Mentoring is an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers. In the first of a two-part series, we look at how this powerful tool can be used by companies.

In today’s fast paced, rapidly changing and dynamic environment, it is imperative for organisations to invest in harnessing the talent within the organisation for long-term sustenance. The war for talent is creating challenges within the organisation not only to recruit new talent, but to retain it too.

A mentor provides you with wisdom, technical knowledge, assistance, support, empathy and respect throughout, and often beyond, your career. The objective is to enable mentees to grow personally and professionally by passing on their wisdom. Mentoring comes from the Greek word meaning ‘enduring’ and is defined as a sustained relationship between a youth and an adult. It is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed is — Mentoring is a strategic approach to developing an employee by pairing mentee with a more experienced employee who will teach, coach, counsel and energise the employee.

Another definition is: Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the mentee).

Another one — Mentoring is usually a formal or informal relationship between two people-a senior mentor (usually outside the protégé's chain of supervision) and a junior protégé. Mentoring has been identified as an important influence in professional development in both the public and private sector.

To sum up, it is a nurturing process and a mentor can be a source of information and a thoughtful guide through the complexities of unspoken, but potentially career-enhancing / limiting organisational norms.

Mentoring is a powerful personal development and empowerment tool. It is an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers and is becoming increasing popular as its potential is realised.

Corporates today are using mentoring as a strategic tool to harness the several benefits it provides. There is increased employee performance and employee engagement. Skills are enhanced besides employee development and retention. There is knowledge sharing and commitment to the organisation.

Types of Mentoring

New-hire Mentorship: New-hire mentoring programs are set up to help new employees acclimate more quickly into the organisation. In new-hire mentoring programs, newcomers (mentees) are paired with more experienced people (mentors) in order to obtain information, good examples, and advice as they advance. It has been claimed that new employees who are paired with a mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job compared to those who do not receive mentoring.

High-potential Mentorship: High-potential mentoring programs are used to groom up-and-coming employees deemed to have the potential to move up into leadership roles. Here the employee is paired with a senior level leader (or leaders) for a series of career-coaching interactions. These programs tend to be smaller than more general mentoring programs and mentees must be selected to participate.

Business Mentoring: The concept of mentoring has entered the business domain as well. This is different from being an apprentice, a business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur on the entrepreneur’s business. An apprentice learns a trade by working on the job with the employer.

Reverse Mentoring: In the reverse mentoring situation, the mentee has more overall experience (typically as a result of age) than the mentor (who is typically younger), but the mentor has more knowledge in a particular area, and as such, reverses the typical constellation. Examples are when young internet or mobile savvy millennial generation teens train executives in using high end smart phones.

Mentoring Techniques

The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately. A 1995 study of mentoring techniques most commonly used in business, found that the five most commonly used techniques among mentors were:

Accompanying: Making a commitment in a caring way, which involves taking part in the learning process side-by-side with the learner.

Sowing: Mentors are often confronted with the difficulty of preparing the learner before he is ready to change. Sowing is necessary when you know that what you say may not be understood or even acceptable to learners at first but will make sense and have value to the mentee when the situation requires it.

Catalysing: When change reaches a critical level of pressure, learning can escalate. Here the mentor chooses to plunge the learner right into change, provoking a different way of thinking, a change in identity or a re-ordering of values.

Showing: This is making something understandable, or using your own example to demonstrate a skill or activity. You show what you are talking about, you show by your own behaviour.

Harvesting: Here the mentor focuses on “picking the ripe fruit”. It is usually used to create awareness of what was learned by experience and to draw conclusions. The key questions here are: “What have you learned?”, “How useful is it?”.

Mentoring Programs

Formal mentoring programs offer employees the opportunity to participate in an organised mentoring program. Participants join as a mentor, mentee or both by completing a mentoring profile. Mentoring profiles are completed as written forms. Informal mentoring takes place at organisations that develop a culture of mentoring but do not have formal system in place. These companies may provide some tools and resources and encourage managers to accept mentoring requests from more junior members of the organisation.

Mentoring Objectives

Be an inspiring and competent mentor. Understand the power and positive consequences of mentoring. Develop mutually beneficial expectations and objectives. Understand mentee needs and how to address them. Determine responsibilities and guidelines. Hold productive discussions with mentees. Deal with mentoring challenges in the organisation. Use effective communication and listening skills to build rapport. Use questioning skill for uncovering needs and feedback skills for objective assessment.

Pre-requisite for Mentoring

I have found that persons with a high emotional quotient (EQ) tend to make better mentors. It is therefore, strongly recommended that Emotional Intelligence Appraisal is done to assess their EQ, as one of the pre-requisites for choosing mentors.

(The author is a management consultant and corporate trainer)

(This article was published on February 28, 2013)
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