By Kate Schlesinger
After having lunch with a former colleague, I received a text, “Thank you for always being a mentor to me.” I had never thought of myself as a mentor and yet as I reflected on the nature of our relationship, I guess I was. Fifteen years her senior, I had a front row seat to watch her start her career as a new bride and become a successful working mom. She watched me juggle work and family (sometimes not so neatly) and she inspired me with fresh perspectives and motivation. The impact we had on each other was priceless.
More recently, I was asked to serve as a formal mentor and the opportunity, candidly, intimidated me. What would I offer? How would I manage it in my already full schedule? What benefit would it bring? After reluctantly agreeing and initially meeting my mentee to learn a little about him, I went into teacher mode. I spent time preparing training slides and prepared to fill him up with everything I knew. About three slides into my first presentation, he asked me a powerful question, “how does it make you feel when you do that?” And that is when I got it. It is about seeing an experience through the eyes of someone else. Mentorship is about connection.
Research has shown mentorship increases employee engagement and satisfaction. While mentorships often happen naturally, the reality is, these tend to be two parties of the same gender or race; and while they feel good, they lack some of the benefits of diversity that organizations need to flourish. The good news is organizations can formalize mentorships without losing the authenticity that natural mentorship brings. Here is how to do it.
Four Steps to Start a Mentorship Program
- First, promote the opportunity to be a mentor broadly throughout your organization. Many leaders do not view themselves as mentors and most believe they do not have the time to be effective mentors. When mentorship is clearly defined, supported, and encouraged, leaders will come to understand that mentorship can offer them something other opportunities cannot. Deanna Singh in her book Actions Speak Louder, shares how mentorships can leave a legacy. Showcasing the impact their knowledge, insights, and network can offer to someone else is a powerful motivator to become a mentor. Who does not want to leave a legacy?
- Second, provide training for the mentors. Professional development programs like How to Influence Without Direct Authority introduces Susan Z. Finerty’s Influence Model, which teaches how to build influence proactively and how to use it in the moment. Tools like these build a mentor’s confidence; highlighting as a mentor when and how they should offer perspective or be an advocate, ally, or a surrogate to the mentee. Do not expect that years of experience qualify someone to be a mentor. Help develop them, too, to maximize the impact.
- Third, design structured events for engagement. As previously mentioned, no one has enough time, so scheduling specific events or assigning a business project to the mentorship will ensure that it is prioritized. Ideally, mentors should meet once or twice a month so be sure your activities do not exceed this time commitment.
- Each of these requires oversight so perhaps most importantly, establish an internal mentorship team. This responsibility does not have to sit in the Human Resource department. It can be a cross-functional group of colleagues that want to inspire change within your organization.
In my work, I often hear about frustrations between different generations in the workplace. I cannot imagine a better bridge to help this than mentorship.
If your organization is ready to start a mentorship program but needs help getting the structure in place, CPED can help. We can work with your organization to customize coaching and professional development programs for your mentors. Set up a Discover Session with a Solutions Advisor to learn more.
Kate Schlesinger is a Solutions Advisor with the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development. Kate brings over 20 years of experience in executive leadership and education. She has served in executive roles at Sylvan Learning, Microsoft IT Academy, and DeVry University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and three master’s degrees in educational administration, Higher Education Leadership, and Human Resources Management.