Thursday, 07 March 2019
Whatever level you rise to in business, you probably won’t have all the answers – which is why you should never underestimate the power of mentoring.
From building the leaders of the future to improving staff performance and morale, there are numerous ways that mentoring can boost your business. It’s relevant at every level, because even founders can benefit from a fresh perspective, and it can help with issues such as staff retention, productivity and growth.
“Mentoring ensures staff feel supported, educated and confident in their job roles,” says Alistair Bambridge, founder at Bambridge Accountants, which specialises in supporting clients in the creative industries. He’s a great advocate of mentoring, both for himself and for his team.
“Creating an environment where staff can seek guidance and expand their knowledge is imperative to the success and growth of a business,” he expains. “I use one-to-one mentoring to monitor my staff’s progress and understanding of the business, as well as training-based mentoring as an essential resource to fill any gaps in my own knowledge.”
Mentoring works by drawing on the experience of others. The mentors themselves don’t have to have all the answers, but their fresh perspective can often make the crucial difference.
“Whether your issue is a failing business, working with colleagues you don’t get along with or being overstretched, being mentored by people who have experienced these issues can help you make smart decisions at times of both trouble and opportunity,” says Matt Cross, UK MD at global communications agency Hotwire.
A common misconception is that mentoring takes staff away from the ‘real’ job at hand, but it’s a worthwhile investment, says Bambridge. “Those few hours of one-to-one or group work will help boost morale, unite your team and, in turn, help your employees understand what’s expected of them. The more confident and well-informed they feel, the more able they are to be individually proactive throughout the rest of the week.”
“Mentoring is often seen as a more senior person mentoring a junior person, but it can be used for any situation where you want to develop yourself in a particular area,” says Nick Goddard, head of development at Abstract UK, a company that designs and delivers career development programmes to improve business performance. “For example, we’ve seen ‘reverse mentoring’ where the CEO of a company was being mentored by a graduate to gain a better understanding of how 20 year olds use social media, giving the CEO a better understanding of both his customer base and his younger employees.”
Charlotte Valeur is the founder at Global Governance Group, which specialises in corporate governance advice and training. She has created U25 Mentoring, a scheme designed to bridge the knowledge gap between under-25s and board members, senior executives and politicians.
Through the framework she’s set up, young mentors connect with senior mentees once a month over the course of a year. Besides providing the older mentees with insights that could give their company a competitive edge, the scheme has other benefits, including improved staff retention.
“A lot of companies are concerned about holding on to young talent: if the younger generation are not happy, they’ll just move,” she says. “Reverse mentoring is an opportunity to discover why you’re losing talent.”
The process also prepares young mentors to take on more senior roles in the future.
“The young person has to steer and lead, so this is a form of leadership education,” adds Valeur.
Practical tip: decide on a period of time that the mentoring will run for, hold regular sessions, and evaluate the gains for both parties at the end of the process.
Another project founded by Valeur is Board Apprentice, a programme that places company employees on charity boards for a year and supplements this with training in corporate governance.
The apprentice gains a detailed insight into the role of a board member and an opportunity to learn the necessary skills to operate at that level. Meanwhile, the company has a young member of staff who has been coached to take a more senior role.
“External mentors can develop new skills that may not be possessed by managers, giving a fresh approach”
“More than 50% of them go out and become board members after that year – they have the confidence to put themselves forward because they know what it involves,” says Valeur.
“The scheme is a chance to retain talent and give younger employees interactions with senior people. To the under-25s that means a lot – they’ll leave companies when they don’t feel heard. This scheme can do so much for succession planning.”
Practical tip: give board apprentices opportunities to apply what they’ve learned during their apprenticeships.
Bringing in mentors from outside your business can provide valuable new perspectives for leaders.
“External mentors can develop new skills that may not be possessed by managers, giving a fresh approach,” says Rob Moore, host of the Disruptive Entrepreneur podcast and co-founder of property education company Progressive Property.
Meanwhile, Shaun Thomson, CEO at sales and management training provider Sandler Training (UK), adds that business leaders must think strategically when choosing a mentor.
“It’s key that the mentor can deliver value on a number of fronts – not just assisting the business leader with their own personal career development, but also teaching them coaching skills themselves in order to build a company and keep their team motivated,” he says.
Practical tip: identify your challenges and weaknesses and pick a mentor who can specifically help you address these.
Making mentoring a key part of your HR strategy can result in great benefits for your business, coaching your team through personal and professional challenges, says Moore. “Mentoring allows autonomy, in that it gives guidance or advice that’s sought out, rather than hands-on micro-management,” he says.
Formal mentoring that pairs junior employees with more senior team members can be beneficial when there’s a focus on progression and succession planning, says Natasha McCreesh, founder of mentoring and collaboration business PIP to Grow Strong. Other useful approaches include cross-functional mentoring. “This is a powerful tool in enabling different parts of an organisation to connect and understand each other, creating more engaged and cohesive teams,” says McCreesh.
Practical tip: allow employees time away from their regular tasks to spend in mentoring – it can benefit your business in the long run.
Besides structured mentoring programmes, informal peer-to-peer mentoring can provide greater cohesion and support within your team. “Developing informal peer mentoring as part of the organisational culture is positive and empowering, so training staff on mentoring approaches is a valuable investment,” says McCreesh.
A less formal peer-to-peer approach can often overcome resistance to mentoring, too.
“People are generally resistant if they feel that mentoring has been imposed on them, if they have a perception that they’re being mentored because something is wrong, or they haven’t been involved in choosing their mentor,” she says.
Practical tip: encourage your employees to take ownership of their mentoring by choosing peer mentors.