Earlier today, I was grappling with a particularly complex business question and found myself thinking 'What would Alan do?' Alan used to be one of my informal business mentors for many years.
I say 'informal' because there was never a formal mentorship programme or relationship and he probably didn’t even realise that what he was doing constituted 'mentoring'.
The funny thing is that I always seem to have had 'informal' mentors, yet I recently was asked to become a bona-fide, formal business mentor for a Dubai-based company. So I now have a 360-degree view of mentoring.
In one way or the other, mentoring has existed since the ancient Greek times, but it’s only really since the 1970s that the term has found its way into formal business-speak around the world. 'Mentees', as they are now referred to, used to be called apprentices or, even earlier, protégé s. The latter term smacks a bit of Downton Abbey and is, fortunately, not widely used anymore.
Today, mentors may be younger or older than their mentees and, really, age is secondary to skills. Particularly important, in my opinion, is the ability to ask the right questions at the right time. Through being a mentor myself, I came to realise that mentors don’t really have to 'know it all' or even always have to know more than their mentees, but they do need to know how to ask questions and how to go about things in an orderly fashion. Yes, mentors can provide insights and clarity, but more often than not their job is to provide clarity in muddled times, point out possible options, and weigh up advantages and disadvantages.
Look around you and ask colleagues or contacts who successfully occupy senior leadership positions and you’ll find that most of them will agree that they got where they are today thanks to strong mentors.
Having a mentor can be highly beneficial, but being a mentor also has numerous, often overlooked, advantages.
People who know me will agree that I like to talk a lot. Mentoring means that I need to talk less and listen more. It also exposes me to situations and problems that I would not otherwise have to deal with, which often results in new insights and knowledge.
Being a mentor also makes me happy. It’s a nice feeling to be able to 'give back', help others, and transfer knowledge. It’s like being a teacher without the downside of having to deal with unruly children.
In an organisation, establishing a formal mentoring programme, can lead to a more positive work environment, increase employee loyalty and reduce turnover, which in turn lowers recruitment and training costs.
The best part of company-internal mentoring is, of course, that it’s essentially free, because it uses resources that a company already has.
Mentoring programmes can be fairly evolved, but you don’t have to make things complicated and time-consuming to administrate – just ask around your company and find people interested in mentoring or in being mentors. Bring the two parties together in a pitch-style meeting and let every mentee explain what he or she is looking for in a mentor and every mentor what he or she can offer mentees. Once every mentee has been paired with a suitable mentor, give them a lose framework of requirements, e.g., they need to meet formally at least every two weeks, submit brief progress reports every month, etc.
The easier to administrate you make the programme, the better the results.
Don’t forget to acknowledge the role of successful mentors and mentees during team meetings and yearly performance appraisals. I’d be very surprised if you don’t find notable increases in motivation and job satisfaction. At the same time, the programme will considerably help you with succession planning.
In a nutshell, mentoring is good for organisations, employees, and customers. It’s a true win-win activity.
By Martin Kubler
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