Mentoring or workplace coaching is one of the best ways to help employees find continuous fulfilment and meaning in their work, particularly when it comes to engaging and retaining a multigenerational workforce where employees can include both Gen X (those born from 1965 to 1978) and Gen Y (those born from 1979 to 1999).
Taking part in a formal mentoring program in the workplace can be a rewarding learning experience, not only for the mentee but also the mentor. Improving interpersonal skills and building leadership abilities are just some of the potential professional development opportunities for both parties.
While executives and managers are most commonly viewed as strong candidates to serve as mentors, titles are not the key criterion. The most effective mentors are people who are naturally empathetic and enjoy the role of helping, listening to and sharing information with others.
If that describes you, and you’re thinking about taking on this important responsibility, there are several things you can do to make sure the mentoring arrangement is a success — and earn a reputation as a great mentor.
Here are five tips for becoming a great mentor in your organisation:
- Understand that mentoring and coaching are part of every manager’s responsibility. It’s important to set a good example and to make time within your busy working day to communicate with your team.
- Set up informal cross-training or coaching sessions so employees of different generations can share their respective areas of expertise. Sometimes, the best ideas can come from a fresh graduate, a veteran with 20 years of industry experience or someone in between.
- Encourage mentoring in both directions, and not just from the top down. A Gen Y employee, for example, may volunteer to mentor a more senior colleague on using online collaboration tools or social media platforms in the workplace.
- Allow baby boomers to take on transitional roles, such as a consultant or trainer, before retirement so they can pass on their knowledge to less experienced employees.
- Identify your own mentoring and coaching style and encourage your team to do the same. Understanding how people approach career coaching can be useful in making sure you match people correctly and foster more effective collaborations.
Consider also “reverse” mentoring
Some companies have started to embrace reverse mentoring instead of simply relying on the traditional model of senior staff imparting knowledge and skills to less experienced colleagues. These newer workplace mentoring models include junior employees taking the lead to mentor more experienced staff in addition to peer-to-peer mentoring methods.
Through these less traditional relationships, employees have been able to demonstrate how they can provide value to the business in ways beyond their basic job description – and regardless of their experience level.
Structuring arrangements for success
Although less traditional mentoring arrangements are gaining popularity, you may need to address some potential hurdles up-front – such as participants’ preconceived notions about who should be in the role of the “teacher” or “student” in the relationship.
Mentoring is a commitment, and making the experience a positive one for the mentee requires that you keep your responsibilities as a mentor in focus. You’ll probably find that's easy to do during the initial weeks or months of the mentoring arrangement. But over time, as work demands rise, it can be all too easy to de-prioritise your mentoring duties.
Clearly explain what you would like both parties to gain and encourage them to avoid stereotyping based on age or experience. In addition, have the mentor and mentee agree on:
- What each would like to achieve through the process
- Where and how often they will meet or communicate
Finally, be sure to provide enough time for both parties to work together – and take an interest in the relationship’s progress. A strong mentoring program can help create an inviting culture in which people are constantly sharing knowledge and generating ideas, and are mutually committed to building a successful company. And these will invariably help boost the employee-retention rate in your organisation.
Whether the arrangement is formal or informal, the mentor-mentee relationship ultimately should be a growth opportunity for both people involved. It should provide a way to help a colleague advance or build more confidence as a professional or to learn the ropes of a new job and ease into the culture of the organisation. It should also give the mentee an avenue to share his or her own wisdom — and unique perspectives — with you.