Where have all the business mentors gone?
Apparently, there are far fewer than before, and it’s taking a toll on companies. At Toyota, a lack of mentors had a directly negative effect on the brand. After rapid expansion meant there were not enough senior managers able to take junior leaders under their wing, the ethos suffered greatly.
Mentoring — otherwise known as knowledge sharing — is a critical part of strategic management. But there are misassumptions afoot, that it’s an old-school system that no longer fits. So let’s do a course correct:
Myth #1. Millennials don’t want mentors
Very loud buzzer sound here. Actually, millennials are calling for mentors themselves. 94% of those in the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey said they felt that their mentors were giving them good advice. In terms of retention (a particularly vexing issue with this group), 68% of millennial employees who said they planned to stay were their organization for at least five years had mentors,32% did not. Even in terms of the apparent qualities millennials all share (and that’s debatable) mentoring matters: it offers this feedback-loving generation access to direct and personal feedback; and it paves for challenges, such as supervised stretch assignments.
Myth #2. CEOs don’t need mentors
Say again? From a purely visual standpoint, perhaps it’s hard to envision the C-suite looking upwards. But a recent look at how CEOs take on challenges found that the opposite is true: while the options are fewer, mentors are critical. The Harvard Business Review study found that new CEOs hit the ground running by seeking counsel and feedback from top veterans outside the workplace. The critical decisions they face are often breaking new ground; the best sources for information were advisors within the specific context of the problem. Of 45 CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements, according to the study, 71% said they were certain that company performance had improved as a result.
Myth #3. A social and mobile workplace takes the place of mentors
Actually, the new hyper-networked, constantly connected workplace is that way because it’s in our nature to seek guidance and expertise. The social and mobile workplace demonstrates just how much we value mentors. Sites like LinkedIn provide access to mentors outside the physical confines of the workspace — and the concept of following thought leaders further underscores our quest for guidance. But the access to direct supervision is lost in this context, as is the face time. We need both.
Myth #4. We have better ways of improving performance
Do we? If performance reviews are considered part of that, think again. The pernicious Q.P.R. (quarterly performance review) at Yahoo may have been intended to provide constructive criticism and empower employees to improve their performance, but it clearly has another effect entirely. Conducted by peers using a questionable ratings system, it fostered a workplace culture of competition and mistrust, resulted in countless employees being “transitioned out” (a euphemism for layoff here), and as we know by now kicked up a mighty expensive legal hornet’s nest.
Myth #5. Mentoring isn’t transparent enough
This objection has to do with a perceived elitism in which less favored; less connected employees are left out of the equation, but it’s a weak argument at best. If transparency has to do with aligning employer brand (as in: values and story) with employees, then mentoring is an ideal conduit. In terms of a democratic workplace, mentoring establishes an authentic conversation between the experienced and the neophyte, bridging a knowledge gap instead of reinforcing it, and enabling genuine communication.
Again, here’s the disconnect. We are still looking at mentoring within the woodgrain frame of its old incarnation — a pat on the back by a senior buddy who sees his younger self in his protégé. But mentoring 2.0 is something altogether different, with cross-gender mentoring, women mentoring women, reverse mentoring in which Generation Z shows a Boomer how to use the Twitter, global mentoring, and all manner of supervision, guidance, sage advice, hands-on leadership, and more.
All are part of how we transfer knowledge across the ranks, and all will grow up new generations to take our place. Without this process, the workplace is certainly more vulnerable to a brain drain. What I think will be interesting: seeing how metrics track the gaps in mentoring across an organization; how new analytics can increase old human interaction, and effectively drive true engagement. Myths hereby busted, please go take someone out for coffee.
For more insight on the power of mentoring, see The Best Managers Are Really Coaches.Comments