Mentoring and mentorship are topics often discussed and many believe they understand the concept of mentoring. Oddly enough a number of misconceptions prevail around the concept of mentoring as well as, the development and implementation of a lasting and effective in house mentoring program.
On topics of this nature I like to start with a definition. So let’s begin with a definition of mentoring from Kathy E. Kram, a well know authority on the topic. She has written numerous papers and her book, “Mentoring at Work” provides an in depth discussion on the topic. She says: “Mentoring functions are those aspects of a developmental relationship that enhance both individuals’ growth and advancement. These functions are the essential characteristics that differentiate development relationships from other work relationships.” The key here is “a developmental relationship” in other words, helping with someone at the early stages of their career. Providing them with guidance and insight (the mentor has gain over time) that will enhance the mentee’s growth and advancement. The mentor is someone the mentee can approach for advice about issues, and strategies that best help in dealing with issues the mentee is unfamiliar with. This advice will assist in their overall development and growth, increasing their value to the organization they work for.
What we have is the beginning of a relationship if handled correctly by both parties often results in mentee receiving invaluable advice coupled with enhanced skills and abilities that allow him/her to rise within the organization and be able to take on increasing levels of responsibilities. This growth is beneficial to the company, they gain a talent employee who can increase the bottom line, the mentee moves up the proverbial corporate ladder, and the mentor gains a potential ally as they move forward in the company.
Sounds great right? Normally one would be correct in their thinking. There’s just a few things wrong with the above mention process. This type of process is typically the providence of large and hierarchal companies. Companies who have implemented a formal mentoring program in place. These formal programs tend to be laborious and often fail to deliver as promise because they lack the spontaneity of the mentor and mentee discovering each other. In formal mentoring programs the mentor and mentee find themselves yoke through some artificial process in the mistaken belief it’s a more efficient process, and that it will provide the “perfect” match of mentor to mentee. The stiffness of the program limits the program’s ability accommodate the needs of a changing workforce. Today’s workforce is indeed changing and, so must programs that would advance talented and help retain talented people. This includes mentoring programs.
In a recent Talent Management article it discussed the concept of peer-to-peer mentoring. The article’s author describes it as an agile form of mentoring that allows for the “blending peer to peer mentoring with social media.” He also describes it as a “network of peers across business unites, geographies and generations who share a vision of interpersonal and professional growth.” One might consider an interesting and innovative concept especially when you introduce the aspect of social media. Not wanting to take anything away from the author’s insight, the concept isn’t really new, it’s been around for years, what makes it appear new and innovative is the availability of the tools that seem to make this form of mentoring more agile. Let’s face it if you can get your message across in 140 characters, along with reaching out to a number of contacts in a matter of seconds, you can indeed seem to be agile. Don’t misunderstand I’m not disagreeing with the concept just pointing out that some things that appear new have had their start in a different form, or as a good friend of mine once told me, “same stuff just different packaging.”
Not to minimize what the article is advocating, but, Malcolm Gladwell in his book the; Tipping Point How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference talks about the Law of The Few, which he postulates, “a very small number of people are linked to everyone in a few steps.” If you’re thinking “six degrees of separation” you’re partially correct. Gladwell’s point was in the subtitle of this particular chapter; connectors, mavens, and salesmen. The point of this chapter focuses on the need to have these type of individuals as part of your network. Network being the operative word.
The Talent Management article focus is on agile peer mentoring, is another way of looking at development of a small group of individuals (network) that can provide you with valuable information (mavens), help you connect with others (connectors), and individuals that can show the ins and outs of how to sell (salesmen) your ideas. Gladwell wrote about this 14 years ago. Now we have it as agile peer-mentoring – same stuff different packaging. The different packaging comes in the form of tying agile peer-mentoring in with the use of social media. In Gladwells’ version social media comprised of communication mostly via phone, meetings usually over lunch, and access to information usually meant someone’s Rolodex. Antiquated yes, but, people managed to figure out from whom to get information how to translate into usable knowledge and information that would help boost them up the corporate ladder.
With so much pressure to recruit and retain talent it seems traditional forms of mentoring lack the necessary flexibility by many organizations. The hierarchical mentoring program is still essential it just requires some optional features that help move things along a bit faster as the folks at Management Mentors point out in their white paper Corporate Mentoring Models: One Size Doesn’t Fit All.
Interestingly they briefly discuss eight different models of mentoring with peer mentoring as just one of the eight. Which brings us back to Kram’s point of: “Mentoring functions are those aspects of a developmental relationship that enhance both individuals’ growth and advancement. These functions are the essential characteristics that differentiate development relationships from other work relationships.” Mentoring is a developmental relationship, which means for it to work it must provide what is needed for the mentee to grow, perform at a high level, be able to think strategically and long-term, have the opportunity to take on assignments that will force them to stretch and move out of their comfort zones. Kram is describing what Lao Tzu described as someone who is subtle, intuitive, penetrating, and profound. This person would be, “as respectful as a thoughtful guest, as yielding as melting ice, as simple as uncarved wood, as open as a valley, as chaotic as a muddy torrent.” Both he and Kram are describing a multifaceted mentoring program similar to what the folks at Management Mentors point out in their white paper:
“… for any models to be successful, the organization needs to create a formal structure that allows for the following: connection to a strategic business objective of the organization, establish goals, measurable outcomes, open access for all who qualify, strategic paring of mentors and mentees, mentoring engagement lasting a specified amount of time, expert training and support available, if/when needed , direct organizational benefits.”
This type of program encompasses the developmental relationship that Kram talks about, along with flexibility Donovan suggests in his article on peer mentoring and what Lao Tzu says is ”Tolerating disarray, remaining at rest, gradually one learns to allow muddy water to settle and proper responses to reveal themselves.”
With everything written about mentoring programs and what is and isn’t the best way, has to be confusing – muddy waters – but waiting and sorting out what makes sense for your organization – finding the right model – will lead you to developing a mentoring program that meets your needs and will be a catalyst to your retention program for top talent.
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