Authors say a mentoring program can be a valuable tool in navigating uncertain, chaotic times and coming out on top.
Companies face numerous challenges going into the new year: a shortage of skilled workers, employee churn, economic aftershocks from the pandemic, and shifting consumer behaviors, just to name a few. While there’s no one-size-fits-all fix, Bert Thornton and Dr. Sherry Hartnett say there is a powerful tool that can help you successfully navigate many of the obstacles 2022 might throw at you: mentoring.
“Especially as the world struggles to regain its equilibrium in the wake of the pandemic, the future is a moving target—and navigating this ongoing chaos requires a workforce with the right mindset and skillset,” reflects Thornton, coauthor along with Hartnett of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, https://highimpactmentoringbook.com/).
“Employees and leaders alike must be adaptable, engaged, emotionally intelligent, and solution-focused—but those aren’t skills you can teach in a webinar,” he adds. “Mentoring is the obvious answer.”
The authors wanted to meet the “huge and ironic need” for savvy leaders to share insights with the multitude of rising high achievers who crave that guidance. It makes sense for companies to bring the two groups together. But first they must know what good mentoring looks like, and they need a way to scale it in the organization. Their book helps on both fronts.
Part 1 is written by Thornton, the former president and COO of Waffle House, who offers “across the table” advice on one-on-one mentoring. Part 2 is written by Dr. Hartnett, founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, who lays out a framework to help companies put their own program in place.
High-Impact Mentoring serves as a blueprint for hardwiring the program into your culture so that every mentee gets a consistent experience every time. (This includes those who might be working remotely—there’s a whole chapter devoted to virtual mentoring.)
“Mentorship doesn’t happen on its own,” says Dr. Hartnett. “Individuals must make a conscious choice to become mentors and learn how to do it well. And companies need to plan and execute a mentorship program that delivers consistent, quality results to all participants.”
Thornton and Hartnett say creating a good mentoring program can be the New Year’s resolution that helps you thrive despite the turbulence ahead in 2022.
Consider these nine powerful benefits:
Mentoring helps attract and retain talent. Especially in today’s environment of uncertainty and upheaval, companies need a strong team of employees. And it’s just as crucial that, once hired, good people stay on board. A mentoring program shows them there’s a path for advancement inside your company.
“Millennials in particular deeply value training and development,” says Thornton. “By sharing their knowledge and experience with younger employees, mentors help them grow and progress. At the same time, they teach younger people how to navigate challenges specific to their workplace so they are less likely to leave.”
It helps new employees hit the ground running a lot faster. We no longer have the luxury of long onboarding periods for new hires. The pace of business requires everyone to become a contributing member of the team almost immediately. Assigning new employees a mentor early on can help expedite progress while helping them avoid pitfalls.
A solid mentoring program can help cushion training budget shortfalls… Quite often in times of economic turmoil (like now), training budgets are on the chopping block. Mentors play a huge role in transferring knowledge and vital skills. They are a great source of on-the-job training that costs very little.
…and it sets the stage for the ongoing learning that will be needed in the future. Increasingly, we need our employees to have a “just-in-time” skill set. The education system can’t keep up, and companies will need to ramp up their training to bridge the skills gap. Mentors will likely play a vital role in helping employees perform well while they integrate new learnings.
Mentoring helps people weather tough storms. COVID-19 has put incredible stress on leaders and employees. In fact, many organizations have moved beyond stress and into the realm of trauma. By putting things in perspective (“We’ve lived through other hard times and survived”), providing a safe space for mentees to vent about their stresses and struggles, and sharing coping skills, mentors can go a long way toward helping employees build resilience while easing their loneliness and isolation.
It engages employees. Mentoring makes it more likely that people will “lean in” to their work. They’re being challenged to learn new things, so they don’t become complacent.
“Mentees have a chance to prove themselves daily, and to use their skills and talents in new ways,” says Dr. Hartnett. “They may become a wellspring of new ideas. They feel invested in and valued. All of this sparks their passion and energy for their work and shores up their commitment to the company.”
Mentoring sharpens a company’s ability to execute. Companies must be agile, fast-thinking, and fast-acting if they’re to survive. By sharing their years of accumulated wisdom, mentors help people broaden their perspective, cut through the information overload, and get to the heart of what matters. When we aren’t bogged down in extraneous details, we can move quickly and purposefully.
It helps people build the relationship skills today’s companies need to survive. Strong relationships—based on honesty, trust, transparency, and empathy—matter more than ever now.
“Companies must be masters at innovation, collaboration, and teamwork,” says Thornton. “All of these things hinge on our ability to foster strong relationships. Mentoring builds relationships in two ways. First, the mentor/mentee relationship creates a powerful bond as it evolves. But also, both parties apply the skills they learn in the process to other relationships. Eventually, a strong web of accountability, support, and continuous learning spreads throughout the company.”
Mentoring helps organizations become more diverse and inclusive. There is a huge focus right now on these issues. In many organizations, older employees may need to learn how best to work with those from different racial and cultural backgrounds, belief systems, and orientations.
“This is where reverse mentoring (when a junior person mentors a more senior one) shines,” says Dr. Hartnett. “But actually, any type of mentoring that puts people from different age groups together helps create more diverse, inclusive workplaces. The more folks from different generations get to know each other and have meaningful exchanges, the more we break down barriers…and the more unified we become.”
“Mentoring is a ‘must-have’ for companies wishing to proactively meet the challenges of 2022’s rapidly evolving workplace, while still driving growth and success,” concludes Thornton. “And what many people don’t realize is that mentoring is an incredibly rewarding experience, not just for the mentee but for the mentor, also.”
“What’s good for employees is good for your whole company,” adds Dr. Hartnett. “As your program grows, word will spread and even more top talent will be drawn to work for you—this year and beyond.”