The majority of Fortune 500 companies have a corporate mentorship program—and with good reason. Mentorship programs strengthen the workplace culture, promote professional development and growth, reduce training costs, improve employee retention and provide effective succession planning.
You don’t need to be a detective to deduce that successful companies have great leadership. Often those leadership qualities stem from the path the individual took as an employee—a path that is easier walked under the guidance of a mentor.
Mentorship is a partnership between two people that benefits both parties—but it’s a relationship that’s often misunderstood. Let’s dispel some misconceptions we’ve come across to help you on your way to understanding how mentorship works.
1. Being on the job a long time makes a person a good mentor
Someone should have a wealth of on-the-job experience before they become a mentor, but it’s not the only requirement—and experience alone doesn’t necessarily make someone a good mentor. In addition to the skills and knowledge they have to pass on, a mentor needs to have the desire to help people. And because these leaders are so good at their jobs, it’s important that they schedule their time accordingly. People are often discouraged by the time commitment required for mentorship. But scheduled time is manageable time. Once a connection is made, clear expectations for the meetings need to be set. If there is a meeting scheduled, it’s important not to brush it off for something else (and the same rules apply for the mentee).
2. The mentor dictates the relationship
As mentioned above, a mentorship is a relationship that needs to be nurtured and is built on trust. Both parties need to sit down and make a list of outcomes they’d each like to see come out of the mentorship. Mentoring allows the mentor to be a better leader. But the best kind of collaboration is one where the mentor empowers the mentee to take the reins. Most people learn better by doing so by allowing the mentee to make decisions, the mentee not only gains confidence but the mentor can provide guidance on their decisions and explain what they would have done in the same situation. Instead of giving criticisms, the best tool for training is storytelling. The mentor should recall times when things didn’t go as expected and what was required to improve for the future. The mentee needs to see that their mentor is human so that they can learn how to manage the human factors that will arise.
3. Mentoring is only beneficial to the mentee
Mentorship goes far beyond the admiration of someone and their accomplishments—sharing life experiences isn’t something people do with strangers off the street. There needs to be mutual respect between the mentor and the mentee. But the mentor needs to have an open mind and realize that they can learn a lot from the mentee. This means that egos need to be checked at the door. Two-way communication is vital to a successful venture. If the mentee has been empowered to call the shots, the mentor needs to take their turn and listen. In a successful pairing, the mentor will ask for help with something the mentee is good at—for example, if the mentee has a good handle on new technology, the mentor has the opportunity to showcase there’s always room to improve yourself (no matter what level you’re at in business) by asking for help in that area.
4. Mentorships only happen between senior staff and young people just starting their career
Age is not a factor when it comes to mentorship. A typical mentorship is pictured as a senior leader as the mentor and a young person just starting their career as the mentee. But that’s not always the case. In fact, mentors aren’t always at the highest level and mentees aren’t always just starting out. As long as a mentor has the work/life experience that a mentee can benefit from, it can be a viable relationship.
5. You can only have one mentorship
Different mentors provide different perspectives. As a mentee is on their journey to gain experience and determine their view on things, they may find that more advice and opinions may help them in shaping their view. A mentor is not going to thrive in all areas, and choosing a mentor based on their strengths will help a mentee reach the goals they’ve set out for themselves. Choosing different types of mentors can help a mentee be successful. Mentors that are employed within the same organization as the mentee may have a different mentality than one that is employed by an outside organization. A peer mentor may create the support system needed to get through the process.
A mentor/mentee relationship—like any relationship—can be frustrating, that’s why communication is so important. January is National Mentoring month so why not learn a little more about the process—maybe a corporate mentorship program is just what your company needs for a lasting future.
And to learn more about mentorships from a safety perspective, check out the podcast SafeTalk with SafeStart, where you’ll hear our very own Danny Smith and Tim Page-Bottorff discuss how to protect the legacy of a company through a mentorship program.