Much has been written about mentoring in past years. Mentoring is best described as a developmental process – dynamic and unique to each person. Mentoring is not only a tool for transferring knowledge and skills but is also a learning partnership between employees for purposes of sharing technical information, institutional knowledge and insight about a particular occupation and profession.
We find that more and more organisations are implementing mentoring either in its formal structures to empower and educate its employees, or that it is adopted informally where the need arises.
Organisations often use the terms coaching and mentoring interchangeably. It is, however, essential to distinguish between the two. While both coaching and mentoring focus on the individual, there are significant differences between the two regarding approaches and methodologies. The International Coach Federation defines coaching as the process of partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, while mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced person, or mentor, in a particular field or area of expertise shares past experiences and wisdom to help and guide a less experienced person – the mentee – through the transfer of skills and knowledge for the individual’s holistic needs. Both approaches are aimed at enriching and empowering the personal and professional growth of individuals and both support translating learning into performance and vice-versa.
Recently, Forbes stated that mentorship could play a fundamental role in the proliferation of a healthy learning organisation. Mentorship aids mentees in breaking through old patterns and inviting new insights, enabling employees to take ownership of their roles and reach their full potential. Pairing a recent graduate, for instance, with a seasoned mentor will help the new employee acclimatise to the environment and ensure a solid cultural fit as they learn to navigate problem areas and opportunities that aren’t necessarily covered in an employee handbook.
Having used this example, the notion that mentorship is the sharing of knowledge and experience from an older person to someone younger is quickly changing in modern business context. With an emphasis on knowledge and experience sharing, it is fast becoming standard practice to have peer to peer mentorship as well as younger individuals mentoring older individuals within organisations. Forbes found that while workplace mentorship is not a requirement, it could certainly add to an organisation’s competitive edge when taking into account employee growth and development. In this sense, mentorship becomes not only a healthy cultural component, but a force multiplier.
In my experience, mentoring has been an invaluable tool for my personal and professional growth and development. Being both a mentor and mentee, I have gained new insight into workplace dynamics, transformation leadership and business influence. One gains knowledge that you won’t be able to learn from a textbook or course.
Mentorship not only inspires employees, but also encourages experts and more experienced employees to hone their skills, gain new ones or adapt to remain relevant in their different spheres of work.
There are however limitations to what mentoring can and cannot do. Can do:
• increase individual and team commitment to an organisation and its goals
• help improve communication within the organisation
• help change organisational culture for the better
• allow individuals to gain a greater insight into the organisation
• create networking opportunities amongst employees within the organisation
• improve levels of professional success.
Mentoring cannot do:
• succeed unless clear objectives are agreed to in advance
• succeed unless there is an agreed plan of action
• act as a replacement for conventional training
When taking these opinions into account, it is clear that the benefits of mentoring are considerable and can have tangible outcomes for any organisation. It would seem obvious, then that all leaders, in whichever capacity they may serve, should implement pro-active mentorship programmes. The desired outcome – and reward – could feed into a very effective succession plan across all levels of an organisation, ensuring that it remains competitive, relevant and adaptable to market conditions. Distilled to its very essence, mentorship is about being a “servant leader”, one who is willing to go the extra mile for their employees by enriching and empowering them through sharing knowledge and skills.