Why Internal Mentoring Relationships Are More Important Than Ever
Did you know that even Elon Musk had a mentor? Yes, the Tesla founder needed support back in the early 2000s as he was launching his next hi-tech venture, SpaceX. Musk relied on what is described as an industry mentor to learn about the new industry he was planning to take on. He also made good use of his mentor’s extensive network of relevant industry contacts. No wonder then that SpaceX is also offering mentoring to its employees, including via program tracks aimed specifically at women and minorities.
Of course, the spacecraft company is not alone. More than 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs. How effective these programs are is another issue. Researchers have even coined a term ‘marginal mentoring’ to refer to mentoring relationships that mentees have deemed unsatisfactory.
Indeed, it is the quality of the mentoring relationship that is the most important factor in the success of any mentorship program. But how does one scale something so ephemeral and personal as a relationship – though of the strictly professional kind – between two unique individuals? Well, while the outcome, i.e. the quality of the mentoring relationship, cannot be controlled, it is possible to take certain steps to create an environment and a framework that is conducive to the formation of successful mentoring relationships.
Internal Mentoring vs. External Mentoring
In the case of Elon Musk back in 2001, he hired an external mentor. As the name suggests, these are professionals from outside the company. External mentors are particularly popular with high-level executives. Yes, CEOs need mentors, too. They usually hire paid coaches or seek advice from experienced industry veterans.
For the majority of employees, the reality is that few need aerospace consultants as mentors. Few are CEOs or have aspirations of becoming one. Yet, all professionals could benefit from having a mentor. They could be mentored successfully by a colleague or a more senior member of staff – known as internal mentors. Internal mentoring programs have a huge potential for companies. They help create more open, diverse and inclusive workplaces, reduce onboarding and training costs, increase productivity, loyalty, morale – all great for the bottom line.
What Makes a Good Internal Mentoring Relationship?
Commitment, both on the part of the mentor and the mentee, is the key building block of a productive mentoring relationship. Committing time and effort, despite the every-day demands of work and busy schedules, provides the consistency that is necessary for the mentoring relationship to flourish.
The subject of what constitutes a good mentor has been well covered (we have also shared some tips here). The limelight may be on mentors but this does not mean that mentees should be the passive side in the mentoring relationship. On the contrary, they need to be proactive and do their fair share. Here is how mentees can contribute to the development of a mutually beneficial and enjoyable mentoring relationship:
- Start with a clear definition of what you want to get out of the experience
- Always come prepared with specific questions to ask or issues to discuss
- Respect the mentor’s time
- Be open when receiving feedback
- When you can, try to give back to your mentor, too.
If both parties show commitment and act in good faith, the mentoring relationship will be based on trust and respect with both sides feeling safe to show vulnerability at times. In addition, a good mentoring relationship provides both parties with the opportunity to grow, although in different ways.
Typically, mentoring programs aim to upgrade the skills and knowledge of mentees. But for mentors to continue to be engaged, they need to feel like they are getting something out of the experience, too. Some people feel satisfied just knowing they have helped another person succeed. Oftentimes, mentors can also learn new things through the experience, or be able to view their own work through a fresh pair of eyes. Perhaps the most important aspect is the invaluable opportunity that mentors get to polish their communication skills and to deepen their ability to empathize with others – both key aspects of successful leadership.
How are mentoring relationships established and managed?
As we mentioned already, a good mentoring relationship does not just happen on its own. The mentor and mentee have to do most of the work. Still, within the scope of a corporate mentoring program, program managers lay the foundations upon which a mentoring relationship is to be built. Program managers typically have the following responsibilities:
- Outline the goals of the mentoring program (this step may also include feedback by the company’s leadership, based on certain strategic objectives)
- Decide on the format of the program
- Create a database of mentors and mentees
- Pair mentees and mentors
- Monitor the program and regularly evaluate its success.
In all of these steps by program managers, the most important and the most challenging one is the pairing of mentors and mentees. If people are not paired well, the chances of a successful mentoring relationship developing are minimal.
What are automated mentoring programs?
One way to overcome the above-mentioned challenge is to engage technological solutions with the task of creating mentoring pairs. We have already explained here why algorithms are better than humans at this task. To recap quickly - a software solution removes the human bias, saves HR and training managers valuable time and resources, is 100% scalable and better able to obtain an honest assessment of training needs (people are more willing to admit to knowledge or skills gaps in an online survey than in a face-to-face conversation).
In addition, mentoring platforms, such as Mentessa, are extremely flexible and can help managers adjust the format of mentoring programs to different strategic objectives. Maybe a company wants to increase the number of female high-level managers and executives or to upgrade the internet skills of older employees? Well, in terms of pairing employees, these two objectives require completely different approaches. Rather than start afresh every time – looking for participants, pairing them, introducing them and so on – program managers who already rely on a corporate mentoring platform have a database of mentors with different skills. And the good news is, everyone in the company can be a mentor. Every employee has valuable skills and knowledge that they can share with colleagues.
Finally, automated platforms are unmatched in terms of the capability to establish benchmarks, help set and track KPIs and monitor effectiveness. This is needed so that adjustments can be made to improve mentoring programs. It can also clearly show the tangible benefits of fruitful mentoring relationships and successful mentoring programs.
How long should a mentoring relationship last?
The answer is: “it depends”. It depends on the goals that have been set originally and also on the quality of the mentoring relationship itself. Some companies opt for mentoring cycles that last from 12 to 18 months. However, such long timelines do not always make sense in today’s rapidly changing workplace where learning and development needs oftentimes center around specific knowledge gaps or skills. In such cases, shorter, on-demand, micro-mentoring programs as well as peer mentoring (when employees are mentored by colleagues) can be much more effective.
The main question to answer is whether the mentoring relationship is still bringing in benefits and helping both parties to learn and grow. If the answer is “No”, if one or both parties have shifted goals or feel their objectives have been met already, it may be time to say goodbye. However, if the answer is “Yes”, if the interaction is still valuable to both parties, and helps each side grow professionally and personally, then the mentoring relationship can even last a lifetime.
To see how Mentessa can help you foster meaningful mentoring relationships and boost employee morale, loyalty, and productivity: