It can be traced back to Greek mythology, and its definition has changed with the ages.
But in spite of that history, many organizations still get mentoring wrong.
“I define it as helping good people become great,” says Kathy Conway, a noted human resources consultant and mentoring champion.
“Organizations can use it to great effect – when they do it properly.”
|Kathy Conway sees several benefits for both parties.|
While mentoring has been around for about 2,000 years, Conway hears every day of mentor/mentoree relationships that fail miserably.
Quite often, little planning has taken place in matching individuals, setting guidelines, and letting people know what they are getting into.
“I am asked why they (companies) might need a formal process,” explains Conway. “They say: ‘We have an informal mentoring process in place . . . let’s put people together and let the mentoring magic begin.’ ”
Then within months, like magic, the matchups disappear.
What goes wrong?
First, informal mentoring tends to pair people who think and act the same way. Organizations call it “chemistry” but Conway calls it a mistake.
The one relationship in the world where chemistry truly counts is marriage, she says. But marriages fail 50 per cent of the time. “So why try and replicate that (in business)?”
Companies may also use mentoring as a remedial measure – “this will be good for you” – creating what Conway calls Hostage Mentors and Hostage Mentorees. Using mentoring as a remedial measure is doomed to failure, she says.
Possibly the biggest obstacle is that individuals aren’t prepared for the process, nor are many committed.
“Too many mentorees say: ‘Deliver me my mentor, my champion for life,’ ” laughs Conway. “They just aren’t prepared for the work they have to do.”
Based in Toronto, Conway works with large and small businesses across the country and is a familiar face in Edmonton and Calgary. She has held a number of senior HR roles with large multinational firms, runs her own company, Virtual Communications, and is the co-author of The Trainer’s Toolkit.
She is also the national mentoring co-ordinator for Canadian Women in Communications (www.cwc-afc.com).
The CWC has chapters in Calgary and Edmonton and local links can be found through the CWC site.
While she consults on a number of HR practices, mentoring is her passion.
“I spent a lot of my life in HR, internally. And internally my experience is that you have to work on the downside of things, correcting, controlling and confronting.
“All the attention goes to people who aren’t cutting it. I don’t believe that in the workplace there are enough things happening that make good people great. And I think mentoring is one of those things.”
To help guide companies, Conway provides a complete program. It includes information sessions for prospective participants, who then must fill in an application saying why they want to be involved and what they can provide to the relationship.
Often Conway selects the pairings, then provides an orientation session and resources. Time limits and rules are established. Mentoring relationships last no longer than 12 or 14 months so mentors don’t feel they’ve been given a lifelong sentence. Mentorees aren’t allowed to vent about the organization or use the mentor as a convenient office psychiatrist.
And Conway checks in on the process every couple of months to make sure relationships haven’t bogged down.
Interestingly, when relationships fail, it’s the mentoree who usually is at fault, says Conway, even though one would assume the busier senior mentor would lose interest first. Often the mentoree is just not prepared to work at the relationship.
The best mentoree candidates already have a sense of their strengths and weaknesses, what their potential next step might look like and where they’d like to progress, adds Conway. They know the content they are after – and the mentor’s role is to provide the context.
Conway loves mentoring because she observes many successes that are win-win-win situations for both individuals and the organization.
For the mentor, the benefits include:
* Self-esteem. They’ve contributed to someone’s success.
* Increased self-awareness. Mentors realize they have a lot of corporate knowledge, and many valuable people in their network.
* Refined leadership skills. Mentors tells Conway how they’ve relearned the importance of feedback and reinforcement. They see the mentoree’s reaction and remember to use it with their own team.
For the mentoree, the benefits include:
* Better focus on their next step to success. Better, more complete information to make decisions about their future. Many people have myths about jobs that today are being rapidly redefined and a mentor can provide context and real-life observations.
* Enhanced self-esteem. They begin to take “risks” they haven’t taken in years; i.e. applying for a job or making a speech.
* Improved behaviour: They learn practical do’s and don’ts and make a better connection to the organization.
Organizations benefit by employing people who are better motivated, in tune with the company and more likely to stay because they’ve made a strong connection with a leader or leaders in the company.
And, says Conway, they sometimes have very good people who become great.