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Give More to Get More… :

publication date: Jan 20, 2014
author/source: Enda Larkin

Article 10 - Give More to Get More… | By Enda Larkin

Enda Larkin (column)

Hugo Chavez considers Fidel Castro to be his. Richard Branson says that Freddie Laker was one for him. Apparently, the late Ayrton Senna played the role for Rubens Barrichello. And even Steven Spielberg considered Stanley Kubrick to be his.

What on earth am I talking about you are likely asking? Mentors. That"s what I am referring to.

In all walks of life, mentoring is an important cog in the development wheel; as it is in the world of hospitality. Or maybe, more correctly, I should probably say that mentoring CAN be an effective development tool within businesses, but only when mentoring programs are well designed and managed that is. For sure, not all mentoring relationships end happily. For example, Jack Welch once said, "He has a credibility issue. He"s getting his ass kicked." And he said it on live TV too. On CNBC in fact. He was referring to Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE when he said that. The guy who had replaced him. The man he had once mentored. Ouch.

Yes, mentoring is undoubtedly an important cog in the wheel, but formally applying the concept in the workplace is far from risk-free. When badly managed, mentoring can have a negative rather than a positive impact. Tales abound where mentoring relationships at work have failed, or worse still, where one or other party has crossed the line in some way. I personally know of one case where a male boss seemed to assume that his pretty young "mentee" was in fact a potential mistress, but the less said about that case the better I suppose.

Anyway, there are many reasons why mentoring relationships can break down, from badly defined schemes to unrealistic expectations on behalf of either party. Still, for all the potential pitfalls, effective mentoring makes a positive contribution to both individual and business performance and various studies over the years have identified the following benefits:

It helps to retain talent

  • 77% of companies report that mentoring programs were effective in increasing retention.
  • Companies with effective mentoring programs saw employee turnover reductions of up to 20%.
  • Employees who do not get mentoring opportunities are more likely to search for a new job.

It benefits the individual

  • 75% of executives point to mentoring as having played a key role in their careers.

It benefits the business

  • Managerial productivity increased by 88% when mentoring was involved, versus only a 24% increase with training alone.
  • 95% of mentoring participants said the experience motivated them to do their very best.
  • More than 60% of college and graduate students listed mentoring as a criterion for selecting an employer after graduation.

These, and many other benefits, have been highlighted time and time again in a range of studies over the years. You are likely to have had a mentor (most likely an informal arrangement) of some kind in the past, most of us have had one, so you will already know just how useful it can be.

Now, maybe you currently have a mentoring program in place in your business, or department. Or, maybe you don"t. In either case, I would like to focus here on what I believe are important considerations for helping to make formal mentoring programs effective, and in particular, I will concentrate on programs geared towards your senior managers mentoring those more junior to them. (As you read ahead, you can consider the points covered to help you review your existing approach if you have one, or with a view to establishing a totally new framework in your business if you don"t).

Clearly, the concept of mentoring is a good one and rarely do I hear managers argue against the idea. What I do hear said, though, and by many managers too, is that informal mentoring relationships develop naturally, in and out of the workplace, and to "contrive" to make such relationships happen at work is a dangerous move. And I totally get that argument. It"s probably better when a mentoring relationship occurs naturally, because the two people involved have sort of self-selected each other and they first build trust and rapport, which means that the bond is already there before the mentoring element of the relationship develops. If you feel that the informal approach is working well for you in your business at present, then maybe leave well enough alone.

That said, in my experience, what you will likely find if you look closely at the informal approach in your business right now, is that a few ad-hoc mentoring relationships do exist – and are undoubtedly good for those involved – but the majority of managers aren"t involved in such relationships and as such aren"t benefitting.

So yes, it"s always preferable that the relationships develop naturally, but if you want your wider management team to benefit from mentoring, then you will likely have to devise a program which "nudges" people down the mentoring route. And if you follow some of the basic messages from this article, then at least you will devise a formal approach which makes the most of those semi-contrived relationships. Here are some general points to consider about effective mentoring programs.

1. Key Principles

Generally, the following principles should guide whatever approach to mentoring you adopt in your business:

  • It should be structured, but flexible enough to allow relationships to develop naturally over time.
  • It should be people-centric in its approach – do it for the people involved and, over time, that will produce a range of benefits for the business.
  • It should have a broad development focus and the key "areas for development" should be defined so that all mentor-mentee relationships focus on similar areas.
  • As mentioned, you need to recognize that mentoring is "relationship-based" so issues such as trust, confidentiality, communication skills, compatibility are all important considerations and need to be accounted for in how you design and implement the program.

2. Mentoring Model

Any successful Mentoring Programme must consider four interdependent dimensions:

Article 10 - Give More to Get More… | By Enda Larkin
Article 10 - Give More to Get More… | By Enda Larkin
Any successful Mentoring Programme must consider four interdependent dimensions

a) The Business

  • Does the culture within your business currently support the mentoring concept?
  • Are there already strong relationships between your senior and more junior leaders?
  • Are you willing to provide the necessary resources and support to underpin the mentoring program?

b) The Program

  • What are the specific goals for the program?
  • What will the program entail?
  • How will mentors and mentees be matched up?
  • How long will the relationship last for each mentor-mentee grouping?

The following key tasks are essential in devising and implementing the program:

Article 10 - Give More to Get More… | By Enda Larkin
Article 10 - Give More to Get More… | By Enda Larkin
The following key tasks are essential in devising and implementing the program

This framework can serve to guide you in terms of asking questions about your existing approach, or in helping you to plan the way ahead to get one off the ground.

c) The Participants

  • Will the mentors and the mentees be committed to the concept?
  • Do the mentors have the required "mentoring" skills at present?

d) The Development

  • How will the tangible developmental outcomes for each individual be defined?
  • How will their needs be met by the mentoring program?

By considering the above framework and thinking through questions such as these, you can devise an approach which has the right balance between formality and informality, which pairs the mentors-mentees for best effect and has common "development areas" defined so that all relationships focus on similar needs.

3. The Program in Action

To create a timeline for the mentoring program, I would recommend that you pair mentors and mentees for the period of one year; after that, I would rotate the pairings. What"s more, by rotating mentor-mentees every year this means that each individual gets to learn from more than just one manager – and particularly it might be necessary to assign certain mentees with specific mentors to help them develop precise skills on their development list. Of course, all mentors will approach their mentoring role in different ways, and there is not a step-by-step procedure that will suit everyone. However there are certain phases which all mentoring approaches should follow, which are:

Phase 1 – Initial Contact

The initial phase of developing the mentoring relationship should be seen as a "getting-to-know-you" time, whereby the participants meet – as required – on an informal basis to develop a rapport between them, and to start building a bond of trust with each other. The environment created at this stage is obviously critical, as it will set the tone for the remainder of the relationship.

It is also useful at this early stage to discuss how both parties view the mentoring relationship developing and to clarify perceptions about what the process is likely to entail. I find that it is also important if the mentor encourages the mentee to broadly identify how they see their career progressing in the short and medium term future. This information will be useful during Phase 2 of the process. In effect, a broad "Terms of Reference" should be agreed and the logistics of the process finalized.

This phase might happen during Month 1 of the yearly cycle.

Phase 2 – Identification of Development Needs

If the mentoring relationship is to have any concrete outcomes, then it must be clearly focused upon the development needs of the mentee, in line with what"s good for the business obviously. As I said earlier, it"s important that a broad field of "development areas" is devised for the program, so that all mentoring relationships focus on similar things, but within that template, the priority needs of each mentee still need to be defined.

Once the mentee"s development needs have been identified, it is important that they are then prioritised and the most relevant needs are addressed in that coming year. It is vital too for the mentor not to be over-ambitious as regards how much they can be of assistance to the mentee – they will not necessarily have the skills and knowledge to help in all development areas. So, the needs of the mentee must be balanced with the abilities of the mentor and clear goals/objectives and outcomes should then be formulated for the agreed needs.

This phase might happen during Month 2.

Phase 3 – Development

Once the needs are identified, prioritised and goals are established, it is then a matter of determining what development is required and how it will be delivered: on-the-job training, coaching by the mentor, discussions, role plays etc. It should be up to the mentor-mentee to collectively determine how often they need to meet to address the needs, but minimum contact requirements should be specified as part of the program to avoid "drift".

This phase is obviously the bulk of the year.

Phase 4 – Evaluation

It is important for the mentor and mentee to regularly review progress – both with regard to covering the development needs, but also in terms of how the relationship is developing. What"s more, a broader evaluation of the program is necessary and this can be attained through appraisals, and by examining core metrics such as management turnover and indeed management performance measures.

This phase should happen at the end of each annual mentoring cycle.

The points covered here are but a snapshot of what is required to manage an effective mentoring program and of course there are related concerns about ensuring that all mentors have the right attitude and skills to make the most of the process. But, despite just being an overview of mentoring, hopefully it will give you some food for thought on the issue.

Yes, it can be a challenge to set up and manage an internal mentoring program. There"s no denying that fact. The key is to find the right balance between formal-informal and to devise an approach that suits your business. But as always, I recommend you keep things as simple as possible: simple but not simplistic, mind you. To motivate you to put in the required effort and resources, all I can say is that based on the ample research available, but also from having seen the impact of mentoring at first hand, the effort definitely pays off. Also, I think the words of Winston Churchill fit well here when he said, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." Certainly, I find that when it comes to mentoring, the more you give, the more you get in return – and that applies personally and in terms of business performance.


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