Mentoring Matters — Right Now

Mentoring can be a powerful behavior that advances your organization’s mission, values, culture, commitment to corporate social responsibility, and competitiveness. It prepares diverse, high-potential talent for new levels of leadership and impact. How? By enabling knowledge transfer and a learning culture, expanding networks, and growing cross-culturally fluent leaders. In short, it can make you a talent magnet.

While typically centering on career navigation in the workplace or field, mentoring helps in the shift from being knowledge-based to learning organizations. It opens up new possibilities for idea exchange and insight.

You may ask, “How are we going to add mentoring in our organization in the midst of all that’s going on in the world?”

Don’t waste the opportunity of a crisis. What do you want the pandemic to mean for your organizational culture? The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) is all real — and here to stay. Mentoring can help lift your people and organization up.

Companies with strong mentoring cultures are reporting that right now mentoring is helping by:

1. Reducing burnout and isolation.

2. Increasing engagement.

3. Strengthening interconnectedness.

It’s also possible to mentor at scale. If your mental model is one-to-one mentoring, also consider Group mentoring — of up to 10–12 in a group. It can be highly effective and conserves energy. Mentoring in a virtual context has the benefit of removing geographic barriers to who can participate in this opportunity.

So how and where to begin? Know your “Why?

Organizationally and individually, knowing the “Why?” is crucial. Recognize that mentoring is a strategic investment, not a “bolt-on.” It needs to be interwoven into succession planning, talent development, talent management, and diversity-equity-inclusion-belonging (DEIB) strategy.

1. Start with data: Analyze your organization’s human capital data and identify where you need to focus first to grow a diverse leadership pipeline.

2. Start small, test and learn, iterate, and scale from there.

3. Identify and recruit senior leaders who are already mentoring powerfully. Link rewards and perks to the role. These “model mentors” bring real value to your organization.

Leadership from the top sets the stage for mentoring success at scale

It was the CEO’s mentoring call-to-action that inspired me and helped remove potential barriers as I engaged with partners to build mentoring strategy and practices in a Fortune®100 company. The company is now recognized for its mentoring circles for high-potential, diverse talent through the CEO Pledge for Action on Diversity and Inclusion. In 2020 — based on 2019 data — the company earned a spot for the first time among the DiversityInc Top Companies for Mentoring.

The mentoring recipe for success will vary based on organizational goals and needs

From my experience, these are key ingredients:

1. Strategic context — “Know your Why?” linked to succession planning, talent management, talent development, DEIB.

2. Leadership-from-the-top — with a clear, sustained mentoring call to action.

3. A structured, repeatable, scalable approach: A clear framework — with flexibility.

4. Committed and already successful senior leaders as mentors.

5. Training and tools: Guides and resources for mentor and mentee roles.

6. Time for mentoring — prioritized and protected.

7. Consulting and administrative support.

8. Tracking of progress, participation, and user experience.

9. Communication — including regular leadership mentoring storytelling, articles, and how-to Webinars for mentors and mentees. I interviewed senior leader-mentors for a regular podcast series.

Start small to go fast. Test and Learn. Keep going.

This will ultimately enable you to scale mentoring successfully. From there the opportunities to grow people, your organization, and individual and collective impact are endless.

Diane Bailey-Boulet is President of Scale Excellence, an organizational mentoring strategy and deployment consulting company focused on growing resourceful and resilient leaders, teams, organizations, and communities.