Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Mentoring as a source of positive value to the business and to the mentor

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 15, 2010

Some of the most positive and rewarding memories I have from my professional career have come from mentoring, and both from wisdom and advise shared with me and from my having the opportunity to reach out to help others. In a formal and even traditional sense this is the basis of the apprenticeship system, that knowledge and perspective be shared and passed along as a growing, vital heritage. I am a scientist by training and as anyone who has gone through doctoral and postdoctoral training could tell you, that is a system that if anything carries on this tradition. So as a disclaimer up front, I write this posting from personal experience and with a bias in favor of mentoring, and I add that this is one of the sources of motivation behind my adding to this blog every day as well.

That said, I also acknowledge that there are some real sources of concern regarding mentors and mentoring in the work place and both for HR and senior management.

• If a supervisor or other more senior member of a business takes on one or more colleagues to advise them, and this is done in anything like a formal way, does that open the door to claims of discrimination from other employees who are not similarly and equally advised and guided?
• If this is done informally, how is it to be done and with what impact if any on performance evaluations and promotions, and on job retention for that matter if there is a downsizing?
• There are some real and potentially significant questions of fair and equal opportunity in the workplace that any potentially uneven approach to mentoring, formal or otherwise would have to address to meet risk management and organizational due diligence requirements.

So lets assume for the moment that a program is set up where employees who are willing to put in extra effort can be matched with more experienced and seasoned colleagues, and from different teams, not in their line in the table of organization. That would eliminate a lot of the potential concerns as to favoritism as a mentor would not be carrying out this function for one of their supervisees and it would also create opportunity for addressing questions and problems with fresh eyes not already caught up in possible answers to them. This would also offer a more open access to this type of experience sharing. And this opens the door to a second set of possible concerns.

• If my business expends time and effort, and at least indirectly but still significantly money to train our up-and-coming employees, that will make them more valuable in the jobs marketplace. So they will come to expect higher compensation. And they will in fact be able to command higher compensation if they look outside of my business for new opportunities. So if I permit and even encourage mentoring, won’t I simply be adding to my payroll and related fixed operating expenses if I want to retain these more highly trained employees, and at the same time still risk losing some of my best to my competitors from this? I may in effect be training my competitors to compete against me more effectively, cutting back on my business’ future.

And with these arguments at least semi-articulated, a decision can be made to deny the option of mentoring. I admit that these points can in fact have their merits, but argue the case that there are points in favor of this option that outweigh them.

When you survey employees as to what they most value on the job as far as personal value received, they usually say they wish to receive a competitive living wage, and at least reasonable benefits. But when you survey them for job satisfaction motivators you get other answers as well, and these are also issues that come up in exit interviews when high performing, high value employees leave for other opportunities.

• People want to develop their skills and they want to use them and to share them, and most employees need to feel appreciated for their accomplishments and not just by others – they need to feel a sense of real accomplishment in themselves to be and to remain happy at a job long term.
• Mentoring offers opportunity for this and for both mentor and mentee.
• Effective mentoring programs can in fact help with employee retention and for the employees you most want to keep and by addressing these needs.
• Does this mean no one who works for you will ever be given an offer they cannot refuse from another employer? That can and will happen and at least occasionally for one of your better employees and even for some of your best. And that would happen anyway, regardless of whether you support mentoring in your business and as a part of your corporate culture.
• A candid mentoring relationship build upon mutual respect and trust can also help unearth causes of discontentment and in a nonthreatening context and before they come to a head.
• But some of your people, you will loose anyway. I would argue that the value you obtain from both sides of this mentoring relationship outweigh this potential loss.

And to take this back to its pre-assembly line beginnings, mentoring is an approach that is built on the individual and the value of the individual, where employees are not considered interchangeably replaceable. That is a powerful message to add into any workplace and its culture, and it can and does attract the best.

I am planning on posting an installment in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development on mentoring from the perspective of the employee but I decided to share some thoughts on this from the business side first as a context.

And I admit, I have a bias towards mentoring and this system, and it is based on solid experience, and in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. So when I write of mentoring in the coming days from the employee and new hire perspective, I will do so with an implicit assumption that this creates sustaining value for all sides and that it is a positive opportunity, and both for the new hire and for their new employer. And this can be set up and managed so as to be equitable, and it can even be a component to the manager’s performance evaluations that they share best practices across and through the silo walls with up-and-coming colleagues, and both to help them reach their potential and to help keep the organization as a whole, connected and functioning as a unified, coherent whole.

2 Responses

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  1. bill gutches said, on June 16, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I agee that mentoring is valuable and provides a reason for some employees to decide to stay in a company ather than consider other opportunities. Bgbg

  2. […] I wrote Mentoring as a Source of Positive Value to the Business and to the Mentor I wrote of the intrinsic value of this as a resource and as a part of corporate processes and […]

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