Company growth shouldn't mean employees lose the personal connections they crave in order to learn and grow. Sometimes, though, as business ramps up, mentorship falls by the wayside. About 70 percent of Fortune 500 firms have formal employee mentoring programs in place, while only 25 percent of large U.S. companies have similar programs. To forgo mentorship is to miss out on a huge opportunity for employee engagement and retention. Good news: Mentorship is evolving to be more exciting and less tiresome for companies and employees, alike, through revamped programs.
Just as training and learning are being redefined through new technologies, new methods in mentoring are emerging that also promise powerful advantages to companies at a time of super competitive, high-cost recruiting. Some companies are changing their internal employee mentorship programs while others are looking for outside help.
Revolutionizing Remote Mentorship
Companies typically connect high-performing employees with newbies to guide them throughout their careers, but what about when a majority of the workforce works remotely? Remote employees aren't paired with mentors since a program is too hard to manage, right? Wrong. Remote mentoring is just as essential and effective as in-person mentorship when it comes to engaging employees and continuing career development, argues Beth N. Carvin, president and CEO of retention management firm Nobscot.
Carvin suggests that employers let remote employees choose their mentors, but encourages them to not choose the obvious mentor (like another remoter worker). Instead, these employees should consider looking for a mentor who is highly connected in the physical office to provide them with new insights and keep them up-to-date about on-site company meetings. Another innovative idea: Give employees the option to join a mentoring group around specific topics like work-life balance or how to stay connected while working remotely.
A Program to Guide the Next Mark Zuckerberg
While remote mentorship is a great idea for the traditional workplace, mentoring entrepreneurs takes a different form at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Some believe entrepreneurs are born, but not Bing Gordon, chief product officer at Kleiner Perkins. "Genius may be born, but innovation can be learned," says Gordon. That's why the firm introduced a new mentorship program—atypical for a VC firm—to help entrepreneurs turn good ideas into amazing products.
The mentorship program, KPCB ProductWorks, is different from a normal employee mentorship program because it connects aspiring startup founders with talented partners from Kleiner Perkins and leading industry experts outside of the company. Plus, the program provides entrepreneurs with top-notch engineers, designers, and product managers to help them create their product.
Now Trending: Mentors From Outside the Company
Though internal mentorships serve some companies well, a look outside of the company for mentors is a new tactic for other companies. In fact, innovative companies have taken the concept to another level by introducing technologies that can pair up-and-comers with established professionals outside of the company to help them develop new skills and provide insights for success.
Everwise is one such technology—hosting a community that matches mentors and proteges using data from LinkedIn profiles and questionnaires. Once the mentor relationship is off and running, relationship managers check in to make sure both sides are satisfied with the interactions. Companies such as Cisco, eBay, Wal-Mart, and HP are leading the way by adopting this technology (and others like it), recognizing that sometimes the best advice comes from without.
The reason internal mentor programs sometimes don't work is trifold, says Mike Bergelson, co-founder and CEO of Everwise. He explains that employees within the company sometimes lack genuine desire to be a mentor, mentees don't look for the right mix in a mentor (they simply look at titles and popularity), and mentors and mentees need guidance through their relationship.
"As long as the learning community is designed with the specific needs of the protege in mind as well as the specific needs of the mentor, and as long as the needs are fulfilled, I think that process can work in many organizations," says Bergelson.
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Charles Coy is the senior director of analyst and community relations at Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD), a leader in cloud-based applications for talent management that helps organizations recruit, train, manage, and connect their employees. He thinks a lot about how technology can influence how businesses evaluate, motivate, and value their employees—especially in light of the rapid changes happening in today's workplace. Coy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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