists get so tunnel-visioned that they forget about the needs of the business, and I think mentors are very helpful in reminding you how important that is,” said Lee.
“You build a culture of teamwork, and you have built a culture of loyalty,” added Lee. “And you have to have those two things to function.”
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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