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Mentoring: The Ultimate Marriage of Development and Inclusion

Originally Published in: HR Professionals Magazine

Mentoring, at its core, guarantees team members that there is someone in the organization who cares about them, assures them they are not alone, supports them in working through daily trials, and ensures their success. In essence, mentors make a difference in others’ professional lives. They create a feeling that the mentee matters.

Research clearly illustrates that strong mentoring relationships and programs are powerful tools that have a positive impact on careers and organizations.

According to Gartner:

• 25% of employees who are mentored had a salary grade change, compared to only 5% of employees that are not mentored

• Mentees are promoted five times more often than others

• Retention rates for mentors and mentees are higher than others

According to the Harvard Business Review:

• 84% of CEOs say mentors have helped them avoid costly mistakes and become skilled in their role faster

• 69% of CEOs say they made better decisions because of a mentor

We know mentoring works. However, we have used mentoring in such a limited and traditional manner. Typically, mentoring occurs for new employees, employees that have made a significant career transition or high potentials. We look to successful executives to mentor the perceived up and coming. The reason it works…relationships.

Mentoring creates connections, confidence, support, and more because we are building productive, meaningful relationships between the right people at the right time. Mentoring is similar to marriage. We are committing to someone when we mentor them. There is only one problem. We see mentoring relationships as one-way; a lead and learner. In truth, these relationships are partnerships. Mentors consistently acknowledge that they learned and gained as much or more than the mentee. In a mentor-mentee relationship, both individuals at times play both roles. Let’s take the marriage metaphor a little further. Marriages are about creating a family by bringing two families together. It is an inclusion story. Mentoring is an inclusion story as well.

We all remember the traditional wedding rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe.” The phrase started as a Victorian-era rhyme that originated from the English country Lancashire. Over the years, what each “something” represents has changed in meaning. I have taken that rhyme and adjusted it for mentoring and today’s organizational life.

“Something old” stands for sharing history and learnings over time; “something new” shows the powerful insight new perspectives can bring; “something borrowed” symbolizes networks and relationships; “something blue” represents color meaning diversity and a sixpence in your shoe refers to the financial benefit to individuals and companies that mentoring creates.

Let’s take a moment and dissect this rhyme to see how it should influence our mentoring efforts in our present day organizations.

Something Old

History. Lessons learned. These are things that only experienced employees can offer. We miss the treasure trove of organizational knowledge when we do not involve our more experienced team members. Too often, mentoring looks to a few “go to” people when so many people have some things to offer. We have a big challenge in front of us. Many experienced team members and leaders will be gone soon due to retirement or the choice to change roles based on their priorities. We have a responsibility to involve as many of them as possible in mentoring others to pass down the organizational history and knowledge they hold for us.

Something New

New skills. New perspectives. New workers entering the workplace bring new knowledge, skills, and viewpoints. Unfortunately, we ask people to pay their dues and learn, stick to their knitting, and to stay in their lane. Essentially, we send messages to new people that they must put their time in before they have anything to offer. The truth is new employees can be excellent mentors for older employees wanting to keep up with technology changes or to retirees or to people who took off time from work.

Something Borrowed

Networks. Our relationships. People can borrow or use our credibility to gain the information and perspective they need. Older workers have strong relationships with their contemporaries. When they make their contacts available to others, they can improve someone’s knowledge, productivity, and create innovation. Younger workers have vast social networks that companies and older workers can utilize for marketing, PR, influence, and research purposes. While networks by age group differ significantly, each has value if tapped appropriately. We can borrow each other’s networks to strengthen us individually and collectively as a company.

Something Blue

Diversity. Inclusion. Whether you are thinking about gender, people of color, religion, thinking styles, regional differences, or many other ways to define diversity and inclusion, one thing is for sure, we all have blind spots. Creating bridges means connecting people across differences. If, I am a white male over 40 at the C-Level, maybe I need to be mentored; not by another executive that looks like me, but by someone uniquely different than me. Exposure to people from different backgrounds and experiences opens our minds to new ideas and ways of thinking. However, we tend to think about inclusion mentoring by pairing young people of color up with older executives that are people of color as mentors. There is nothing wrong with that, but that alone is limiting.

As an executive, someone on the shop floor could mentor them. We will then begin to understand what their lives are like and their struggles. What are their days like? How do our policies and approaches affect them and their families? We can use this type of relationship to foster the culture we want rather than the culture we have.

Mentoring needs to move from a limited exclusive organizational tool to a scalable inclusive tool. Mentoring must shift from a top-down approach to a lattice approach. Mentoring relationships can be lateral, horizontal, and diagonal on the organizational chart. These relationships may not even be or in some cases, should not be related to the organizational chart. If we are trying to attract more women to our company, specifically women that left the workforce to have children and now want to reenter the workforce, maybe key executives need to be mentored by women who have left the workforce and returned to work. Company goals, personal needs, and personal growth must drive mentoring.

To make this a reality, we must create a mentoring culture. Rather than pushing a formal program, we need to start pushing it as an expectation. It is and needs to be a vital aspect of modern work culture. We can support this effort with the utilization of technology to connect people. The combination of mentoring as a part of your culture and technology to help it allows a company to make mentoring a true business priority.

To put your best foot forward, follow in these best practice footsteps:

• Encourage people to be authentic and demonstrate integrity.

• Create best practices for mentors and mentees to help people map out success.

• Make confidentiality a cultural expectation for these relationships.

• Encourage people to be clear about the goals they have along the way.

• Recognize that the mentor-mentee relationship can be fluid.

• Have those participating recognize each other meaning their whole person and uniqueness rather than solely job-related facets.

• Mutual respect is key. Each person should feel more valuable from the experience rather than less.

• There are no directors in mentoring. We must allow the learning to occur. We cannot and should not be fixers.

• Look for connections beyond job tasks and business acumen.

When we think about mentoring, we should think of the word empathy; the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In today’s fragmented world where we work in the same building but know less about one another, mentoring can reduce those gaps. Mentoring provides proximity. The concept of bringing different people closer together. That proximity changes one’s perspective and creates inclusion.

Inclusion is that sense of being valued for what you bring to the table, including your uniqueness and that sense of safety that comes from being understood and accepted for who you are. Empathy is knowing that when decisions are made, people like you are thought about, and your interests are kept in mind. Empathy is an important ingredient of inclusion and can be accomplished by mentoring relationships.

What if everyone one at your organization felt that sense of empathy and inclusion? Start now by building relationships, creating connections, and driving informal mentoring as a part of your culture.

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