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How to get the most out of mentoring

Penny de Valk

With Penny de Valk, managing director at Penna Talent Management, on how to get the most out of mentoring

In a recovering economy, many organisations fear a ‘talent drain’ with employees looking for new opportunities as stability and confidence returns to the jobs market. This was evidenced in the recent CIPD Employee Outlook[i] survey, which found that almost a quarter (22%) of employees are looking for a new job. There isn’t an all-encompassing solution to stop great people leaving your business, but an effective and well managed mentoring scheme can make a real difference to retention rates. 

We recently commissioned research which found that for those who left their jobs in the past 12 months, lack of opportunity was the main reason for them to move on – which was a bigger driver than pay when it came to looking for new roles. Mentoring is a good way for organisations to satisfy this hunger for learning and development.

So what are the key considerations for running a successful mentoring scheme?

Tap into demand

Our research amongst 2000 employees showed that a fifth (20 per cent) of employees are not currently acting as a mentor or being mentored, but would like to be, and 40% have never been given the opportunity to get involved in mentoring schemes before. It is clear there is untapped demand within organisations, and this should be explored. The rewards of mentoring are naturally far greater when both mentor and mentee have actively sought out the opportunity.

Make mentoring a choice 

Some organisations will give individuals mentoring responsibility automatically as part of their day to day job. Our research found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of mentors weren’t given any choice in taking on the role and said it was ‘expected’ of them by their employers. Whilst some might begin the process reluctantly, then later change their opinion, it’s important that characteristics, expertise, capability and chemistry are considered before you automatically make someone a mentor – it’s not necessarily for everyone. 

Set clear benchmarks for mentor and mentee

It can be helpful for a mentor to simply act as a professional sounding board, but there needs to be measurable outcomes rather than it just being an opportunity for an impartial career conversation. The benchmarks should also be challenging; some of the most impactful mentoring relationships come about when the mentor takes the mentee outside of their comfort zone.   

Keeping it going

Our research also found that almost a third (30 per cent) of those who had been mentored said that the relationship failed because the process lost momentum. This can happen if a mentoring programme is not designed properly or if either party isn’t as fully engaged as they could be. Make sure that both short and long term goals are set, and arrangements for meeting up, and the remit of the relationship, are agreed up front. The mentor and mentee should also have regular check in points with line management to report on progress. If objectives are achieved early, set new ones, or if there are any issues or challenges along the way, ensure they’re tackled as soon as possible to prevent programme derailment.  

Don’t fear the outcome

Contrary to popular opinion, our research found that the biggest driver for those wanting to be mentored was to acquire new skills, rather than to find themselves a new job. Some organisations may be concerned about their staff having an ulterior motive for requesting a mentor, but ultimately they should have grown up conversations about what the individual wants to achieve from mentoring and why they think they would benefit. 

A good mentor can be a catalyst for the mentee’s progression, and it’s also very rewarding for the mentor to watch a person develop thanks to their support and input. This results in increased levels of engagement and ultimately, happier staff who are less likely to want to leave the organisation – proving just how powerful a business tool mentoring can be if used effectively.

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