The way we learn new skills has changed. Instead of dusting off the old “Beginning Programming for Dummies” guidebook, your employees are far more likely to pick up new skills by punching a few queries into Google and researching the topic themselves.
With a world of information at our fingertips - YouTube tutorials, question-and-answer sites like Quora, or quick-fire online courses through platforms like Lynda - the way we learn new skills has switched from being information-seeking to problem-solving. More often than not, we only research a topic when we have a specific problem in mind - and we want to find out the answers right then and there.
As a result, many traditional learning and development techniques have become obsolete, but there’s still one age-old approach that holds true in the new world of work – and that’s mentoring.
Organisations with mentoring programmes have better employee engagement and retention rates, and they also attract more high-potential employees, according to the Association for Talent Development.
So, while it might not involve a fancy mobile app or come with a comprehensive analytics dashboard, mentoring still deserves a spot in your organisation’s employee development strategy – here’s why:
Younger workers are hungry to learn.
Millennial workers have earnt a certain reputation for themselves – ambitious, disloyal, inpatient – assumptions which are in many ways correct. Yet, these workers are also incredibly eager to benefit from new experiences and skills.
So, when experienced and influential leaders within an organisation take the time to share their knowledge and expertise with younger employees, they're extremely grateful. According to a study by Deloitte, millennials who plan to stay with an organisation for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not.
Having an influential colleague to regularly meet with and discuss obstacles, challenges and potential solutions, as well as provide career advice and support, offers younger workers the career growth they so desperately seek.
Older workers want to learn too.
A mentoring programme also benefits senior employees. Sure, the mentors will improve their own knowledge and skills through the teaching experience - but older workers have plenty to learn as well.
As digital growth continues to accelerate, one of the central challenges facing the modern workforce is that groups of workers are being left behind.
Most workplace mentoring programmes involve older, more experienced professionals passing down their years of knowledge and insights to employees at either a management or junior level. However, reversing this model so that young, tech-savvy workers are partnered up with experienced but technically-challenged employees is also a highly-effective mentoring model.
This way older workers will pick up new technical capabilities that’ll improve their performance, and younger workers will continue to benefit from the knowledge and insights older workers have to offer.
The focus and structure of your mentoring programme largely comes down to your organisation’s culture, purpose and overarching objectives - but before you go ahead and set up a mentoring programme, here are three points to take on board:
1. Define your objectives.
Mentoring programmes can have a huge impact on the engagement levels of your employees, but a hasty and poorly planned setup can result in lukewarm liaisons that quickly drop off your employee’s radar.
Ask yourself: what is our mentoring programme(s) trying to achieve? Perhaps you want to groom the next generation of leaders for more senior positions - or equip more people from diverse backgrounds with board-level experience – or arm employees from all age brackets with a range of new technological skills.
Take the time to define the direction you want your mentoring programme to head in, and what exactly you want to see come into fruition. It’s also worth defining what your mentors and mentees will get out of it. A good way to inspire employees is to let them define their own objectives, such as perfecting their work-life balance, or gaining a better understanding of a particular sector or industry niche.
2. Get buy in from your team.
Mentoring programmes have been around for a while now, and as they have the possibility to either be incredibly effective or painstakingly disastrous, you should expect your employees to have some sort of pre-existing perception of workplace mentoring programmes already – some of which will be positive, others, not so much.
Your first hurdle will be explaining the value of mentoring to your team. While the aforementioned employee engagement and retention figures should be convincing enough, a mentoring programme also has a major impact on your company culture – it encourages younger workers to be more comfortable sharing their ideas with senior employees, and it helps senior employees see their jobs from a different perspective.
A good starting point is to find people within your organisation that have had positive experiences of mentoring – and, if they’re willing, get these people to be your mentoring champions. And encourage your senior leaders to get behind the programme too. But one small piece of advice - don’t make mentoring programmes mandatory - this will only waste everyone’s time.
3. Set the parameters.
The overall setup of your mentoring programme largely depends on the scale, structure and culture of your organisation. If your organisation’s culture is very corporate, having a tightly organised and carefully calibrated mentoring programme will gel well with most employees. But if your organisation has a more casual office environment, you could try establishing a loose set of guidelines and letting your employees figure the rest out for themselves.
When it comes to pairing up mentors with mentees, there are a number of interesting ways organisations go about it, from using complex algorithms to picking names out of a hat.
But rather than focusing solely on skills or experience, the most effective approach is to pair people together based on their personalities. Try to match mentors and mentees together that get along well, because if they have good chemistry, they’re far more likely to stick at the arrangement for longer.
Set up an initial meeting to test the waters, and if it goes well, set up another to discuss expectations and establish a loose plan and goals.
While establishing a mentoring programme can be a slow-burning and time-consuming affair, the results are well worth the extra effort. The most important thing to bear in mind is that there’s no secret recipe for success – it depends entirely on what your organisation, your mentors and your mentees want from it.
In our vast experience of supporting organisations and individuals, organisations that can incorporate these key points into their mentoring programmes will create a positive learning experience for both mentor and mentee, and a productive outcome for the organisation. For more information on how to create rewarding and worthwhile employee development opportunities within your organisation, please get in touch with Tim Drake at firstname.lastname@example.org