Opinion and Analysis
Mentorship schemes pay big dividends
- The nature and purpose of mentoring must be clearly understood and owned by all concerned, and not least by those at the top.
More and more organisations are becoming aware of the significant benefits that can be obtained from introducing a mentoring programme.
But very few have graduated beyond such awareness to actually making one happen — which is such a shame.
As with anything that’s really worthwhile, it won’t just take off by itself. A great deal of thought, determination and investment of time is needed, as the programme must be well prepared and well managed.
The nature and purpose of mentoring must be clearly understood and owned by all concerned, and not least by those at the top.
As far as I can tell, hardly any organisation in Kenya has devised and executed what I would call a robust and effective programme, never mind one that is integrated into the organisation’s overall strategy.
But those who do come up with well-structured mentoring programmes (and I am aware of a small handful that are doing so) give a great boost to the power of their talent management and become unusually desirable employers.
Mentoring initiatives support all phases of talent management, starting with the induction of new staff.
At a time when newcomers are uncertain and unknown, a mentor will support and accelerate their assimilation, helping them to find their way around and feel at home.
During their time in the organisation their mentor will help them grow and succeed, while reducing their self-doubt and their stress: having good mentors should definitely increase the satisfaction and enjoyment mentees derive from their work.
A further larger benefit of mentoring programmes is that they are more than likely to lead to improved relations between “seniors” and “juniors”.
So with all these advantages, little wonder then that those who have introduced serious mentoring programmes are at a competitive advantage when it comes to retaining their best people.
Now back to making it happen. Senior management must identify a home for the whole initiative (normally HR), and one that exists at a sufficiently senior level in the organisation.
And whoever is driving the mentoring programme had better realise all that they are taking on and quite what expertise and discipline are required.
All sorts of questions arise, from devising the policy to organising the logistics and documentation. How do you select mentors and mentees? Is joining the programme mandatory or optional?
Do you introduce it at some or all levels? Where do you start? How do you match mentors and mentees, pairing them for shared interest and also emotional compatibility?
Should they be allowed to find each other, or should the employer propose who works with whom? How often and for long should pairs meet, and where?
Then, how do you train both sets of participants? How do line managers fit in to the process? How does the mentoring relate to the performance appraisal system?
Does the programme have a definite life, or is it ongoing? How do you review progress to ensure powerful outcomes? And how do you ensure continuous sharing and learning about what has and has not worked?
One must accept that not everyone is a natural at this game, and that many from both sides approach mentoring with some anxiety.
Mentors may feel they lack the skills, the interest, the time or some combination of all these factors. Mentees worry about whether they dare reveal their weaknesses, and if doing so may harm their career prospects. Will it be worth the time?
Other delicate issues that come to mind for the mentee include the appropriateness or otherwise of talking to their mentor about their salaries, or about transfers and promotions, never mind about pursuing opportunities outside the organisation.
In a healthy culture, an open and positive one, people should feel relaxed enough to confront the most awkward things on their mind, both ways.
If mentoring works well, the process should be uplifting and beneficial to the mentor as much as to the mentee.
As mentors share their experiences and insights with their mentees, they are likely to become more reflective themselves, and hence more effective.
They will take more time contemplating their own past and present and future, even as they help those who come after them with their development.
Mentors will also do a better job managing their direct reports, as they apply what they have learned from mentoring and enrich their leadership styles.
Mentoring programmes can be directed at specific goals, like helping recently promoted managers with their strategic thinking say, or with their soft skills.
I was struck by the initiative introduced some years ago by Proctor & Gamble to help more women reach the top levels of the company.
They matched senior men with junior women, but it soon became apparent that it was those very senior men who were the women’s disablers.
So the scheme was turned on its head, with the women advising the men on what the organisation needed to do to remove barriers to their development.
P&G’s “Mentor Up” programme indeed saw more women rise and fewer leave, a testament to the boldness of the “reverse” or “inverse” mentoring.
I wish more organisations would take the plunge and get serious about mentoring. I am absolutely convinced it pays dividends, and not least in influencing how people relate to one another.
It should lead to a more supportive and respectful culture, where irrespective of role or level people will be looking out for one another.
Socrates (who mentored Plato) clearly showed he understood what mentoring was all about when he proclaimed: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
And the New Testament also showed that mentoring has been around for a long, long time: “Show a person how to fish,” we learn from the scriptures, “Don’t just give them a fish.” Now we must teach organisations how to do all that, through mentoring.