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A study of next-generation leaders shows that managers have several concerns about the young people they employ. One of these concerns is that young people aren't getting the coaching and mentoring they need to equip them to lead in complex environments.
Many business owners don't have a strategy for preparing these future leaders. Research shows that only one in eight companies have a written plan for leadership continuity. Many think that writing a plan is too much, too soon. Scarce training budgets and limited resources are also contributing factors of neglecting such a crucial aspect of any business. When succession planning takes a backseat to day-to-day operations, the months and years go by without addressing this strategic imperative. This will inevitably leave you with a team of leaders and managers who aren't ready to take charge.
What can we do? Mentoring is the answer. It's a low-cost and extremely effective way to prepare future leaders early on. Mentoring is as simple as a gentle push in the right direction. It's also an easy way to preserve the intangible assets of your company—the minds and capabilities of the key young people who are the future face of your brand. Mentoring increases retention of your best and brightest, builds your reservoir of talent, speeds employee growth and shortens the learning cycle. It also engenders loyalty.
Don't continue to ignore the need for this. Here are some pointers on how to get started.
1. Establish two-way, cross-generational mentoring. When we think of mentoring, we conjure up the image of a wise, senior executive mentoring a young professional. While there's no doubt that this is one of the most beneficial mentoring situations, it's no longer the only model. As The Center For Creative Leadership study outlines, young employees are generally willing to learn and eager to make a difference. They are technology savvy, highly adaptable and comfortable with the rapid pace of change. They also have multicultural awareness. Companies need these skills from all their employees and leaders. Younger employees can mentor their long-tenured bosses and colleagues in these areas, while established leaders can help the younger ones channel their ideas and enthusiasm in ways that promote innovation.
2. Support informal mentoring. Being mentored in a formal mentorship program doesn't work for everyone, and some employees resist it. Studies even seem to suggest that informal mentoring works better. If this is the case with some of your employees, support informal mentoring relationships that occur spontaneously throughout an organization. You can do this by offering education and training.
3. Offer flexible mentorship programs for millenials. Jeanne Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace, explains that the mentorship program for millenials is different from traditional mentorship. For example, mentoring for this group should be expanded beyond the face-to-face model by using social media. As she writes in her book, "Millenials respond better to innovative and mature management, suggesting the importance of experience in management while using more up-to-the minute techniques." On-demand, online mentoring appears to be a top preference for millenials. It matches the mentee with a mentor outside the organization using psychological testing to profile the mentee. The entire mentoring experience is then online, and anonymous, for both mentor and mentee. It can be short term or last up to a year.
4. Use external mentors. In addition to using internal company mentors, consider expanding your program to give people an option to be mentored by leaders in other organizations. At Instill Corp., a B2B technology company for the food industry, CEO Mack Tilling has developed a highly successful mentoring program where all executives are required to choose a mentor they admire—usually an executive at another company—who is in the same functional area. This does not need to be limited to senior executives. Consider setting up a similar program for your young key employees. Peer mentoring with equivalents in other companies provides powerful opportunities for learning and cross pollination.
5. Keep it democratic. Take inspiration from Intel's mentoring program. At this company, anyone can mentor, regardless of position. One of the star mentors mentioned in the article is a senior administrative assistant, and she's a great mentor because she has skills that are vital to Intel. She is a master at tapping into informal communication networks that make the company tick. Take a look through your entire company, comb each department—from HR to engineering—and see what universal skills and abilities can be passed on to others.
6. Make mentoring a part of the organizational strategy. Encourage all leaders to look at their followers and commit to helping them grow in their jobs. This should be applied to everyone, not just those who opted for formal mentorship. We owe it to younger leaders to guide them and pass on expertise and wisdom. To solidify this, include a commitment to mentoring in the performance appraisals.
7. Encourage people to seize mentorship moments. No matter how good your mentoring program is, help mentors understand that the most important part of leadership development occurs in everyday actions, outside of formal programs. Encourage mentors to seize the opportunity when they see a mentoring moment. It can be in the hall, in the elevator or just after a meeting. People need to understand the value of letting it happen serendipitously.
8. Identify the skills and wisdom needed. Evaluate what skills and knowledge are needed to sustain your organization in the future. Consider, as well, the research on attributes required of leaders to come. This study looks at global trends in leadership challenges and outlines the skills and knowledge needed to address any challenges ahead. Some of these are business acumen, conflict management, effective communication, flexibility to adapt to environment and people, innovation, internal and external accountability and performance appraisals. Take these into account when you set up your monitoring program so you can equip your people for the future.
9. Follow the best practices. Make sure to follow all the required steps for establishing a proper mentorship program. Some obvious (but important) reminders: being clear about the purpose and potential outcomes, setting reasonable expectations, matching the right mentor with mentee in terms of strengths and affinity, defining roles and responsibilities, developing a mentoring agreement, and stressing confidentiality, to name a few. Qualcomm has made its Mentorship Toolkit publicly available, and you can also access resources at The International Mentoring Association.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations, and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
Photos from top: iStockphoto, Thinkstock
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