The Surprising and Lasting Value of Professional Mentoring Programs

It’s an undisputed fact that professional mentoring is on the rise. Many people are seeking out mentors, and many experienced businesspeople are looking to be mentors. The benefits of having a career advisor and professional confidante are more appreciated today than ever before. However, some professionals still haven’t realized the benefits and value of mentoring programs.

The Growth of Corporate Mentoring Programs

mentorMany people will not be surprised to learn that corporate mentoring—both formal programs and informal mentoring relationships—has dramatically increased in number over the last few years. Most of these people would likely be surprised at just how dramatic the increase has been. In a survey conducted by the American Society for Training and Development, 75% of business executives stated that professional mentoring had helped them reach the level of their career they had achieved. This number would have been unlikely in decades past.

Mentoring Programs in the Nonprofit Sector

Experts do note, however, that nonprofits have lagged behind private sector companies in the implementation of mentoring programs. There are several different reasons that experts and researchers have offered to explain this situation. Some theorize that nonprofits are wary of the potential costs of implementing an organization-wide, comprehensive program. Others explain that corporations implement mentoring programs as a way to improve employee performance and increase revenue, while nonprofits do not have this motivation to boost profits.

Benefits for the Organization

Whatever the reason for the dearth of mentoring programs in the nonprofit sector, the fact remains that nonprofits and private companies alike can benefit from creating such programs for their employees. Besides increased revenue, these benefits can include greater employee retention; a more positive and productive work environment; and the creation of a valuable base of talented junior employees ready for advancement. In addition, a structured mentoring program can provide a formal way to transfer knowledge and wisdom from long-time employees to new ones, ensuring that the organization retains this valuable intangible resource. A mentoring program can also serve as a way to attract new talent to an organization; it demonstrates that the organization cares about its workforce and recruiters can use it as a selling point.

Benefits for Individuals

colleaguesFor individuals, the positive effects of a well-run mentoring program are many and varied. They include greater networking opportunities, strategic career advice, assistance with specific work projects or obstacles, and character-building opportunities. While obtaining experienced professional advice is one of the most-cited benefits of having a mentor, the networking opportunities inherent in a mentoring relationship are less frequently emphasized. The mentee may have a contact or two that could prove useful for the mentor, but the mentor will almost certainly have many contacts that the mentee can use to his or her advantage, and can make the necessary introductions. Of course, many mentors have built up these contacts over years, and must trust their protégé before sharing them. This trust is exactly what structured mentoring programs are designed to develop. In contrast, professionals in more informal mentoring relationships may be more reluctant to share their contacts.

Matching Mentors with Mentees

Mentoring programs differ widely in various ways, especially regarding how mentors and mentees are paired. Some programs employ a structured system that is used to match mentor and protégé. A few of these systems are even automated software programs. Many programs, however, rely on an administrator to match the mentors and mentees. This person may make their decisions based on matching personal qualities, backgrounds, or career trajectories, or he or she may make matches using more subjective, intuitive criteria.

Many of those looking for mentors and those looking for protégés prefer to have a say in who they enter into a mentoring relationship with. This may mean that mentors and mentees can pick whoever they want, or it may entail a hybrid approach where the program administrator provides each person with a selection that they can choose from. Many find this approach to be the most effective.

Building Relationships

It can be difficult for new mentor-mentee partnerships to flourish at first. There are several different strategies that can be used to build rapport. One of the most effective is for the mentor and the mentee to find a project that they are both interested in, and that can help both of them. This shouldn’t be too difficult if the mentor and the mentee are well matched. Finding such a project is easier still if the mentor and the mentee interact in the office on a daily basis. Even if they do, setting aside time for regular meetings is a good strategy.

While working on a project together can help many mentor-mentee pairs form a bond, it is not the right approach—or it may not be possible—for everyone. Some mentees look for an opportunity to help their mentor with his or her work, even if it isn’t directly related to the mentee’s professional duties. This can also go a long way toward building rapport.