One popular and effective method of improving employee skills is by matching the employee with an expert from inside their organization. A mentor typically has years of experience in applying business concepts according to the standard of the company. In order for a mentorship program to be successful, it is paramount to first identify precisely the skills that require development on an individual basis.
Coaching vs. Mentoring
‘Coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are often defined in the same way. However, there are some key differences:
- Coaches are experts who are external to an organization, and are hired to implement learning and development programs for a contracted period.
- Mentors are experts from within an organization who teach other employees the ways of the business over an extended period.
What Is a Mentorship Program?
A business mentorship program is a structured, one-to-one relationship where an experienced and often senior employee guides another employee in professional skills, best practices, organizational processes, and so on. It is common for employees at all levels to advise others, but an mentorship program is a standardized process with dedicated staff and the involvement of the entire business.
How Do Mentorship Programs Work?
There are many variations of mentorship programs depending on the resources of the firm and the availability of the mentor and mentee. However, most MPs follow these steps:
- Program design – general administrative steps to ensure organizational buy-in and resources
- Recruitment – identifying the mentors with the skills, background, and availability for the program, as well as employees who are good candidates
- Introduction – matching the participants, setting the schedule, and explaining next steps
- Implementation – meetings to discuss areas and goals of development, day-to-day guidance, skill reviews, and feedback
- Measurement – gauging success and discussing improvements (for both employee and mentor)
If the mentorship program is designed for continuous application, this process will then continue at the implementation stage.
Why Are Mentorship Programs Important?
mentorship programs provide organizational advantages that are common to many learning and development programs, such as higher skill levels, a stronger company culture, improved engagement rates, and increased productivity. In addition, MPs deliver a number of specific benefits:
A Source of Inspiration
Many successful business people have published books that describe the story of their development, the techniques that allowed them to prosper, and the ideas which (they believe) can benefit other professionals. In the same way, a mentor is an inspirational figure and role model who can provide hands-on experiences to employees according to the practices that the mentor used to achieve success.
A Long-Term Relationship
Coaches only stay with an organization for the length of their engagement. In comparison, a mentor can be asked for support and advice for as long as they are associated with the company. Even after an mentorship program has ended, many employees stay in touch with their mentors, who often have a sincere interest in their progress.
A mentor can provide access to the specific connections that a mentor possesses, both inside and outside the company. This includes essential personal referrals that allow the employee to bypass ‘gatekeepers’ and which bring them to the immediate attention of the connection.
Mentors are experts about their own organization and so have considerable insight into how it functions – for instance, specialized product knowledge, trade secrets, politics, strategic changes, and competitor information. They also have a good understanding of the particular challenges that an employee can face due organizational idiosyncrasies.
A Challenge for Mentorship Programs
Mentors are authorities within a company, but are not necessarily knowledgeable in terms of learning and development. For this reason, mentors might not be able to identify the exact skills where an employee can improve.
For instance, a mentor can be asked to advise an employee regarding their leadership skills. But ‘leadership skills’ include various elements, such as decision making, problem solving, communication, and organization. Chances are that the employee is weak in a specific element, but this is often not identified; and so the mentorship program does not set an appropriate goal from the outset. In fact, a lack of proper goal setting is one of the main reasons for ineffective mentoring programs. This is not a weakness of any particular mentor, as failed L&D programs are common throughout the industry.
Designing Mentorship Programs with GrowthSpace
GrowthSpace’s technology parses L&D requirements into elements, and on an individual basis. Mentors and L&D departments use GrowthSpace to understand the precise skill requirements of specific employees, and so design a more relevant and effective personalized mentorship program.