Workplace mentoring can play a critical role in the successful onboarding of new employees and the long-term development of existing team members. But how do you determine the right mentor for a particular mentee?
Should they be like-minded or in similar roles? Or, should the mentor be strong in the skills that the employee needs the most growth in? What role does personality fit play?
First, a definition: A mentor is not another boss, but a helpful confidant who gives relevant, occasional feedback and guidance that helps the employee gain needed skills.
Mentoring is different from performance management. A mentor program targets those employees who are already performing well and need extra input to grow and reach their full potential.
Mentoring is not remedial learning. If an employee is underperforming or has some other workplace problem, their manager must tackle the issue through coaching and other performance management techniques, not by selecting a mentor.
Know your workplace mentoring goals
The type of mentor you choose for an employee depends on your business goals. Does the employee in question need help with technical skills or leadership skills? Is this a new employee or a long-term employee?
You first need to know what you want to accomplish to successfully pair a mentor and mentee.
For instance, a new employee will probably benefit from a mentor who helps them learn about your business’s cultural norms and processes. This mentor should have an open mind and an open ear to candidly speak about processes and the best ways to navigate the environment.
They should also be experienced and organized enough to explain key procedures, and communicate clearly and consistently.
On the other hand, if you’ve identified a junior machinist who needs to learn a particular technical skill, you’ll want to pick a mentor who has that skill and who also communicates well.
If a junior executive wants to become a senior executive, the mentor should be able to offer guidance on cultural norms and processes, look for ways the mentee’s potential can benefit the organization and facilitate getting the mentee connected to these new opportunities.
A mentor should have the necessary communication skills and desire to be a continual learner, not someone with a tired or know-it-all attitude. Mentors should also be willing to share ownership and accountability for the work, giving the mentee credit when it’s due. Remember, mentoring is a two-way street, so pick a mentor who is willing to listen, give good counsel and learn from their mentee.
Another aspect of that two-way street: Not all mentors have to be older, long-time employees. Maybe one of your younger employees can help an older one gain confidence in using new software or social media for work or offer up-to-date information on the latest business technologies and workplace trends.
Yes, pairing employees with similar viewpoints, life experiences and work styles may help the relationship succeed, but ultimately the match should be determined by your organization’s needs.
Scaffold success with structure
Larger companies often build significant structure around their workplace mentoring programs, with formal pairings, training and reporting required. That sort of structure may not be practical for a smaller business, but to be successful your mentor program will still need some definition.
What that structure looks like will be determined by the business goals you identified earlier. But, you still need to define goals, expectations and schedules. You also need to make sure both the mentor and mentee have time to accomplish the goals you set.
For example, if the mentee needs to gain technical expertise, the mentorship may consist of the mentor teaching specific skills and the mentee practicing at consistent times followed by question-and-answer periods. A mentor-mentee pairing like this may only last a few weeks or months, with a clearly defined goal that technical expertise will be attained by a certain date.
Follow-up is important too. Ask questions such as:
- Did the mentorship help you learn that new skill or refine an existing skill?
- Did the program help you get more comfortable in your new job?
- Was it a good use of your time?
- Do you feel better prepared to handle the work ahead?
Answers to these questions will help you determine whether your mentor-mentee pairs are a good fit. If they’re not, don’t hesitate to break up a pair and reassign them to other people. Mentor pairs are as individual as the people involved, and not everyone will be compatible.
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