The Purpose Of Mentoring Has Changed, Here’s Why

November 29, 2021
June 26, 2023
Leadership And Mentoring

Today’s workplace may be almost unrecognisable versus a few short years ago, but one of the oldest and most long-standing practices — mentoring — is still going strong.

And, in fact, in an era of remote working and asynchronous teams, mentoring in the workplace has really never been more important than it is today.

Mentoring programs are a great way to share knowledge within a company and to onboard and upskill team members to greater effect. It also brings a ton of benefits for mentees, mentors and the businesses they work for.

Let’s take a look at why mentoring should be part of any modern workplace and how to build the foundation of a brilliant mentoring relationship.

The impact and purpose of mentoring programs in the modern workplace

Here’s a big stat to kick things off: over 70% of Fortune 500 companies run mentoring programs, and you probably should too.

A mentoring relationship can improve onboarding

There’s always been a lot of information to take in when joining a team. And, sure, you could provide a laminated one-size-fits-all welcome pack or slide deck to peruse, but too often, these are a) uninspiring and b) trying to say too much to too many people. The result is an onboarding experience that lacks engagement and value — especially for today’s distributed teams.  

Try spending the first week of a new job, on your own in your home office, flicking through a “we send this to everyone” PowerPoint and see how excited you feel about the journey ahead.

In the post-pandemic and hybrid era,  mentoring relationships can play a huge role in the onboarding process and help us do so much more. We can leave one-size methods behind and focus instead on personalised, tailored approaches that provide specific information related to the role.

With mentors and subject matter experts by their side, newbies can hit the ground running armed with a dedicated fount of knowledge — someone to ask those “stupid questions” to and for a cultural barometer.

Google is an example of a business that takes onboarding mentoring one step further: offering mentors to potential development hires, preparing them to join the team. ‘Nooglers’ undergo a two-week, immersive program to learn the ropes of Google’s internal ecosystem.

Then there’s the ‘Googler-to-Googler’ network, where colleagues volunteer to help onboard and develop their peers. When you think about the traditional approach for a workplace mentoring program, which would run from the top down, this is a great shift towards the democratisation of mentoring. The purpose of mentoring isn’t for information to travel in one direction, but for everyone to share their expertise – something we’ll get to very soon.

This is a great example of using small-scale initiatives over a big-bang mentoring programs. Mentoring can happen informally, within teams and even for the length of certain projects, it doesn’t need to be a fixed or intense project involving countless stakeholders.

The mentor/mentee relationship supports knowledge sharing

Mentoring is a way for staff members to share knowledge across the workplace and to improve their understanding from one department to the next. This boosts knowledge for a mentee while also making the business work better together collaboratively.

But it doesn’t always have to follow an age-based or hierarchical model like the old-school, formal mentoring programs. Younger employees often have something to teach their more-established colleagues — about new tech tools and changing customer demands, for example. This is known as reverse mentoring, just one of the many mentoring types seen in progressive businesses today, and reinforces the idea that mentoring’s purpose is shifting.

Inga Beale, CEO at insurance firm Lloyd’s of London, believes reverse mentoring is especially important for the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) landscape we’re in. That’s why she’s built a mentoring relationship with one of the company’s young apprentices — and says:

“We need to be reminded of what’s happening in the world and how the new generation thinks and behaves and wants different things. I take ideas and inspiration from all the young people I work with. This helps me to think about how we can do things differently and appeal to that generation.”

When businesses are run by the big cheeses in the boardroom, for the big cheeses and their peers, it’s one way to lose relevance with younger customer demographics — and fast. Thinking of your mentoring relationships in a multi-directional way could help you build a far better culture and more effective ways of working.

What could early talent and young hires teach your senior staff? From navigating the evolving tech of a hybrid workplace to understanding what Gen Z is looking for in their careers, who better to guide the way?

Mentor programs improve employee satisfaction, engagement and retention

Team members who go through and benefit from mentoring relationships tend to be paid better, get better promotion opportunities and are generally more satisfied in their careers — all of which bodes well for employee retention.

Companies are facing the Great Resignation as they enter 2022. And whether this trend began before the pandemic or not is largely irrelevant when we consider one of the driving forces behind all these millions of people potentially quitting their jobs: the need for growth. After all, according to 2020 research, it’s mid-career and manager-level employees resigning most. And that’s something a mentorship program could certainly help avoid.

At technology company Sun Microsystems, retention rates for employees who took part in their mentoring program were 72% higher for mentees and 69% for mentors. This led to a saving of $6.7 million for the company, well worth the $1.1 million investment into the programme. Now that’s a business case that makes itself!

If you’re a mentoring advocate looking for buy-in from the C-Suite, that’s an ROI case study you need to remember.

Mentoring is essential for engaging remote and hybrid workers

When working from home and missing out on watercooler chat, it’s hard to get informal advice from more experienced team members. That’s why a dedicated mentoring program can help to keep colleagues engaged and on-track towards personal and professional development.

America Needs You (ANY) has moved their mentoring program online — and to great effect. They’re developing talent, building talent pipelines and boosting resilience among their remote working teams by offering one-on-one mentoring relationships and establishing norms for online communication.

A question you can ask yourself is how do we make our technology and hybrid structures work with our mentorship scheme rather than against it? That’s one of the key leadership skills in the hybrid age.

In ANY’s case, it was ensuring that they didn’t simply revert to type when the opportunity arose. Instead, they tweaked their approach to sync up with their new ways of working and learning – giving their mentoring program a greater chance of success in hybrid and remote working environments.

Mentored employees actually feel less stressed and burned out

Yes, really. A study has shown that people enrolled in a mentoring programme feel less stress and anxiety about work because they have a trusted person to share their concerns with. Winner!

And that doesn’t just apply to the mentee, it applies to the mentor too! Not only are they developing leadership skills, they’re gaining a sense of meaning or purpose. As the research explains:

“We found that mentoring relationships provide a unique context for mentors to discuss and normalise their concerns, to share ideas for managing anxieties, and to find more meaning in their work. Mentoring relationships appeared to provide an organisational mechanism to prompt supervisor and colleague interactions, which in turn facilitated a reduction in the mentors’ anxiety.”

Mentoring can connect people to purpose and drive their performance

There’s been a shift since the pandemic that people want to do more meaningful work, we are becoming a more purpose-driven workforce.

Now, if we think about how and why we set up mentoring relationships, there’s a way we can foster this feeling and help people feel they’re contributing. But it means we need to connect it with business challenges and employee performance.

Let’s say someone in sales comes to us because they feel like they’d benefit from having a mentor. We could just say, sure, we’ll put you in touch with someone else.

Or we could probe further and given our mentoring efforts greater purpose. We could ask them if they’re struggling in particular areas or dig into their performance data to see where there’s more room for improvement.

That might lead us to discover that they’re great at reaching out to prospects but then struggle to move them into the demo stage. Now that we know this, we could pair them up with someone who has shown their prowess in getting people to book in for demos.

Better yet, we could set some goals around it! We could say that the purpose of mentoring in this case is to increase the percentage of people moving from prospect to demo by 5%. That’s measurable! We know if our mentor has had an impact because we can assess those numbers.

And if we can then help our mentee understand the correlation between that improvement and the number of deals they close or the company closes, we’re driving that sense of purpose.

What are the benefits of being a mentor? Winning people over through the value of mentioning

Become a mentor, and you’ll join a prestigious crew that includes the likes of Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Audrey Hepburn and Gandhi.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that workplace mentoring is simply an altruistic act on behalf of the mentor. There are benefits to having a mentor but there are lots of benefits to being a mentor too. Everyone gets something worthwhile out of the mentoring relationship.

A mentor can expect to gain:

  • Leadership skills – Mentors develop lots of really important soft skills that can help them to become great leaders: empathy, creativity, communication, strategy and the ability to inspire.
  • New perspectives  A good mentee will ask pertinent questions, encouraging you to look at your career and your workplace through new eyes — helping you find new ways to progress as a result.
  • Better mental health – Mentoring reduces stress and anxiety for mentors as well. Sharing experiences and concerns with a trusted colleague is good for both people in the mentoring partnership.
  • A renewed sense of meaning and motivation – Giving something back feels good. Many experience increased job satisfaction and better career development throughout their time as a mentor.

Nichole Higgins was a finalist in the National Mentoring Awards in 2019. She spent time as a CIPD Steps Ahead mentor, supporting unemployed people to rediscover their motivation and find work.

Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

“My involvement as a Steps Ahead volunteer has definitely assisted in building my own confidence, especially when it comes to public speaking and delivering presentations. Being a mentor and an ambassador has also given me the drive and hunger to want to improve myself. This led to me wanting my own mentor and I am now in a mentoring relationship with one of the senior leaders at the CIPD.”

Helping mentors and mentees set their purpose and build relationships with goals in mind

The benefits of mentoring can be applied to a broad range of objectives, what your mentor-mentee relationships aim to achieve will be dependent on the individuals involved and the business context too. Need some inspiration? Here are five common purposes of mentoring in the workplace:

  • Developing future leaders: Probably the most immediate use of mentoring, when a rising star is paired with an expert in their field, impressive things can happen. Perhaps the C-Suite has identified a handful of high-potential employees and wants to invest in not only their learning and development but their long-term engagement as well. Mentoring programs can help achieve this, developing their skills but also showing them how valued they are and what they could go on to accomplish as part of the team.
  • Succession planning: Mentoring can also help senior leaders identify and nurture the individuals who may go on to take over the most prominent roles in an organisation. In the case of succession planning, in particular, a mentor can help model the cultural cues of a company’s top tier teams, so that those values will be carried through to the next generation of leaders. At the same time, they’ll be imparting business-specific wisdom and knowledge built up on the job, something it would be difficult for the mentee to pick up elsewhere. This is an example of when more formalised and structured mentoring programs are useful, given that there will be the need to capture and share knowledge consistently.
  • Bridging remote/hybrid gaps: Loneliness can plague remote and hybrid teams, but pairing employees with mentors can help keep the channels of communication and learning open. Tools and tech also exist to facilitate effective conversations and objectives-setting between mentors and mentees, even when they are miles apart.
  • Managing up and helping leaders develop soft skills: Managers are on a learning and development journey, just as much as their more junior colleagues. And that’s fine, except that there are some managers who get promoted more on account of their technical skills than their ability to lead. This is such a widespread issue that one research study found 65% of people would opt for a new boss rather than a pay rise! Mentoring programs can help; it creates a safe space for peers and colleagues to help fill a manager’s talent gaps and lacking leadership skills, while making the team a more productive place for everyone involved.
  • Plugging a skills gap: Sometimes, we just find ourselves lacking enough of a certain skill to achieve a goal or solve a problem. Let’s say we’re having major problems with our system and need to manage a huge tidal wave of customer questions, we might have limited customer support staff with that skill in place. So, in the short term, we might need to borrow people from other parts of the business, and an internal expert can mentor them through that process to temporarily upskill them.

How does mentoring work in flatter organisations?

We often celebrate that we’re living in an era of flatter organisations, where middle and micro management are cut down and we have direct levels of communications.

However, with these limiting the more formalised and traditional workplace mentoring program, it really increases the onus for mentoring and leadership to become behaviours we all show in our day-to-day.

As L&D and leadership teams, your role is to set the guidelines and provide the tools for people to participate in peer and self-mentoring, so that not every interaction is a formal touch point. Is the feedback culture open? Is there psychological safety for people to try new things and fail? Are they empowered to run with ideas as they build mentoring relationships with each other, rather than running everything by a manager.

Bring mentors and mentees together with HowNow

Mentoring in the workplace is all about building the right partnerships — and HowNow simplifies that process for you.

We’ll empower you to identify internal experts, measure skills and make intelligent mentor-mentee matches. From there, you can create learning pathways, assign learning resources, and track progress all through the same easy interface.

Sign up for a demo, and we’ll happily show you around your mentoring program’s new favourite support system!

Check out our other leadership development resources