Team development and growth is critical to every business, and retaining top talent, more important than ever. However, a great compensation package alone will not ensure that a talented worker stays in the fold. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, young high-achievers value mentoring and coaching and often leave current gigs in a quest to have those needs met.
Companies like Microsoft and KPMG have caught on to this need and responded by giving employees exposure to peers in different divisions, to provide fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.
But while mentorship pairings within organizations are well intended, they may also have mixed results. Like romantic matchmaking, mentorship success can seem shrouded in mystique and luck. HR departments eagerly set up colleagues for lunches or other work “dates,” then cross their fingers that the chemistry will spark: A seasoned pro will take an eager novice under his or her wing! The next generation of great leaders will be born!
But, instead, disappointment results on both sides.
So, as owner, you need to find ways to help. While many invaluable mentor/mentee relationships have begun as magical moments of kismet, you can reap these benefits more widely by weaving mentorship into the way your teams work, on a daily basis. This will ensure that your more-seasoned team members will actively and continually pass on critical skills and knowledge while simultaneously modeling mentorship behavior to junior staff. The goal? That those junior staff, in turn, will continue to pay it forward to the next set of new recruits.
Here are four suggestions for how to achieve lasting results, by setting a strong foundation:
1. Model the behavior you want to see.
People are sensitive to the actions and energies of others, especially those considered leaders in the organization. Recognize that the way you behave, speak and engage with other people can and will inform these actions by others. Ensure that you're demonstrating positive, respectful and solution-oriented approaches. Leave the politics to Washington and any negative energy outside the door.
2. Know when to manage and when to coach.
There's a big, yet often unacknowledged difference between managing and coaching. There are clear times when managing is an imperative: navigating a crisis, getting a brand new employee up to speed, executing a quick-turn deliverable. However, to effectively mentor, you need to put your coaching hat on, facilitating trial and exploration. This takes time, but the investment is well worth it.
Provide context around the bigger picture and larger goals, but give junior team members opportunities to think through potential approaches and solutions themselves and share their recommendations and point of view. You know the old adage: Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Related: The Sherpa Approach to Mentoring
3. Expect and embrace failure.
One of the keys to successful mentorship is conveying a sense of belief in your team members and what they are capable of accomplishing. Set high goals and expectations and give them the space to rise and meet them. However, know that failure is not only inevitable but can also be a great teacher. Your role as leader is both to push your team members outside of their comfort zones to achieve audacious goals and to be there to catch them when they fall.
This helps them to see how to avoid such missteps in the future. A culture that rewards both creativity and efforts to try new things -- without punishing the misses -- fosters the development of savvy problem-solvers who can think on their feet and be energized vs. paralyzed by new challenges.
4. See the whole person.
In our hyper-connected social world, the lines between our personal and professional lives are more blurred than ever. Walls are down, and increasing value is being given to the soft skills and unique interests that each individual brings to the table. This makes it critical to consider the "whole person" and to understand all the forces and pressures that impact their lives, so you can coach them in the most effective way.
Are any of your employees exhausted with their first baby at home? Be supportive of their efforts to juggle it all, or put them in touch with another colleague who has had a similar experience. Are they passionate about something outside of their existing role? Identify ways to help them hone their interest and skills in that area.
Having this kind of insight into one's direct reports is a critical component of any manager’s job. Make sure you encourage your workplace to recognize this fact. Make mentoring part of your daily culture.