Why mentoring is more critical than ever

By Kate Lee

Mentoring can help organizations deepen their adaptive capabilities, break down organizational silos, and create vital emotional stewardship.

Mentoring programs can significantly impact organizations’ business goals, professional development, and leadership developmentResearch finds that the top benefits to organizations with formal mentoring programs include higher employee engagement and retention, support for the growth of high-potential employees, the creation of intra-organizational relationships and collaboration, and knowledge management and transfer. What’s more, 75% of executives say mentoring has been critical to their career development.

survey by ATD Research found that the top three benefits mentees received from participating in mentoring programs are professional development, a better understanding of organizational culture, and the development of new perspectives. The top three benefits mentors received from participating in mentoring programs are the development of new perspectives, the development of leadership skills, and insight into the organization. Another study found that people who served as mentors experienced lower levels of anxiety and described their job as more meaningful than those who did not mentor.

Also valuable is reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring pairs younger employees with executive team members to mentor them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance. Research finds that the four main benefits of reverse mentoring programs are:

  • Increased retention of millennials
  • Sharing of digital skills
  • Driving cultural change
  • Promoting diversity

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced radical changes in how we work and where we work. Almost twice as many people are working from home as in the office. E-commerce has experienced 10 years’ growth in three months. Digital transformation has accelerated to the point of whiplash. Organizations have pivoted, innovated, and adopted a start-up mentality. Emerging leaders have been identified through their work to bring teams together, get the job done, and move organizations forward.

Simultaneously, water cooler chats, hallway conversations, and the informal “do you have a minute,” are not happening. These informal conversations are critical to creating and fostering social bonds, driving innovation, aligning on truths, and even helping the bottom line.

If we look at the body of research on mentoring, now more than ever, organizations and individuals can benefit from mentoring.

Take the June launch of a mentoring program at a global agricultural company. The program includes 40 mentor/mentee pairs across the company’s North American division and encourages the pairs to meet at least monthly. The pairs are comprised of emerging talent and senior leaders. While some of the pairs are within the same function by design, many of the pairs do not work in the same function. Just four months in, the program is getting positive feedback from those involved. Participants have shared that the cross-pollination fostered by the program has been valuable as has access to the leadership team. Participants have also shared that there have been learnings, especially around digital and work-life balance. Word of the program has spread, and there is a growing demand for the program.

The company’s Head of People & Organization Development, North America, shared that the program almost didn’t happen: “We had planned the June launch before the COVID-19 pandemic. We debated whether or not to postpone the launch because we were concerned about the effectiveness of virtual mentoring. In the end, we decided that launching it made sense – that everything that supports our people should continue.”

While the mentoring program’s primary focus was career development, the company has seen that mental health and work-life balance are discussed frequently. When people feel more isolated than ever, having a mentor relationship where these topics can be discussed is important.

Also important is formal connection. An executive at a global aerospace company shared that the informal mentoring that happened within the organization stopped when the company shifted to working remotely. She shared her concerns around the impact this could have on her career development and expressed her desire for the company to launch a formal mentoring program.

Through her research on mentoring during the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral scientist Tanya Tarr has found that mentorship is breaking down organizational silos while also creating vital emotional stewardship. She has also found that mentoring programs have been helping organizations continue to deepen their adaptive capabilities, even within organizations that have an established expectation of disruption.

Research shows that mentoring programs can have a significant impact on organizations’ business goals, professional development, and leadership development. What’s more, mentoring can help boost confidence, fight back isolation, and develop internal talent – all desperately needed as we navigate this environment and focus on the Future of Work.


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